Betty Brezinka, a 20-year resident of Royalton, has been digging in the dirt to produce food and flowers throughout her life. Every year is different – a new adventure to see what the garden produces.
“I’ve always had a garden,” Betty said. “With 19 kids in the family, I grew up gardening. We had a big basement filled with canned foods, sauerkraut in a barrel, three double boxes of potatoes, cabbages. Watermelons were kept in the oats bin in the granary.”
Raising seven children on a farm northwest of Elmdale, she continued gardening on a large scale to feed her family. Now widowed longer than she had been married, Betty also worked at the Elmdale Creamery for about 10 years. She was more recently a substitute teacher in Royalton, but has retired from that too.
“Gardening is relaxing and therapeutic; digging in the dirt is healthy,” said Betty. “When my hands are dirty, I’m happy.”
She likes lots of vegetables. One of her favorite things is to go out to the garden to get breakfast every morning. Whatever is ripe and ready to harvest is on the menu.
The gardening begins during the winter, when impatiens and begonias are started from seed shortly after New Year’s Day. Tomatoes are started inside on St. Patrick’s Day.
“But I only have so many windows (for light) so I have to be choosy,” she said with a smile.
Betty grows heirloom varieties – the “old style,” not hybrids.
“They are not genetically modified and they’re the best-tasting,” she said. “The way to eat it is the way God made it.”
Things such as radishes, onions, spinach and lettuce can be planted in early May if the weather is favorable. Some things have to wait until late May to avoid the highest chance of frost. Every year is different and there is no predicting exactly what is going to happen.
In addition to more common vegetables such as peppers, tomatoes, squash, potatoes and carrots, Betty also raises ground cherries, gooseberries, black currants and grapes. She has a very hardy variety of cherries from Canada and also grows goji berries. Her apple tree was started from seed that came from a decades-old tree. In 2016, it produced a 14 1/2 ounce apple – a record-setter.
Flowers are just as much a priority in the gardens as the fruits and vegetables. Betty’s house is surrounded by full flower beds featuring such common plants as hostas, ferns, lilies, spirea, roses and astilbe. There are also the more uncommon things such as jack-in-the-pulpit, cherrybell, feverfew and lady’s mantle. She also grows poppy plants to harvest the seeds for poppy seed cake.
In 20 years, Betty has had deer in her yard only two times.
“Once they were on the south side of the house and ate every single one of my dark red lilies,” she said. “The other time, they ate beans from the garden.”
She used to have rabbits, but now “it seems like everyone in the neighborhood has a dog” so they don’t come around.
Several years ago, Betty completed her education as a naturopathic doctor by correspondence, graduating in the early 2000s. After listening to people talk about being sick from drugs, she thought there had to be a better way.
“There are many times I read about natural healings,” she said. “I wanted to learn about other ways; I wanted to learn about natural ways to help with allergies.”
She went to Los Angeles, Calif., to study alternative ways to resolve allergies. She has found that many people are helped with autism and ADHD as well.
She sells plants from her home in Royalton and can also be found twice a week at the Little Falls Farmers Market on the west side of town with both plants and produce.
There is absolutely always something to do in the garden – planting, weeding, thinning out plants, watering in dry weather and picking the produce.
Once harvest is over, there are still many chores to be done before winter, such as cleaning out the garden and thinning out the raspberry bushes and strawberry plants. But in fall and winter, Betty takes advantage of the break to take bus trips.
The time is coming when Betty will move to a smaller place and she acknowledges that she will miss her large gardens.
“I’m ready,” she said. “But I will definitely make sure to have flowers around the house and raised beds for vegetables – dirt to dig in.”