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‘Nearer God’s heart’: Dalys Rehbein’s raised-bed garden in Hadley is a sight to behold

  • Dalys Rehbein's 13 month-old-daughter, Celine, eats the fresh vegetables right from the garden, including corn-on-the-cob.<br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    Dalys Rehbein's 13 month-old-daughter, Celine, eats the fresh vegetables right from the garden, including corn-on-the-cob.
    CAROL LOLLIS

  • Dalys Rehbein, whose garden's at her home at Sweet Meadow Farm in Hadley is thriving, says she uses companion planting.<br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    Dalys Rehbein, whose garden's at her home at Sweet Meadow Farm in Hadley is thriving, says she uses companion planting.
    CAROL LOLLIS

  • A sunflower grows in Dalys Rehbein garden at her home at Sweet Meadow Farm in Hadley.<br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    A sunflower grows in Dalys Rehbein garden at her home at Sweet Meadow Farm in Hadley.
    CAROL LOLLIS

  • A tomato in Dalys Rehbein garden at her home at Sweet Meadow Farm in Hadley<br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    A tomato in Dalys Rehbein garden at her home at Sweet Meadow Farm in Hadley
    CAROL LOLLIS

  • Dalys Rehbeing grows tomatillos, popular in her native Panama.<br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    Dalys Rehbeing grows tomatillos, popular in her native Panama.
    CAROL LOLLIS

  • Dalys Rehbein's 13-month-old-daughter, Celine, likes to "help" in the garden.<br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    Dalys Rehbein's 13-month-old-daughter, Celine, likes to "help" in the garden.
    CAROL LOLLIS

  • In spite of some pest problems, Dalys Rehbein' garden at her home at Sweet Meadow Farm in Hadley, is thriving.<br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    In spite of some pest problems, Dalys Rehbein' garden at her home at Sweet Meadow Farm in Hadley, is thriving.
    CAROL LOLLIS

  • Dalys Rehbein's 13 month-old-daughter, Celine, eats the fresh vegetables right from the garden, including corn-on-the-cob.<br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • Dalys Rehbein, whose garden's at her home at Sweet Meadow Farm in Hadley is thriving, says she uses companion planting.<br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • A sunflower grows in Dalys Rehbein garden at her home at Sweet Meadow Farm in Hadley.<br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • A tomato in Dalys Rehbein garden at her home at Sweet Meadow Farm in Hadley<br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • Dalys Rehbeing grows tomatillos, popular in her native Panama.<br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • Dalys Rehbein's 13-month-old-daughter, Celine, likes to "help" in the garden.<br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • In spite of some pest problems, Dalys Rehbein' garden at her home at Sweet Meadow Farm in Hadley, is thriving.<br/>CAROL LOLLIS

The kiss of the sun for pardon, The song of the birds for mirth, — One is nearer God’s heart in a garden Than anywhere else on earth.”

This poem written by Dorothy Gurney nearly a century ago is often quoted (or misquoted) by avid gardeners.

It certainly sums up the philosophy of Dalys Rehbein, whose Hadley vegetable garden is a sight to behold. Rehbein, an immigrant from Panama, says she gardens “for the glory of God.” “Gardening is like a meditation,” she says. “You can see the sky and hear the little birds. I try to get closer to God.”

There are 24 raised beds, in Rehbein’s garden, each 16 feet by 8 feet. The sunflowers are so huge some have uprooted themselves and lie in the pathways. There is a long row of raspberries plus one section of blueberries. And intermingled are the colorful flowers of cosmos, zinnias, marigolds, nasturtiums, California poppies and bachelor’s buttons.

Rehbein says she believes in companion planting, mixing certain herbs and flowers with the vegetables. The most prolific and healthy of her several tomato beds also contains carrots, nasturtiums and marigolds. An old adage and the title of a book is “carrots love tomatoes.”

Rehbein decided to use raised beds because, she says, “It looks more organized and is better for weeding.” Her husband, Keith, who farms hay and works for a metal roofing company, explains, “You can control the water better.” When your beds are flat on the ground, “there can be too much moisture and you can get rot,” he said. “The raised beds drain better. They say you end up with a third more harvest.”

Keith Rehbein constructed the raised beds a year ago, using lumber treated with salt water, not with chemicals. He added upright posts for tomato trellises and to hold netting to cover the blueberry bushes and protect them from birds. But his wife confessed she never used the netting.

“The birds need to eat, too,” she said. And she never found time to trellis her tomatoes.

Keith Rehbein has lived at Sweet Meadow Farm for eight years, harvesting the hay and renting the stables for a riding school. He met his wife at a party at the home of friends in Amherst, not long after she arrived in the area, having found a job as a nanny in order to perfect her English.

Dalys Rehbein grew up on a farm in Panama where her parents grow primarily peppers and tomatoes. It seemed natural to her to grow the same vegetables here and she has dozens of plants of each. The peppers are bell peppers, not the hot ones popular in Central American cuisine.

However, she does grow tomatillos, another Latin American staple.

She says she wishes she could grow oranges and bananas and avocados, staples of her native land. But they have planted an apple tree and plan to have cherries and pears.

When she started the garden a year ago in the spring she was pregnant. Now their 13-month-old daughter, Celine, “helps” in the garden, where she loves the bright marigolds, carefully fingering them very gently, never pulling off the petals. She eats vegetables straight from the garden like the ear of corn her mother shucked for her. Corn juice dribbled down her chin as she devoured the succulent treat.

Most of the plants in Rehbein’s beds seem exceedingly healthy. But she says the cucumber beetle devastated her crop, devouring the leaves and spreading a virus in the vines. Nonetheless, last week she was harvesting very healthy cukes.

“I love zucchini squash,” she said, but, like the cucumbers, her summer squash didn’t do well this year. On the other hand, the vines of the winter squash, mostly butternut, have over-reached their raised bed boundaries, making it hard to walk along some of the pathways. They are truly thriving and quite large.

Despite the proximity of tons of horse manure, she says “I like more the cow manure.”

Her raised beds are filled with good loam and topped with compost and wood chips. She has several rain barrels in which she concocts compost tea primarily using basil, which is a great companion plant for tomatoes. She gardens organically.

Wild creatures haven’t been a terrible problem in their unfenced garden, she reports. However, a woodchuck has a burrow in the long line of raspberries bushes.

“He has a house under there,” Rehbein said. He decimated her carrots and lettuce early in the season but seems to have gotten the message that he is supposed to share the harvest with humans. Last year a raccoon gobbled up the corn, but he, too, seems to have disappeared.

Perhaps the lenient attitude of the gardener has lulled the wildings into sharing the bounty. And bounty it is. Every week Rehbein takes vegetables to the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Florence. She explains that many people can’t afford the prices of organic vegetables at local markets so she provides them for free.

Rehbein says she is still learning how to garden in New England. Sometimes she isn’t sure what she planted, like the broccoli she thought was cabbage until it developed green heads. She grew many plants, especially oodles of green peppers, from seed in the garage and her husband bought flats of tomatoes at the Greenfield Coop. They also bought vegetable starts from Twenty Acre Farm in Hadley, owned by the Zuzgo family, whose daughter is a neighbor of the Rehbeins.

She has started a worm composting bin and hopes to have a greenhouse for seedlings soon. “We have to figure out a system,” she explains.

Rehbein is an intrepid gardener despite the demands of a toddler. “I come out here at night from 8 to midnight. Celine often wakes at 10.” When gardening at night she fixes a special flashlight to her hat so she can see.

“I love gardening. I love to come out and take the weeds out of the garden,” she said.

Cheryl B. Wilson can be reached at valleygardens@comcast.net.

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