As a mentor to future farmers, Gerber gives UMass students both a grounding in agriculture and a sense of purpose. As a gardener, he shares his fruits and vegetables as readily as he shares his knowledge.
“I do this for fun, and to share,” he says. “It keeps me sane.”
Take tomatoes. Go ahead, take some. The free tomatoes in the photo above sit on a stand in front of his Amherst home. They are the only indication of the extensive gardens behind it.
He has about 40 tomato plants there. This has been a very good year for tomatoes, with no late blight as in past years, so Gerber has plenty to share. He also skins and freezes them before making tomato sauce and canning it in November, when it’s cooler. Betsy does something similar with raspberries.
There are three Asian pear trees in the Gerber back yard, and they are heavy-laden with fruit. He makes jam out of them, and stores some for later eating. But he also gives a lot of them away to his students, most of whom have never seen one. Asian pears are similar to apples but without the disease and insect problems that force most growers to spray nasty chemicals.
He devotes a large amount of space to gourds. His son Jeremy used to sell gourds to neighbors, and when he left home the demand continued. So Gerber still grows them and gives them away.
There’s also broom corn, but it’s not to make brooms as New Englanders used to. The tops get fed to the six hens, which produce at least three eggs a day, many of which are consumed in other households.
This has also been a great year for grapes, and on Saturday Gerber extracted four gallons of juice from them, prior to making jelly. He doesn’t spray the vines, and this year there’s been no disease. Some years, there are no grapes at all.
Gerber’s garden also includes a kiwi arbor and a 30-foot-tall pawpaw tree. He also grows white eggplant, pumpkins, blueberries, and New Zealand spinach.
Gerber, who has a Ph.D in the physiology of vegetable crops, calls himself a lazy gardener. “I used to be a lot more fanatical,” he says.
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