She says topato ... and pomato
BREWSTER -- When she retired from teaching after 43 years, Beth Nelson finally had time to become a master gardener. That was in 1996, when she began completing necessary training in Slayton to fulfill a longtime ambition. Nelson's gardening was ...
BREWSTER -- When she retired from teaching after 43 years, Beth Nelson finally had time to become a master gardener.
That was in 1996, when she began completing necessary training in Slayton to fulfill a longtime ambition. Nelson's gardening was hampered last year due to spinal problems, but she still displays an obvious zeal for the hobby and hopes to get outdoors this year.
"I can still some container gardening, things like that," said Nelson, 86, an honorary member of the Worthington Garden Club. "But I haven't been able to weed in gardens."
Nelson grew up in Brewster,and attended school there, then went on to teacher's college in Mankato from 1939 to 1941. She taught for a year in rural Brewster, another year in Ceylon and Mora, respectively, and then spent two years as a teacher in Lakefield prior to returning to Brewster.
She married her husband, Harris, in 1947, and that's about when her interest in gardening really began to flourish.
"In my classes at school, we did a lot of environmental things," Nelson remembered. "A fourth-grade class I had planted a couple of evergreens at the end of a football field ... and a locust tree, a couple of ash trees and a type of cherry tree.
"Kids loved it, just to get it," Nelson added later. "One fourth-grade class landscaped around the school, with the help of an ag class. There used to be evergreens under every window, but now there's one left. ... Second-graders, we did some things, but they can't dig holes like fourthgraders can."
Nelson's memory shows no sign of advanced age, as she can quickly move from one vividly recalled story to the next.
"One year (at school), we planted tomato seeds and planted a potato eye," she reminisced. "We took the tomato plant, cut the roots off, cut a piece off the tomato's stem, then used gauze to graft them together. We made a pomato, or a topato. ... Actually, two kids got potatoes on the bottom and tomatoes on top."
Potatoes played a big role in Nelson's gardening at home.
"I raised four different kinds of potatoes," she said. "Russets are good to bake; they're a mealy potato. There was the red Norland ... and there was a white version that's like it. There was a man that developed an Anoka potato who was from Anoka, Minnesota ... and one year he was down and judged at the county fair in Worthington. He was just a marvelous judge and knew all about vegetables. ... I think I had read about his potatoes that year, entered them and won grand champion. ... I also had Kennebec potatoes; they're huge, over a pound.
"That way, you have a potato for every season," she added.
Nelson enjoyed vegetable gardening most, but also had plenty of fruit and other trees to tend on the home property. The Nelsons purchased several empty lots near their home after marriage to expand their gardening capabilities.
"I don't like to get crowded in with people," Nelson said. "I like the green spaces."
There was plenty of gardening enjoyment until 1996, when time finally became available for Nelson to pursue the education required of a master gardener. She still has her textbook of nearly 400 pages for the class, which was sponsored by the University of Minnesota Extension Service.
"Art Frame (with the Minnesota Extension Service) -- he knew everything," Nelson said of his efforts with gardening education and Worthington Garden Club. "He was excellent at keeping us going."
Ten years later -- in 2006 -- Nelson and Henrietta Duerr of Fulda were each given awards for being master gardeners for 10 years.
"You have to keep it up," Nelson said of master gardening status. "I didn't do it last year. ... I will this year if someone asks me ... or there's something I can do."
In addition to becoming a master gardener, Nelson earned a four-year degree at Mankato State in 1961, then later took additional college classes. She and her husband, who died in 1990, have one son, who lives in Wisconsin, but she also takes pride in the achievements of some of her past students.
"Two boys I had at school, they now have their own business of raising vegetables and selling them," she said. "Kerry Williams and Pat Haberman -- they're in Brewster, and both of them, even in my grade, were interested. Pat, when he was a fourth-grader, would ask. 'How do you raise these big onions?'"
After all her years of gardening, Nelson figures she simply has the genes for it.
"My grandfather McNab homesteaded in Alba Township, in Jackson County, and he had a big apple orchard and cherry trees. ... I never knew him, but I think it was in my blood.
"My mother's mother was German, and she raised herbs and cooked with them, too," she added. "My mother would say, 'You're just like mama.'"