Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Garden of eatin'

Couple's backyard is overflowing with the fruits -- and veggies -- of their labour

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When the Garofalos bought a home in Crestview in the late '70s, their yard wasn't a feast for the eyes.

"When I came here there was a big lot," said Raffaele Garofalo.

More than 30 years later, every spare inch of the Italian-Canadian Winnipegger's backyard is growing something good to eat.

"It's heaven," said the retired chef who immigrated from Italy nearly 60 years ago.

These days, Garofalo is catering to hundreds of plants hung with huge zucchinis, tomatoes, peppers, beans and grapes. Thickets of oregano and basil ring the yard.

The side of his house next to the neighbour's is packed with more tomatoes. In the spring, Garofalo takes advantage of that narrow strip's southern exposure to start his plants from seed. He's designed a greenhouse using sheets of glass and Styrofoam and starts 200 to 300 plants.

Garofalo started off small in 1979, growing some Swiss chard and beets, learning as he went.

"I know a little bit from the old country," said Garofalo, who hails from Avellino near Naples. "We had a little bit of land."

His wife, Silvia, came from a farm in Abruzzi near Rome in 1954. They grew grain, corn, beans, potatoes and "things you could preserve for the winter." Money was tight, said Silvia, who grew up with seven siblings.

"We didn't have a store close by. Walking, it would take half a day to get to town."

She came to Canada for a better life. At a wrestling match in Winnipeg, mutual friends introduced her to Raffaele.

He'd come to Canada in 1953 at the age of 20 with no knowledge of English -- just $54 and some French he'd learned slaving away in coal mines in Belgium.

In Winnipeg, he got a job at CP Rail making 56 cents an hour.

Today, the Garofalos are both retired with great-grandkids.

They share a love for gardening, from spring planting to summer weeding and preserving the produce in the fall -- or sooner.

By the middle of August, they've already prepared a dozen jars of preserved beets and pickles.

"There'll be 30 to 40 jars of each, for sure," said their daughter, Anna, who dropped by for a visit on a Tuesday afternoon.

Her parents have two kitchens, two fridges and two huge freezers to fill with Swiss chard, beets, corn, peppers, leeks, potatoes and all kinds and sizes of tomatoes and beans.

They grow Roma beans for soup, green beans for supper and string beans for garden-raiding rabbits.

Rabbits snatch all their string beans and lately a lot of lettuce, Silvia said.

"That's OK. They've got to eat, too."

The Garofalos are happy to share their bounty.

The other day, a neighbour couldn't fit the zucchini they gave her in a grocery bag.

"She carried it like a baby," said Silvia, whose zucchini lasagna is the couple's favourite dish.

Clumps of Concord grapes hang from a shady, cool arbour of densely packed vines. "They're good for jelly," says Silvia.

Out in the sun amid the beanstalks and tomato stakes, the occasional cosmo flower pops up in the Italian vegetable patch.

"They're good for the garden. The bees like them," said Raffaele.

The Garofalos don't try to make their garden organic. They're just doing what they've learned the plants like.

The only fertilizer they use is manure from sheep and cows, mostly sheep, because it's better for the soil, he said.

Before the winter, Raffaele puts the garden to bed, slowly and gently turning the soil with a shovel.

They reap the benefits of their devotion.

"A garden needs a person all the time," Silvia said.

"I do it because I love it," said Raffaele.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 25, 2012 j4


Updated on Saturday, August 25, 2012 at 9:37 AM CDT: adds photo

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