Three years ago, Bob and Becky Gerstein's yard was like most - some lawn, some weeds, two big water oak trees and a few shrubs.
Then one of the oaks in the front yard split and fell. When the tree service came to take it out, it said the other one was about to do the same, so they had it removed. With all that sudden sun, the Gersteins decided to plant fruit, but when they found no one carried some of the kinds they wanted, they decided to start their own nursery.
Soon after, they went to a USF plant sale, met some people at the Rare Fruit Council International booth and joined the club. In my opinion, there's no better way to learn.
Now their front yard features a large flower garden surrounding four young citrus trees. Though this replaced a failing turf only nine months ago, it's quite striking.
In the backyard of their almost half-acre property, the Gersteins now have a nursery they call B&B Hobbies, which consists of mostly trees or shrubs with edible fruit, supplies and some ornamentals. At the moment, they have 100 different kinds of fruit plants for sale.
They also have 30 varieties already producing fruit. One tree produced 200 nectarines this spring, and it's only been in the ground for three years.
All of these plants - their own and the nursery's - are in excellent condition and growing rapidly. Part of the Gersteins' success is their soil supply. They have a pile of compost from the landfill and beside it a pile of composted manure from a horse farm. Bob mixes the two, half and half, to fill his pots or planting holes.
There are two shade houses that become greenhouses when the Gersteins put the sides down in the winter and add space heaters for frost protection. Temperatures have gone down to 18 degrees and they lost nothing. They did have to cut their in-ground bananas back after the cold winters, but they revived and look wonderful now.
The most important part of their success is their micro-irrigation system. Bob knew nothing about putting this together, but he studied and learned and now has everything on automatic timers so each plant gets just what it needs and no more - no wasted water and no stress for plants or growers. They can even go on vacation and not worry.
The Gersteins' knowledge is amazing, and they readily share their enthusiasm and best growing tips. Prices are very reasonable. They have supplies you would not find elsewhere except at a wholesale company in huge amounts.
You can visit their nursery at 2116 Ramblewood Court in Brandon, but call (813) 681-2386 before you go, to be sure they'll be there.
v vToday's pick is the avocado. I had never tasted one before we came to Florida and now we all love them. My son has a Brogdon tree that bears delicious fruit from the Fourth of July until September, but it's only hardy down to 22 degrees.
The Gersteins have six varieties that can handle 19 degrees when they are young and 15 degrees when mature. They are grafted and will bear fruit right away. A seedling takes eight to 20 years to bear fruit, if it ever does. Avocados are handsome evergreen trees that need full sun to very light shade and excellent drainage. You fertilize them just like citrus.
v vNow's the time to tell you the Rare Fruit Council International is a great gathering of friendly and knowledgeable people who can help you grow any kind of fruit. They meet every second Sunday of the month at 2 p.m. at the Tampa Garden Club, 2629 Bayshore Blvd., most of the time, except when they are at the USF plant sales.
Dues are $20 a year for either a single person or couple, and you get a monthly newsletter that's worth more than that.
The council has a fantastic tasting table where you can sample wonderful fruits and some of the delicious dishes or drinks you can make from them. Many of my plants came from the group's plant raffle. And its members have inspired and mentored me. Visitors are welcome, and growers of all experience levels are sure to learn something new every time.
v v I invite everyone to a Book and Plant Sale from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday at my home, 1508 Burning Tree Lane, Brandon. My blue ginger is in full bloom, and there will be plants - red fire spike, ti plants, pentas, snowbush, Persian shield - and bulbs of pinecone ginger, butterfly ginger, lobster claw heliconia and some bromeliads. The garden is not as neat or as colorful as it has been in the past, but you are welcome to walk through. For details or directions, call (813) 295-1479 that morning or (813) 654-1969 beforehand.
?The Tampa Bay Orchid Society will hold its annual auction Thursday at Christ the King Catholic Church's McLoughlin Center, 821 S. Dale Mabry Highway, Room C, Tampa. The free event will be a generous selection of orchids donated by the society's monthly advertisers and members. The auctioneers are entertaining and knowledgeable. Only cash or checks are accepted. Doors open at 7 p.m. and close at 10. For more information, call Kathy at (813) 996-3388.
Monica Brandies is an experienced gardener, author and freelance writer who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her website is www.gardensflorida.com.