Welcome to Plant Exchange Blog where we share about plants of our region and people who grow them.
Gardens may have many purposes. Most of Jorja Fejfar’s yard and garden is in active use for enjoyment. Her yard is where several members of her family spend daily life in summer, along with an occasional visiting neighbor. Jorja works for Head Start and her husband Brian works at the Yankton Federal Prison Camp. The couple lives in Yankton.
Jorja is a native of Yankton who grew up on a block where all the kidsgathered. Now she and Brian live on a corner lot with several mature shade trees. They have a sunny vegetable and flower garden in the wide green space between street and sidewalk. They have seven children and several are youngsters who play in the yard on a beautiful day.
The yard has three tall swings from tree limbs, other outdoor toys, and a tree house Brian built and placed on a tall elm tree stump.
“Squirrels throw walnuts at the kids in the tree house. Sometimes kids catch the walnuts and throw them back,” Jorja said. Their children and neighbor kids play in the fort.
“I like calling this ‘kid’s corner,’” she said. “I’ll be inside, no one out here, and a kid appears.” One day she spotted a kid on his bike looking around.
“He sat in the swing by the sidewalk. He must have sat there seven minutes before he spotted me in the window. Then he jumped up and left. Lots of kids come around,” she said.
There’s also a bench that an older neighbor uses when he rests after a walk. Cherry tomatoes are planted at hand level for anyone who wants to pop a bit of summer in his mouth as he walks by.
One of the mature trees in the yard has a fieldstone ring around it filled in with white sand and newly planted hens and chicks.
“My daughter is in National Guard and we got to go to Georgia seven years ago when my grandson was born,” she said. “I brought back a bucket of sand and never did anything with it.”
Fieldstones around the tree and edging the gardens came from Brian’s mother and stepfather’s farm near Tabor.
“Truck was dragging on the way back,” she said. “On one trip to pick rock (for the yard) we took Brian’s 88 year old grandmother. We had a four wheeler to get to the rock—she had so much fun!”
A mature hackberry in their yard has a hole in the trunk at waist level that is large enough to fit a birdcage inside for décor. She moves the birdcage and points to a hackberry sprout growing inside the tree.
“Jay Gurney (Yankton Nurseries) told me that the only way this hackberry sprout could grow here (naturally) is that it grows from this tree’s roots or pass through a bird’s digestive system first. (Bird’s stomach) breaks down the seed so it can grow.” How the sprout got there and grows there is a marvel. She’s noticed a yellow bird with a teardrop shaped nest that visits the tree often.
Beyond the hackberry tree is their vegetable and flower garden area. Fieldstones line the beds. She planted marigolds once and now they re-seed in various parts of the garden. She works around these flowers she plants.
”I like to leave a spot in the garden where my kids or grandkids can dig while I’m out here,” she said. “I’d rather be outside than inside. I spend every minute I can out here. Sometimes I’m out here in the dark because the streetlight is near.”
Soil in her garden is somewhat sandy, compacts easily and becomes hard as a rock. To improve the soil where she grows tomatoes and peppers, she has 10 or 12” drainage pipe that Brian cut into sections. The sections are partially buried and filled with a mixture of Moisture Control Miracle-Gro potting soil and natural soil. Plants inside the pipe sections have weather protection.
“Water stays with the plant when you water,” she said. An idea she saw on the Internet to help plants with moisture, was to put the moisture beads from diapers in the bottom of the pipe with the soil mixture. She tried the idea this season to see if more moisture stays with the plants. But hand watering is a challenge.
“I have a small kid’s swimming pool that sets out here. I believe in recycling. I got a little pump and used the water (after the kids played in it) to water the plants,” she said.
She plants a variety of red and yellow tomatoes in four rows. She has found the rabbits do not eat the plants with drainage pipe around them. She also plants sweet and hot peppers and onions. She cans salsa.
“On the day I can, I pick what is ripe and put it together. I use the salsa in chili and goulash too.”
She is carful to keep the jalapeno pepper plants out of reach of small children. When her fifteen year old was a baby, the young child liked to help her mother pick tomatoes.
“One day when I got her inside she had whelps on her the shape of my hands. I ran her to the Emergency Room,” she said. She took the peppers she had been touching with her. Her baby’s skin had a reaction to the peppers but didn’t affect her.
“I named them ‘Avera’ peppers. The peppers were so hot in that batch of salsa that I couldn’t eat them.”
The garden beds extend to the street curb. Plants are placed so that they don’t obstruct drivers near their street intersection. One year Fejfars asked the city engineer about this and are careful about the heights of plants.
Some annual flowers in her garden re-seed themselves. Marigolds are here and there among the rows. Jorja thinks they hold back mosquitos and gnats. She works around volunteer plants, giving a “live and let live” air to the garden. Not everyone treats Fejfars’ yard and gardens that way.
Jorja had painted bowling balls to resemble a rack of colorful billiard balls that she placed by the gardens as décor. She shows a photo of them. All ten of them disappeared from their yard. She continues to place décor here and there. Old western boots become planters for flowers.
By now Jorja’s annual flower seeds have been stored in Mason jars for next year.
“I take the flower heads off (to save seed). Cosmos is one of my daughter’s favorites so I plant those. Snapdragons are another daughter’s favorite so I save those seed to plant,” Jorja said. Zinnias are one of Jorja’s favorites. They’re all ready for next season.