Keys Homes
Sunday, April 14, 2013
Darin Robert's "macho garden" in Big Pine Key

By ROBIN ROBINSON Key West Garden Club

A man's garden is quite different from a woman's garden as the Key West Garden Club members found out when they visited Darin Robert's macho digs on Big Pine Key. Several rows of raised 4 foot by 8 foot plots sit beside the canal in his side yard and are overflowing with a wide variety of tomatoes.

Robert has an aggressive method of pruning his tomatoes. He removes every sucker; those are the branches that do not have flowers. "I want tomatoes, not leaves," he said. "I get 25 tomatoes per plant. I cut everything below the blossoms." He even trims the leaves on the branches that have flowers by one-half so that all of the plant's energy goes into the fruit. A few of these prolific ripe tomatoes had iguana bites out of them. The iguanas easily swim across the canal where his house is located.

Some of the tomatoes were climbing up metal fencing, but Robert prefers the string method. "I can cut the strings and remove the plant much more easily when I can discard the strings along with the plant."

Donna Froelich, a Garden Club member, suggested a recipe to spray on tomato diseases:

• 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

• 2 tablespoons Dr. Bonner soap

• 1 teaspoon rubbing alcohol

• 1 gallon of water

This masculine garden boasts a virile blue scoop tractor. Roberts uses this to haul mulch so he readily avoids the backbreaking work of shoveling with this sexy blue machine. (He allowed me to sit in it and pretend that I was driving.) He scoops the old mulch that is almost soil into a sifting machine that he constructed out of wood.

To avoid the backbreaking process of manually sifting the good dirt from the rocks and debris, he has attached a motor to the back of a two by five-foot box. Flip a switch and the box starts rocking back and forth, shaking the mulch through a screen. Dirt falls through the fine screen while rocks and debris fall out a front hole cut in the tilted machine. Voila! Roberts has dirt that he can use to fill ever more raised plots. His bountiful harvests are due to this fertile soil teeming with nutrients.

Also growing in the fecund plots are green beans, peppers, vibrant-red copperleaf and a variety of flowers, basil and herbs.

On the north side of Robert's gardening patch he placed glass windows that run entirely across the back of the plots. These windows not only deflect the cold north winds protect the garden but also serves to warm the garden in the winter months. A permanent camera stand allows this dedicated gardener to photograph the growth on a regular basis from exactly the same spot.

It is always exciting to view a working garden and even more exciting to see one that is a man's solution to the labor of growing vegetables.

Key West Master Gardener Robin Robinson was a columnist for the Chicago Daily News and syndicated with Princeton Features. Her books "Plants of Paradise" and "Roots Rocks and Rain: Native Trees of the Florida Keys," can be found at the Garden Club and on This column is part of a series developed by the Key West Garden Club. For more information visit

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