There is no shortage of buzzwords these days around ‘urban gardening’ and ‘organic farming’ and the burgeoning industry around growing one’s own food.
But anyone talking about the subject, however, should speak with Revere’s Giuseppe ‘Joe’ Leone and his wife, Anna Maria, before going any further down the garden path.
The retired construction worker, known by his friends and neighbors as Joe, doesn’t just talk about such things, he’s lived them out in his Glover Drive backyard since 1983 – producing enough food to feed an army (or a large Italian family) every summer on a small plot in his backyard.
“I’m Italian,” he said this week while walking amongst his tomatoes and numerous varieties of string beans. “I like to spend time keeping up my backyard and moving my soil. Nobody pushes me. Every day, I do a little at a time. I enjoy it and I have the time. It’s a lot of work, but you know it’s fresh. We eat something from here every day. If we don’t do beans, we do eggplant. If we don’t do eggplant, we eat the peppers. Maybe we have a mixture of things.”
It’s hard to pin down his favorite, but with a little coaxing Leone said his favorite thing from the garden is the zucchini flower – a true Italian treat.
“The first thing I like is the tomato, but I like everything really – the eggplant – but you know, the zucchini flower,” he said, “if you fry it lightly, that’s pretty good.”
One can certainly understand why it’s hard for him to choose.
He produces lemons, limes, Chinese peaches, regular peaches, plums, zucchini, cucumbers, eggplant, several varieties of beans, tomatoes, figs, herbs of all kinds and several varieties of peppers – amongst many other fresh treats.
“We have a little bit of everything,” he said.
Neighbors marvel at his ingenuity.
One neighbor remarked that the yield Leone gets from such a small piece of turf is incredible.
Leone gardens the way he learned in Italy, which means there is no waste at all.
He starts in March and April turning over the soil and fertilizing.
He plants in mid-May.
His lawn clippings don’t go in a paper bag for yard waste pickup; they’re put back under the tomatoes as fertilizer.
If beans go to pod before they can be picked to eat, he simply dries them and uses the seeds next year.
What they cannot eat in terms of tomatoes – well, Anna Maria steps in and makes the gravy to save in jars for the cold winter months.
Likewise, most of the produce is also put into cans, and that was the case long before such backyard techniques became popular amongst the ‘hip’ crowd.
“You do a lot of work in the summer, every day, but it pays off,” Leone said. “You have a lot to eat in the winter. We don’t throw anything away. We use everything.”
And they also give a lot away – practicing natural hospitality. No one leaves the house without a bag of something fresh from the garden. Family members, of course, have no need to visit the produce section in the supermarket during the summer, either.
“My kids come over and they all get bags of tomatoes, cucumbers,” he said. “What can you do? That’s family. That’s why you do this.”
Perhaps one of the most interesting innovations in his garden is the network of strings and supports that runs along his fences and overhead in his lawn.
The string network is designed to allow his impressive collection of beans to climb and produce the maximum amount of pods using the smallest amount of space – so he can have lots of beans and keep his lawn underneath.
Everyday, he spends quite a bit of time wrapping the climbing beans around the networks of strings – noting that if he doesn’t keep them going in the right direction, they could go backwards or across.
Leone points out a particular bean that he grows using seeds a friend brought back from Calabria, Italy.
Harvesting those beans every summer and preparing them in a simple dish makes all the hard work worth it, he said.
“You just pick a few, break them in half; then you boil them a little, put a little garlic and a little oil on them – that’s all you need,” he said.
Indeed, Leone understands the fruits of summer as well as anyone.