by Cori Hilsgen
Tom and Vickie Wicks of Collegeville township recently won the “Best Edible Garden” in the “Country Gardens Annual Garden Awards.” Their garden was recently pictured on the cover of the magazine.
The Wickses entered the “Country Gardens 13th Annual Garden Award” by submitting photos of their garden and a story about their garden and garden shed in August 2011. Early in 2012, the editor of “Country Gardens” called and notified them they had been selected as a winner of the Annual Garden Awards and they wanted to know when their garden would look its best for a photo shoot in the summer of 2012.
The ‘Country Gardens’ crew came out in the beginning of August 2012 to take the photos. The story written for the magazine tells about the abundance of produce the Wickses have grown in their garden.
The Wickses both enjoy gardening and have had numerous gardens throughout the years. In April and May, the Wickses often plant seeds and later transfer them to the greenhouse as the weather warms up. In early June, they usually plant vegetable, pumpkin and flower seeds directly in the ground.
“We never seem to get our potatoes planted early enough, but when those new potatoes come, they are worth the wait,” Tom said. “We have battled with potato bugs picking the pillow bugs one at a time. It is well worth the time to watch for the beetles and catch them before they lay eggs.”
This is the first experience the Wickses have had at winning any gardening awards. They subscribe to the ‘Country Gardens’ magazine and enjoy reading about other gardens.
The Wickses grow mammoth sunflowers; sweet corn; red, white and Yukon gold potatoes; five varieties of summer squash; four varieties of winter squash; radishes; peas; beans; beets; carrots; broccoli; brussel sprouts; peppers; dozens of tomato plants; bok choi; cabbage; five varieties of pumpkins; many herbs; onions of all colors; lettuce; cucumbers; kale; Swiss chard; kidney beans; sweet potatoes; zinnias; marigolds; petunias; gladioli; geraniums; canna lilies; hollyhocks; calendula; dahlias; mandovila; and morning glories in their garden. They have fun trying as many varieties of vegetables as they can learn about, and they would like to expand the garden and add a plot for raspberries, strawberries and asparagus.
Their garden produces much more than they can eat, so they share it with friends, neighbors, family and the Catholic Charities Food Shelf. They have been sharing their vegetables for six years since they started to oversize their garden. The Wickses share several hundreds of pounds of produce each year.
In addition to sharing their vegetables, Vickie also likes to share her favorite recipes to use the produce.
“Many first time zucchini users are surprised at all the great dishes and desserts that can be made,” Tom said. “Some people actually believe zucchini brownies are good for you. Well, I guess it’s true; they make you smile.”
Vickie enjoys cooking vegetables that are freshly harvested from the garden.
“It’s handy just stepping out the front door and being in the produce section,” Vickie said.
She freezes many of the garden vegetables to use throughout the year. Their potatoes and onions last through the winter.
Three years ago, the Wickses found an old 10-by-12-foot fishing cabin on one of their “Craig’s List” adventures.
“The fishing cabin was in need of a lot of work and we spent a couple of summers fixing it up,” Tom said. “We put new shingles on as a first project, then replaced the windows and siding.”
The deck they added to the front of the garden shed came from another “Craig’s List” find. They found a listing for 100-year-old redwood beer vat staves, bought them and re-sawed them into decking material.
They have named the cabin their “Sugar Shack” because they use it to make maple syrup. The Wickses tap maple trees and boil the sap down for pure maple syrup. They made an evaporator that sits in the shack and vents the steam out of the cupola on top.
“We finished nine gallons of syrup this past spring by boiling down 324 gallons of sap,” Tom said. “Vickie will tell you she does most of the weeding (of the garden) while I plant and do a lot of the work on the ‘Sugar Shack.’”
The Wickses have lived south of St. John’s University since they were married in 1982. Tom is the director of operations at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Minnesota. Vickie is the owner and operator of “Golden Shears Dog Grooming,” which she operates from their home. She has been grooming dogs since 1980 and started her business in 1991. They have one daughter, Jess, and a granddaughter, Clara.
Hilsgen is a contributing reporter for the Newsleaders. The central Minnesota native is a wife, mother and grandmother. She has a Bachelor's degree in Organizational Management and Communication from Concordia University – St. Paul, MN and enjoys learning about and sharing other people's stories through the pages of the Newsleaders.