Montereau resident Robert ‘Bob’ Mickey isn’t one to boast about his gardening skills, but he plays a critical role in taking care of a large garden that feeds hundreds of Tulsa families.
During the summer, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, asparagus, bell peppers and much more can be found at The Jewish Federation of Tulsa’s Community Garden near 71st and Lewis. Bob serves as Master Gardener of the 1200 square-foot garden. Although the growing season falls primarily in the spring and summer, Bob’s work starts months before.
“First you have to prep the soil, kind of dig it up and then figure out what you are going to plant,” he said. “We have sheets that tell you when to plant; it’s not hard.” But for those without a green thumb, Bob’s volunteer work at the garden is nothing short of incredible.
During the growing season last year, a total of 1,287 pounds of fresh produce grown in the garden was donated to the Community Food Bank of Oklahoma. Most of it was planted and cared for by Bob.
Director of Development at the Jewish Federation of Tulsa, Heather Lewin, said she made multiple trips to the food bank every week delivering the food Bob grew. A modest Bob pointed out that Heather drives a small car.
“He has done so much,” she said. “He is invaluable; we are really grateful. Our volunteer help has been sporadic, but you could always count on him.”
Bob says it’s very rewarding to watch seeds sprout into cucumbers, carrots and much more that can be enjoyed by those in need.
Gardening has always been a hobby of his, but it’s never consumed as much of his time as it does now. Bob estimates he spends as many as 500 hours a year volunteering at the garden near 71st and Lewis. He’s been volunteering there for a few years, but last year there was a need for a Master Gardener, so Bob stepped in to fill the role. Bob says gardening didn’t always come easy to him, even though he’s always enjoyed it. “I grew up gardening, but I didn’t know much about it,” Bob said.
After retiring from his job as an international petroleum exploration engineer, Bob enrolled in the OSU Tulsa County Master Gardener program in 1998. The program is part of the Tulsa OSU Extension Service. You attend classes for about four months, learning about plant nutrition, soils and much more. After that, you complete 80 volunteer hours before you are a certified master gardener. He said, “I quit planting the wrong stuff in the wrong places.”
Now he’s planting everything in all the right places. Even with all of his experience and knowledge, he says some vegetables have a mind of their own. “Beets are like people, you can’t tell how it’s going to end up,” he said. “All the beet seeds are the same, some grow real big and others are still tiny two months later.
Onions and radish seeds are usually some of the first things he plants in the spring. If all goes as planned, it can be ready to pick and send off to the food bank in three weeks. “The weather seldom cooperates,” he said. “You have three days of warm and then a week of cold and then a week of hot. Then three more days of cold.”
Regardless, Bob sticks with it and helps lead the way for other volunteers at Tulsa’s Community Garden providing food for hundreds of adults and children in the Tulsa area.
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