Business Q&A | Wilson helps out those without a green thumb

Woody Wilson displays lettuce and spinach in a garden he has planted in a family's back yard in State College. Other products in this garden include peas, tomatoes and strawberries.
Woody Wilson displays lettuce and spinach in a garden he has planted in a family's back yard in State College. Other products in this garden include peas, tomatoes and strawberries. CDT photo

Woody Wilson weeded under the blistering sun Monday.

His face, partially shaded by a ball cap, turned bright red from the heat.

It’s worth it to Wilson, who farms nearly every day, not on his own land, but on others’. Once a manager or a community-supported agriculture farm and a landscaper in school, Wilson combined the two to create his company.

The Penn State graduate founded Wilson’s Home Farm, a personalized backyard farming company that installs and manages gardens at people’s homes and company’s offices, in 2012.

He still maintains the first garden he built at Videon Central.

“I started really small, and now I feel like I’m everywhere,” Wilson said.

Q: How did you first become interested in gardening produce?

A: My dad was into it when I was a kid. He had a garden in the backyard, but he died when I was young. I never got to see that through, but we had a lot of fruits back there like blueberries and raspberries that I liked to pick.

In college, I was an ag science major, basically a liberal arts major for an ag degree. I took classes in everything — bug classes and plant classes, all sorts of things. I took an ecology course that was really involved in understanding your footprint in the world, and it really centered on food. That’s what got me started thinking about why people aren’t growing their own food. Why is it coming from South America and California most of the year when we can do it?

Q: What are the basics to gardening produce?

A: Timing is the most important thing. Getting everything in at the right time and then being able to care for it when it wants to be cared for. We can use this garden as an example. Everything was planted at the right time, but it looks like we’re getting past the time they want care. They want to be weeded, and they want their space, which is what I’m here for today.

Understand what your crops need, too. Some people get latched onto an idea like square foot gardening, because they read about it in a book. Then, they put tomatoes right next to the pepper, which is right to the cucumber, and in two months everything is a jungle that really can’t get any produce out of.

So the big things are timing, care and spacing.

Q: Speaking of timing, are there seasons that people should plant specific crops?

A: There are some spring crops like onions, lettuce, peas and spinach, and then beets, carrots and radishes. They like it when it’s nice and cool. When you get into summer some of them don’t like how hot it gets, but you can plant them again in the fall.

There are also some crops that do really well in the summer like tomatoes, peppers, beans, cucumbers and squashes. They can’t be planted too early, because they’ll frost and die. They need heat.

Q: What do most people want to grow?

A: The top crops are spinach, tomatoes, peppers, peas and beans. Then, the second tier is broccoli, carrots, beets and turnips.

Q: Is some produce particularly easy to grow locally? What crops are difficult to grow locally?

A: I haven’t had problems growing anything yet, but I guess what grows really well is spinach. The greens do well every time. The other side of that are the heavy feeder crops. Tomatoes and peppers are harder to grow, because they require a lot of nutrients and are also prone to a lot of diseases around here because of our wet, heavy soils.

Q: Are there any mistakes people typically make gardening produce?

A: I think one of the big mistakes people don’t realize they’re making is that they plant everything at once. I call them Memorial Day gardens where people decide it’s the time to garden, they put everything in the ground and in July they have so much produce, but when August comes they’re left wondering where everything went.

You can continue to get produce from May to November if you keep planting during the season. A lot of people go gung-ho, put all the hard work into it at once, but don’t get the chance to appreciate it over time.

You also can’t mess with soil when it’s wet, because you’ll basically turn it into concrete. If you try to till when it’s wet, the soil dries out and gets solid. That’s a really big problem for commercial farmers, because they have to till an acre to make it happen.

The rule of thumb is if you get mud on your boot it’s too wet to work.

Q: Tell me about a time you made a mistake while farming.

A: One of my first farm memories was when I was four or five. One of my uncles owned a strawberry farm, and we went out on a big tractor in the field. He asked if I wanted to drive, I was trying to steer and I drove it right into a mud pit. That’s probably the biggest mistake I made, or it could be the biggest mistake he made.