Louisiana lost one of its sons and Lehigh is richer for the transition. Just two and a half years ago, EJ Tullier our "Crusin Cajun" and his wife Jackie moved here because they found a great deal on a house and wanted to be closer to their son. They brought with them their extensive farm experience, specialized equipment for canning fruits and vegetables, huge cooking pots for his Cajun recipes and lots of common sense.
Growing up as a child on a small farm, in Port Allen, La., EJ had the opportunity to help in all aspects of operating a farm and learned a little about gardening. As he put it, "I wish I would have paid more attention to my father's knowledge of farming and gardening."
Hmmmm? This sounds familiar!
And this brings to mind another pearl of wisdom in form of a quote written by Morris Kline, a mathematician: "The most fertile source of insight is hindsight."
EJ's firsthand experience, as a youngster may have given him the schema to start his edible garden, but it was the need to offset the present state of the economy that drove him to plant food in order to save money and to help people.
For those novice gardeners, EJ recommends the "good read" titled: Guide to Florida Fruits and Vegetable Gardening by Robert Bowden. Besides reading up on the topic, he has acquired lots of very practical information attending the monthly Lehigh Acres Edible Gardening Exchange meetings.
Last year, EJ "graduated" from the 13-week Crop Cultivation & Garden Design Course at Heartland Gardens (www.heartlandgardens.org/) which was held on Saturdays in Fort Myers. This course taught EJ the benefits of locally and organically grown harvests from which he is able to prepare wholesome meals which suits this Cajun cook just fine.
Drip, drip, drip is his common sense method of row crop irrigation. EJ devised a network of narrow rubber tubing with "pin holes" set at one-inch intervals, where he is able to "save water by allowing water to drip slowly onto the soil surface and to the roots of plants. It is becoming popular for crop irrigation, especially in areas where water supplies are limited or recycled water is used for irrigation..." excerpt taken from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drip_irrigation.
Above ground spraying is used for his tangelo and navel orange trees, but spraying didn't sit well with the sandy soil of Southwest Florida, found in his back yard so, this dilemma gave him an inspiration to devise the drip drip method. Drop by precious drop, EJ's garden has yielded bell peppers; beets; broccoli; cabbage; Cajun okra; cantaloupes; carrots; Cubano peppers; cucumbers; finger eggplants; garlic; habanero peppers; okra; pineapples; potatoes; shallots; sweet peas; tomatoes; turnips; okra; white onions; yard-long beans; yellow squash; zucchini and of course okra.
Did you know that okra, also known as "lady finger" or "gumbo," is a highly nutritious green edible pod vegetable? "Okra is of West African origin (Nigeria, Benin, etc.). In various Bantu languages, okra is called kingombo or a variant thereof, and this is the origin of its name in Portuguese (quiabo), Spanish (quimbomb or guigamb), Dutch and French, and also of the name "gumbo," used in parts of the United States and English-speaking Caribbean for either the vegetable, or a stew based on it.
"Okri, as EJ calls it, "grows best in well drained and manure soil.
The plant bears numerous dark green colored pods measuring about 5-15 cm in length. It takes about 45-60 days to bear ready-to-harvest fruits. . No matter how you call it okri, gumbo, quimbomb, or okra, don't miss out on this "miracle vegetable!"
Health benefits of Okra
1.Very low in calories, provides just 30 calories per 100g and contains no saturated fats or cholesterol; but is a rich source of dietary fiber, minerals, vitamins; recommended in cholesterol controlling and weight reduction programs.
2. The rich fiber and mucilaginous content in Okra pods helps smooth peristalsis of digested food particles and relieve constipation condition.
3. The pods contain healthy amounts of vitamin A, and flavonoid anti-oxidants such as beta carotenes, xanthin and lutein. It is one of the green vegetable with highest levels of these anti-oxidants. These compounds are known to have antioxidant properties and are essential for vision. Vitamin A is also required for maintaining healthy mucus membranes and skin. Consumption of natural vegetables and fruits rich in flavonoids helps to protect from lung and oral cavity cancers.
4. Fresh pods are good source of folates; provide about 22 percent of RDA per 100 g. Consumption of foods rich in folates, especially during pre-conception period helps decrease the incidence of neural tube defects in the offspring.
5. The pods are also an excellent source of anti-oxidant vitamin, vitamin-C; provides about 36 percent of daily recommended levels. Consumption of foods rich in vitamin-C helps body develop immunity against infectious agents, reduce episodes of cold and cough and protects body from harmful free radicals.
6. The veggies are rich in B-complex group of vitamins like niacin, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), thiamin and pantothenic acid. The pods also contain good amounts of vitamin K. Vitamin K is a co-factor for blood clotting enzymes and is required for strengthening of bones.
7. The pods are also good source of many important minerals such as iron, calcium, manganese and magnesium."
The above information was gathered from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gumbo.
Presently, all of EJ's crops are growing in a 65 feet by 18 feet plot of his yard. He has harvested lots of tomatoes, peppers, and turnip greens, which he graciously shares with neighbors. The extra crops are canned and/or frozen.
When EJ is not working on his garden, he's taking telephone reservations at the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall. He also volunteers at Our Daily Bread Community Garden, at 1418 Homestead Rd N, on the corner of Shady Street, with many other volunteers, such as: Karen Harty, Bertha Jourdan, Enrique De Andres and Art Schmidt.
EJ offered his vehicle and brawn to transform the backyard of the pantry into an edible garden. He assisted in the construction of the vegetable beds; hauled mulch; spread compost and hauled some more mulch.
A lot of sweat went into developing Our Daily Bread Community Garden and it is in constant need of volunteers to maintain the vegetable beds, so therefore; in the spirit of giving and "paying it forward," you are most welcomed to volunteer on any Saturday morning at 7:30 a.m.
Besides the drip drip method, EJ uses yards of the OrganicLee Compost and doesn't bother using kitchen scraps to fertilize. When he thinks about it he adds some Miracle Grow. He prefers to build up rows and not vegetable beds because that is how he learned gardening back on the farm.
The easiest vegetable for him to grow was the bell pepper and the one that surprised him the most was the yard-long bean.
EJ's garden is selected as December's Garden of the month because of his ingenious method of drip irrigation and for his Cajun okra recipes. His garden is located at: 2909 10th St SW, Lehigh Acres.
The Lehigh Acres Edible Gardening Exchange meets every third Thursday of the month at 5:30 p.m. at Veterans Park Community Center, at 55 Homestead Rd S, Lehigh Acres, and for more information about the Lehigh Acres Edible Garden Exchange email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lillian Nieves is a member of the Lehigh Acres Edible Gardening Exchange and lives in Lehigh.