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Find Your Passion at Jax Library: Gardening

Wednesday, February 6, 2019
Man in Overalls in his garden in Jacksonville, FL, talking about books with the jacksonville public library.

Man in Overalls in his garden in Jacksonville, FL, talking about books with the jacksonville public library.

The library is the perfect place to explore your passions. With millions of resources in every format, you can learn and expand your talent for free!

Nathan, also known as the Man in Overalls, is a gardener who wants to help you grow your groceries. We caught up with Nathan at his home in Springfield to learn more about his passion for gardening.

Catch our full interview with Nathan on our podcast, Completely Booked.


Which library branch do you visit most?

Main and Willowbranch 

Tell us about your love for gardening.

I love that moment when I'm about to cook dinner, and I realize I've got produce ready to harvest in my garden. It's just a quick trip out my front door to grab a few things to add some flavor and freshness to our meals.

Also, I just love how gardens—especially food gardens—foster community. I've met so many of my neighbors by trading family garden stories and recipes as folks walk by on the sidewalk.

It's also a health thing, of course. The American diet is in desperate need of an overhaul based on the epedemic proportions of food-related chronic disease like obesity, diabetes and all the rest.

Man in Overalls with his grow cart, teaching people of Jacksonville, FL how to grow their own groceries at the Main Library downtown.How did your love for gardening start?

As a kid, my mother helped me starting growing food when I was eight years old.

I grew some lettuce and carrots the first season—both in the wrong season. The lettuce got bitter and the carrots were short and stubby, but I was hooked.

The fact that you could put a tiny little piece of a food in the ground—a seed—and it would grow more food was better than a money tree in my opinion. 

What advice do you have for people who want to start their own garden?

The wisdom of kindergarten is still applicable. Healthy crops require three things:

  1. Sunlight (at least 4-5 hours direct sunlight)
  2. Good soil
  3. Adequate water

Man in Overalls with his favorite book on Square Foot Gardening, which he uses to educate folks on growing their own groceries at the Jacksonville Public Library (Florida).It's still true. The biggest mistake I see most often is a garden placed in a spot without enough sunlight, hidden away in the back recesses of their backyard where the gardener only sees it when they "go garden." This almost guarantees that the garden will be unproductive and neglected.

The second most common mistake I see is folks not building their soil, or in the case of raised bed food gardens, filling their beds with a sub-par soil mix. 

Why do you feel encouraging the community to “grow their groceries” is so important?

There are so many good reasons to garden like health, knowing what you're "actually" eating, environmental concerns.

But then there's just the fact that once you know the rhythm, gardening is such an easy life-skill, akin to washing your dishes.

If you could have something from your garden to add to dinner every night of the week, and it only took 10 minutes a week to maintain, why wouldn't you want to grow your groceries?

What are some of your favorite books on gardening?

Book cover of Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholemew, which Man in Overalls uses to educate students on square foot gardening in Northeast Florida and jacksonville at the Main Library downtown.Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholemew

Square Foot Gardening is the most practical, foolproof way to grow a home garden, whether you're growing an urban garden, or have an entire backyard. 

That explains why author and gardening innovator Mel Bartholomew has sold more than two million books teaching how to become a successful DIY square foot gardener. Mel developed his techniques back in the early 1980s and has been teaching them around the world ever since. In the process, he has made improvements and refinements, and has continually adapted his practices to keep pace with modern times.




Book cover of how to grow world record breaking tomatoes by Charles Wilber, which Man in Overalls uses to educate gardeners on growing tomatoes in northeast florida and Jacksonville at the Jacksonville public library downtown.How to Grow World Record Tomatoes by Charles H. Wilber

Charles Wilber tells his personal story of learning to work with nature, and his philosophy and approach to gardening. He reveals for the first time how he grows record-breaking tomatoes and produce of every variety. There's no magic involved. Just a well thought out system that gives plants more than they could ever want, and makes it possible for them to reach their full potential. Wilber's compost is the cornerstone along with a wide circumference around plants layered with compost, alfalfa meal and mulch. Valuable pruning and watering details are given, too, as well as a new way of looking at seeds. As you will learn, growing awesome tomatoes integrates every aspect of gardening that you can imagine.



Special thanks to Nathan for chatting about gardening and books with us!

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