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Sharing the Labor and the Fruit

Gardening is easier and more fun when people work together.

When Frank Stefanak started his garden back in 1962, little did he know that he was starting a tradition that would last well into the next century and involve many families along the way.

For many years, Stefanak and his wife, Kathryn, tended their backyard garden on Anesbury Lane; so serious was he about gardening that he kept copious notes on the subject. A book, compiled by one of his daughters, includes several favorite family recipes as well as Stefanak's notes on "Gardening for Fun and Profit."

Stefanak's first thought on gardening was, "Gardening should be fun and if you don't enjoy the work and care required to produce a bountiful harvest of delicious produce at a fraction of store prices, then you should choose another hobby.

"With a good garden you will enjoy fresher, tastier, more nutritious vegetables, plus the fun and satisfaction of viewing a tiny seed grow into a healthy plant that produces something for your table, not to mention the fresh air and exercise that you will get."

Stefanak then goes on to talk about soil, composting, mulching and soil pH. There is a section with his methods, observations and recommendations; he also includes a suggested garden plan that shows what plants should be planted where. There is detailed information on when and how to pick the garden vegetables, as well as information on how to water and a section on canning tips. Stefanak really believed in sharing not only his knowledge, but plants as well. He started his own tomato plants from seed and gave them to the neighbors.

STEFANAK'S DAUGHTER, Suzanne Craven, has taken his tips to heart and continues to tend the garden started by her father so many years ago. The garden is not even in her yard; rather it belongs to her neighbor across the street. Through a series of buying and selling over the years, the home where Craven originally lived is now owned by Jim and Lisa Shannon; Craven lives across the street. She helps tend the garden in the Shannon's yard, which is bordered by Conley Jones in the back and Carolyn and Oliver Black on the side. All three yards come together without borders or fences, giving a nice open feel to the properties.

The neighbors no longer start the tomatoes from seed, but they continue to share plants. They also share some of the labor. When Jones rototilled his garden, he also did the land for his neighbors. This year, Craven and Shannon purchased their own rototiller and will share with their neighbors. Following Stefanak's methodical nature, the two neighbors take their time getting the garden ready. They also don't use many chemicals, some bone meal and lime, maybe some sevin dust.

"We buy plants together and get the garden ready together," said Craven and Shannon. "It is so nice. We don't do anything fast, but once you get it started, it doesn't need much."

ALTHOUGH THE SEASON is coming to an end and most of the cucumbers, zucchini and lettuce have been harvested, there are still plenty of tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, leeks, basil, beets and green beans to be picked. Besides the vegetables, there are also raspberry bushes, and peach, pear, blueberry and cherry trees in the yards.

"It wasn't a good year with all the rain, many of the tomato plants rotted," said Shannon.

Craven said that there have been years when she has canned close to 100 jars of tomatoes. One of the things she remembers most is her family making vegetable soup with all the vegetables.

"My brothers and sisters still make soup," said Craven.

Shannon said that she likes to make a dish with slices of grilled eggplant, covered with pesto, fresh mozzarella cheese, tomatoes and balsamic vinegar. She also likes to just eat the vegetables plain.

"That's what I love... to go out and pick fresh vegetables," said Shannon.

Anyone interested in obtaining a copy of "Our Favorite Recipes from Home and Frank's Gardening Tips," may write to: The Word Shoppe, 1020 Dunnington Place, West River, Maryland 20778.