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Garden Secrets // . . . A PINCH OF PEPPER, A SHOT OF MANURE TEA

MEET: Edward Scheeley of St. Petersburg, who has grown vegetables with great success in the same 15-by-30-foot backyard patch for 40 years.

WHAT HE'S PROUD OF: His outstanding cabbages produced large heads at the end of last year. After those were harvested, the plants then produced many small heads, in spite of this winter's cold weather. He's especially delighted to have plenty of carrots and parsley to share with camping friends with whom he and his wife, Ethel, meet every month. He also shares the homegrown produce with neighbors and family members.

WHAT WORKS FOR HIM: In his neat garden, Scheeley places boards between rows. Into each planting hole, he puts a pinch of black pepper, four match heads (to provide sulphur) and a teaspoon of Roots Alive! from Gardens Alive! catalog. Then he covers those additives with soil and plants his seeds. Unlike most Central Florida vegetable growers, Scheeley raises almost everything from seed, starting seedlings in flats and later setting them into the ground or sowing directly into the plot with such plants as carrots. Like most other Tampa Bay area residents, he had his share of disappointments this winter. Many tender plants, thriving and ready to bear, were frozen by the repeated cold snaps.

"I lost my tomatoes and peppers," he explains ruefully, even though he covered them with a double layer of blankets.

Now he's ready for the spring season with more plants. Each year, he mail-orders small Vidalia onion plants, then waters and feeds them as needed. Acting on advice from the cooperative extension service this winter, he broke off the frozen tops of his potatoes and composted them. What remained of the tubers he watered and fed with fish emulsion, "and they came back from the roots." He buys his onion sets for green onions from Willow Tree Nursery, seed potatoes from Carroll's Nursery and shelled green peas wherever he can find them.

WHERE HE LEARNED TO GARDEN: He explains that his family always grew their own vegetables in Pennsylvania, where he grew up. Since then, he has experimented on his own. Like many natural gardeners he buries compost and collects oak leaves from other people's properties, then shreds and turns them with a pitchfork. Since last year he has been raising earthworms, beginning with 25 brought to him by grandson John Jackson who lives in Mobile, Ala.

GROWING TIPS: Although essentially an organic gardener, Scheeley occasionally uses a little Miracle Gro if a plant looks puny and needs a quick boost. "Manure tea" is what he uses mostly. To make it, he fills an old stocking with dehydrated cow manure or horse manure that he gets from a local stable, then immerses it in a bucket of water with a cover and the appropriate label: Horse Tea or Cow Tea. This homemade fertilizer works slowly but is a real plant booster, Scheeley said.

For pest control, he uses a variety of methods. He raises herbs as companion plants that keep insect pests away. Before summer he plants marigolds in the vegetable patch, for the same purpose. To discourage bigger varmints, he made a fake snake from worn-out rubber hose, using bits of plastic to shape the head and tail. Scheeley builds birds with windmill wings, which his wife calls whirligigs. They are set on posts around the fenced garden to frighten birds away from ripening tomatoes. A carved wooden owl keeps watch, too, freshly painted every year. He moves the fake predator from place to place to make it appear more realistic.

FUTURE PLANS: His 10-year-old grandson Brian lives close by and is a gardener, too. "He's learning. He calls me for advice. "Should I cover, Pap?' That was a question often this winter." Besides gardening, Scheeley is an enthusiastic artist. In the '80s he took art classes and became an oil painter. Many of his works decorate his home. He also stays busy re-working lawn chairs with macrame yarn; he says it's a long-lasting seat material. On a covered patio at Scheeley's home is a set of gliding chairs bought 40 years ago from Webb's City and recovered many years ago.

_ Compiled by BETTE SMITH, Times gardening correspondent

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