A block that sits at the edge of a Sesser neighborhood is home to vegetable and fruit crops and is flourishing despite failing crops in neighboring fields.
Jim Roberts of Sesser works the soil belonging to his brother, Paul, and said watering faithfully is the key to his success.
"This is the best tomato crop I ever had in my life," he said. "I counted 95 ripe tomatoes on one plant. I have picked 7,000 pounds of tomatoes and they are putting on again.
"Watermelon and cantaloupe are putting on a second crop," Roberts said.
He knows the block quite well, saying he grew up across from the garden spot in the family's home place where his brother now lives.
"I have four irrigation faucets," Roberts said. "I use a drip irrigation system and water about two times per week. One month's water bill was $200.
"I water and fertilize the plants and put down landscape fabric and cover the plants with straw to control the moisture in the soil and to keep down the weeds," he said. "I also use rolls of newsprint under everything to hold in the moisture and to control the weeds. I put down a double thickness of newsprint or newspaper and it tills right into the ground."
Roberts said he has picked tons of peppers. "I planted Gypsy, bell and banana peppers and a sweet jalapeno called Fooled You," he said. "I planted 500 tomato plants so I could have a fall and an early crop.
"A friend of my wife's said she took four large tomatoes and made three-and-a-half quarts of tomatoes and juice," Roberts said. "The tomatoes weighed two-and-a-half pounds."
He is following his childhood dream. "I loved to play in the dirt when I was a kid and still do," Roberts said. "Dad always gardened. He planted potatoes and strawberries."
He has followed his passion since 2004 as a farmers’ market vendor. "I went to master gardeners school through the University of Illinois Extension," Roberts said. "I already had a garden and wanted to learn more.
"They had us hand out pamphlets at the farmers markets," he said. "I said I can do this. I really enjoy doing it. I enjoy gardening and it pays me back but you've got to work at it."
Digging sweet potatoes, Roberts said he has a very large crop of all sizes. "Some people like the larger ones and some like the smaller ones," he said. "It just depends on your individual taste."
Roberts said when he removes one crop he prepares for another.
"I have taken out all but one eggplant plant," he said. "I have replanted cucumbers, zucchini and yellow squash and they are all coming on again. The tomatoes are hanging in full bloom.
Page 2 of 2 - "I am working another part of the garden to plant radishes, lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage if I can find the plants," Roberts said. "The turnips are up that I planted on July 25."
He said his twice a week watering resulted in 55,000 gallons of water usage.
"I use a fertilizer injector system," Roberts said. "I bought a special check valve from the city so the fertilizer doesn't flush back into the water supply.
"I put down the fertilizer first, then use the bed making mulch layer tool on the back of the tractor," he said. "It puts down the layer of landscape fabric, adds the drip irrigation system and mounds the dirt up all at the same time. When I get to the end of the row, I cut the plastic with a utility knife and finish the ends by hand."
Roberts said he annual work begins as soon as he can get in the garden.
"Usually I am in the garden by late March or as soon as the weather gets dry enough," he said. "I planted potatoes in March this year because we had such good dry weather."
Roberts was working on his strawberry crop for next year.
"I (planned to) plant the strawberry plugs on Sept. 10," he said. "As soon as they get here I will put them in the ground a foot apart and stagger them. They are more expensive than bare root strawberries but I think they do better."
Roberts said another area of the garden is devoted to blackberries, with another bumper crop of fruit to please his customers.
Roberts' wife Carleen is busy in the kitchen before each farmers' market, preparing her famous fried pies that typically sell out within the first hour of each market day.