Photo by John Bruno Turiano
You may think you know a thing or two about growing basil, cherry tomatoes, and cukes on your deck, but spend a morning with nonagenarian Antonio Meliambro, and you’ll realize how much you don’t understand about backyard vegetable gardening.
Growing up on a farm in Reggio Calabria, in Southern Italy, 95-year-old Antonio Meliambro’s love of gardening started from a young age. “I love being outside,” says the Bedford Hills resident. Growing your own vegetable garden has many other benefits, from getting exercise to knowing what you’re eating.
Meliambro moved to the U.S. at the age of 25 after marrying his late wife, Grace, a Mount Kisco native. They met when she was on vacation in Italy. He received a horticultural degree in California and set up a landscaping business which he ran even while working as a truck driver for the hamlet of Bedford Hills until his retirement.
His garden is a masterpiece filled with almost every vegetable you can think of: Italian beans, peas, escarole, endives, tomatoes, potatoes, zucchini, lettuce, and more. He grows red dahlias, zinnias, and fig trees from Italy. Every plant is arranged in perfect lines, without a weed in sight. Meliambro’s garden is also organic. “I don’t use chemicals, as I like everything to be natural,” he says proudly. “I use organic fertilizer and cow or sheep manure.”
What is perhaps most impressive is that he weeds, waters, prunes, and harvests by himself, refusing any offer of help. He keeps what he needs for pasta-based soups and dishes, such as escarole and beans, cooks and freezes a lot of the vegetables to be used later in the year, and gives the rest to family, friends, and neighbors. Every October, when the season ends, Meliambro turns over the soil and buries everything, even the weeds.
For those just beginning their foray into growing their own, Meliambro has plenty of tips to share.
- Place in an area that gets plenty of sun.
- Water each morning in the warmer months.
- Avoid chemical fertilizers and sprays.
- Use organic fertilizer, such as Espoma Garden-tone Organic Herb and Vegetable Food.
- Use only cow or sheep manure.
- Turn over the soil at the end of the season.