Cabbage patch secrets revealed

Lifelong friends maintain garden, share their continued success

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It is not quite a top-secret operation, but an opportunity to visit the garden kept by long-time friends Pat Padgett and Bill Clark requires an invitation and usually an escorted drive to the remote location. 

“We worked together at the locker,” said Padgett. “We’ve been friends for years.” 

He was referring to the Edgar County Locker where both men were meat cutters.

The garden is thick with giant cabbages, big onions, robust potato plants, heritage lettuce, plus it has copious quantities of green beans in bloom, tomato sets, cucumbers and even tobacco. It is obviously a labor as love because the plants are not only a daunting size but the rows between plants are pristine soil– weeds have no chance in this space.

“We do a lot of weeding,” said Padgett. 

Technically, the garden is Padgett’s project, and Clark claims he is but a helper.

“I’m good at taking orders,” said Clark. “If he wants it tilled, I till it. If he wants it watered, I water it.”

According to Clark, his previous gardening experience is limited to when he was a boy and got stuck with the hated chore of weeding the family garden. That distasteful experience didn’t keep him away when Padgett suggested they garden together. Clark said it didn’t take much arm-twisting to get him involved.

“We’re just good friends. I wanted to help him out. It’s been a blessing for me because it gives me something to do,” said Clark, who is still active and energetic at age 89.

Padgett brings his gardening tradition from experience gained as a youngster growing up in Southern Illinois. That’s why his garden has a few tobacco plants.

“Where I came from in Southern Illinois, men raised tobacco and chewed it,” said Padgett. He is fascinated by how such a large plant grows from such tiny seed. Padgett said tobacco seed is finer than turnip seeds.

The other nod to his home place is growing an Italian heirloom lettuce. Padgett explained the area was home to many Italian families employed as coal miners. After World War II, a member of the Versilino family, who were his neighbors, went to Italy for a visit.

“She snuck the seeds home in her shoe,” said Padgett, who was eventually given some seed after the family had enough to spare. He has grown the Italian lettuce ever since.

The current pride of the garden is the cabbage heads weighing more than 20 pounds. Padgett shared his secret for getting such prodigious vegetables. He has a source for obtaining composted turkey manure, and the annual application keeps the plot abundantly fertile. 

Another important feature is buying quality cabbage starts from Weir’s Florists and getting them in the ground by mid-March. 

Padgett isn’t sure but he suspects the smell of the turkey manure may keep deer away. The garden is in a clearing with woods on three sides. His other trick is placing a chair in the garden affixed with a hunter’s vest and cap and a hoe leaning against it.

He can’t say for sure if it is the compost, the ersatz scarecrow or a combination, but Padgett claims deer have never been a problem.

With such a fruitful garden, the two men anticipate giving away a lot of produce, especially when the tomatoes bear fruit. 

Clark pointed to the size of the potato vines, adding it amazes him how a sliver of potato can produce a vine that yields a dozen or more new spuds.

“We’re going to have a lot of digging,” Patchett acknowledged about the potato harvest.

As for the giant cabbages, the plan is to make a lot of slaw and sauerkraut. Clark has never made sauerkraut and is looking forward to the new experience.

“I like kraut,” he said.