Tom Neale: How does your garden grow?

by Lisa Hinton-Valdrighi

Most all gardeners hate the tedious task of picking weeds. Not Tom Neale.

The 13-year-old loved picking weeds with his fellow YMCA summer campers at the Northern Neck Farm Museum garden in Horsehead. In fact, it was just that chore that lured Tom into discovering his now favorite hobby.

Tom’s love of gardening, along with a spotlight on the farm museum, will be featured on the PBS series Virginia Farming. His interview will air at 8:30 a.m. Sunday, June 25, on WCVE Channel 23 in Richmond. The entire show can also be viewed at VirginiaFarming.com.

Tom’s interest in farming started years ago when he was about eight years old and he was attending the Northumberland County YMCA summer camp. Campers are taken to the farm museum, where they learn about healthy soil and growing food in the community garden. The food grown there is donated to local food banks.

“Some of the kids just hate it, having to go out and pick weeds, but he was in heaven,” said Tom’s mother, Dawn Neale. “He loved watching things grow, changing color and flowering before the vegetables appeared.”

When he was about 10, Tom decided he wanted a garden of his own and his mom marked off a plot of land on their two-acre homesite. Each year the garden’s grown a little bigger. This year, Tom is gardening a 16’x21’ spot. He has 15 tomato plants, five cucumbers, 25 squash, 30 peppers and two watermelons. He’s grown carrots and eggplants in the past and last year tried his luck with raising sweet corn.

“But the bugs got right in there and ate it,” said Tom, who has learned the importance of protecting his garden from insects, rodents and deer. He’s also learned to plant in rows, “something he didn’t do last year,” said his mom. “And everything just kind of grew together and there were lots of weeds.”

Someone gave Tom a rototiller, which he now uses to help combat the weeds. He also got a composter for his birthday and made a rain barrel with a neighbor.

He grows most of his plants from seeds he buys on sale in the fall then plants them in a hotbox he buries a few inches in the ground. The wooden and glass box acts like a tiny greenhouse. The plants grow during the winter and early spring months and he sets them out in the garden in mid-May.

Amy Roscher, who hosts Virginia Farming, heard about Tom and his garden and how the farm museum sparked his interest and decided it’d make a great story.

Roscher and the camera crew met Tom onsite at the farm museum for filming in April and he’s been sending her pictures of his blossoming home garden.

The Virginia Farming series discusses topics that affect farmers and consumers with in-depth interviews and news regarding agriculture-related issues and in May featured the Northern Neck Farm Museum’s Young Farmers Day.


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