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Home grown

Catonsville gardeners get planting

Created date

April 23rd, 2014
Gardeners grow everything from dahlias and daylilies to tomatoes and squash at Charlestown’s resident gardening area.
Gardeners grow everything from dahlias and daylili

Emma Schramm knows a thing or two about how to pick a good tomato—or cantaloupe or cucumber for that matter. Emma began picking fruits and vegetables on her family’s farm in Anne Arundel County, Md., at the ripe age of six or seven. 

“Working on a farm is one experience everyone should have in their life,” says Emma. “For me, it was the only way of life I ever knew.” 

The 237-acre Schramm Farm located on Mountain Road was known for its turkeys but also for fresh-picked fruits, vegetables, potted plants, and Christmas trees. 

“There is something about the sandy soil in Anne Arundel County that makes it easier to grow,” says Emma. “On our farm, it could rain six inches, and the next day, we could go in the field and easily plow.” 

On weekends, Emma tended the farm’s roadside stand, where she sold everything from sweet corn and tomatoes to strawberries and watermelons. 

“There’s nothing fresher than going out into the field picking your own corn,” says Emma. “I used to tell my customers, ‘We eat the best and sell the rest.’”  

Emma decided to retire her green thumb in 2012 when she moved to Erickson Living community in Catonsville. But that wasn’t the case for another community member, Bob Mitzel, who couldn’t wait to get his hands dirty just a few months after moving there.

“I moved in February 2003, and by that summer, I had my garden going,” says Bob. “I grow tomatoes, lettuce, and raspberries. We hold a picnic at the garden every year, and I make homemade raspberry ice cream from my very own raspberries.” 

Down to earth

Bob oversees the 89 10- by 10-foot garden beds located in the green area outside the community’s Charlestown Square Clubhouse. The gardens are available to Charlestown residents on a first come, first served basis. 

A nearby community tool shed houses rakes, shovels, hoes, and hoses, as well as two tillers. The Charlestown grounds department provides mulch and compost, but Bob has his own secret ingredient for yielding large, flavorful fruits and vegetables. 

“I save all of my [compostable garbage], bury it in my garden, and it enriches the soil,” says Bob. “Then I get my soil tested every year to see if it needs any elements that I can add.”

Jo Collins has two garden beds, one for her flowers and one for her fruits and vegetables. 

“I grow a little bit of everything—flowers, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, sugar snap peas, and a few other things,” says Jo, who inherited her love of gardening from her father.

“I love to watch things grow. I make bread-and-butter pickles from my cucumbers, can them, and give them to my friends and family. Most of the gardeners here grow more than they can use. Any extras we put out on a picnic table for people to help themselves. After all, how much lettuce can one person eat?”

Although Emma no longer spends her days picking strawberries out in the hot summer sun, she does keep a collection of more than 750 pickers’ checks—small metal tokens farm workers used to note the number of crops that they picked, which were exchanged for payment—as mementos of life on the farm. And now when she wants a red, juicy tomato, instead of heading out to the fields, she heads to Vince’s Farm and Nursery in Linthicum. 

“If I can’t get over there, then I will buy from the grocery store, but only if it says U.S.A.,” says Emma.


Get growing

Try out these gardening tips from the experts at the University of Maryland Extension, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources: 

Soil. Tilling wet soil can cause it to become cloddy and brick hard when it dries out. Test soil by forming a clump of soil into a ball. Bounce it in your hand a few times. If it breaks apart easily, it’s probably okay to work. Poor, compacted soil can be improved through the generous addition of organic matter. Spade or till in a 6- to 8-inch layer of compost. 

Mulch. Mulches should be applied only 2 to 3 inches deep around ornamental plants and kept away from shrub and tree trunks. 

Fertilize. Don’t over-fertilize! Most landscape plants get adequate nutrition from a healthy soil rich with organic matter. Plants that typically benefit the most from fertilizer are those that produce either flowers or fruits, such as flowering annuals and vegetables.