'Tomato Man's Veggies Beet the Competition

Reflections showcases Orange County people who have an interesting life story and gives them an opportunity to tell it in their own words.

Metrologist Clarence Hardy's home-grown vegetables used to help feed a family of nine, fill an extra freezer with green beans and line garage shelves with canned beets, sauerkraut and pickles. It wasn't until the children were grown that the 57-year-old grandfather of 10 went from tilling and eating to competing. Vegetables grown in his 65-foot-by-40-foot Costa Mesa garden won the sweepstakes at the Orange County Fair last year, garnering so many ribbons that Hardy's wife, Ann, stuffed them in a decorative glass jar rather than overload the living room bulletin board. Raised on a North Carolina farm, where his grandmother gave him a personal plot to plant at age 7, Hardy has been cultivating Costa Mesa backyard soil for 30 years. Although he is known as the "tomato man" for his tasty and large tomatoes--one grew to 2.2. pounds--Hardy is partial to greens. He grows 12 kinds. He credits the loam behind his house on Flower Street for helping to grow award-winning produce and claims no special methods, just a lot of steer manure, water and attention.

His remarks were taken from an interview with Times staff writer Nancy Reed.

We eat a lot of greens because I grew up on them on a small farm in Nedo, N.C. It was traditional in my family back home for New Year's Day dinner to have black-eyed peas and corn bread and greens--collard greens, turnip greens, all kinds. And everybody had to have money in their pocket--seed money to grow on.

You cook 'em like spinach, but you have to cook 'em much longer. We use salt, black pepper and bacon, a little pinch of bouillon and doctor 'em up. Greens are plain, but when we get through with them they are gourmet.

My son, who is 15, he loves greens. I gave him greens as a small infant, and he still loves 'em.

I took a big pot to work for our Christmas dinner one year, and I didn't know if anyone would know what they were. By the time I got up to the pot in the line, they were all gone. Someone knew.

Most of the things I grew as a kid were things I could eat right out of the garden, like radishes. Now I grow a lot of stuff; my wife is fussing at me, have so much stuff. You have to learn what vegetables will do well together. Green beans, for instance, require a lot of nutrients from the soil, so I rotate.

I have found that leftover seeds don't grow very well--they lie around and rot, and you are liable to get a mutated type of vegetable. Once we had zucchini that looked like pumpkins.

They have good flavor, but they look funny.

I think the funniest vegetable that we had was when I planted carrots, then planted beets on top, so they germinated together. The carrots came up red and tasted like beets.

I had a lot of problems with corn. I retilled it and replanted the seed in the same spot three times before I had success. It was coming up puny; I think it was by using old seed. I want to make sure I get new seed for '88. My challenge right now is I want to get as close to a 100-pound pumpkin as I can by using new commercial seed.

I also grew those little pumpkins this year. I had two rows across the back, with at least 40 or 50 of those little miniature guys. So I went out to cull some when it was getting near Halloween to take a bunch of them to give to my fellow workers.

There were only about 20 left. The possums had been eating them up. I caught one out there and he was nice and fat. They loved 'em because they were small. They would have problems eating big ones.

A lady at work gave me the seed for the miniatures last year, when I had my first crop. I gave her the ribbons I won at the fair.

I suppose the most satisfying . . . is watching things grow, watching it mature. But then I give it away, and people brag on it. You know, it kind of feeds my ego.

My son doesn't want to do it. My step-grandson, though, likes to work in the garden. He loves it. He is 6, and he just loves to plant. When he comes back to visit he runs out to see how things have grown. He does remind me of me.

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