Son of the soil

  • Green fingers: chaplain Kevin Santucci in his garden
  • Kevin Santucci with his fig tree (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)
  • Kevin Santucci with his pear apples (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)
  • Tasty treat: one of Kevin Santucci’s pear apples
  • Outdoor workout: Kevin Santucci finds peace and inspiration in his garden
  • Kevin Santucci in his garden (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

An avocado tree grows in the centre of Kevin Santucci’s neighbourhood.

He planted it there years ago as a gift to his Warwick neighbours.

“I told the neighbours it’s yours,” said the 55-year-old. “Take what you’d like to eat.”

The Seventh-day Adventist chaplain believes strongly in sharing whatever bounty he has.

He’s a passionate gardener, coaxing from the earth everything from cabbages, beets and lettuce to fruits and flowers.

“I don’t sell anything I grow,” he said. “Everything is shared. It’s an easy way of coming together with the neighbours, and also forming a neighbourhood watch. Every neighbour around here looks out for me. They can tell me, I saw such and such a person in your yard today.”

Worried about what he sees as a deepening hunger problem in Bermuda, he also tries to give his produce to families in need.

“I think we are walking down that road towards hunger in Bermuda,” he said. “We are not heavily into it yet, but it will become a major problem.”

It’s not just the rising cost of food, he’s concerned about, but also people’s complacency.

“One package of seeds cost on average $1.99 and produces at least 100 different plants,” he said. “In most cases persons don’t want to know that. We think to ourselves the shop will always be open. Yet, you can have food within the season by growing it.”

He acknowledged that a lot of people lacked the space for a backyard garden.

“There are different ways to grow things,” he said. “You can grow things in boxes, plant pots or containers.”

This month, he’s teaching some of these alternative ways in a series of gardening classes for the Health Department.

“March is nutrition month, but the big question was sustainable nutrition,” he said. “The Health Department wanted to help people learn ways to sustain themselves, so they approached me.”

For years he has been giving others gardening tips in a casual way.

“People often come to my house to ask me things about gardening,” he said. “This course is basically gardening 101.”

It’s being offered free of charge with the help of several corporate sponsors.

In 2015, his daughter Kevina developed a rare, aggressive form of cancer at age 28.

“People helped us in our time of need, financially,” said Mr Santucci. “People came to our aid.”

Today, Ms Santucci is doing a lot better and is back at work.

“This is my way of giving back to my country,” said Mr Santucci.

He likes to say he’s been gardening for “45 years”. He started helping his father, Clarence, in the garden when he was ten. His father was a painter at Newstead, but loved gardening.

“Back then, gardening is all we did,” said Mr Santucci. “We had plenty of animals. I had to get in the garden early mornings and pick up potatoes, and I had to do it again after school.”

It was never a chore; he loved it. Today, he gardens in his back yard, on the same plot of land his father used.

He estimates he spends at least four hours in the garden each week.

“On Sunday, I worked from 8am to 4.45pm,” he said. “I was doing various things. The hardest thing about a garden is the preparation work. I don’t call myself the best of gardeners, but what I know I’m willing to share.”

He’s still learning lessons himself, all the time. Earlier this year he planted Chinese cabbages for the first time, and worms ravaged them.

“I found that where there was mint growing along the border, my cabbages did a lot better,” he said. “Clearly, the mint is helping to draw away whatever is attacking the plants.”

He said timing was critical when growing things. He uses Dr MacDonald’s Farmer’s Almanac to plant at the best times.

“Plants that are growing in the earth like carrots, rutabaga and beets, you plant when the moon goes back, which would be on the last two days of this month,” he said. “You plant things that grow out of the earth at a different time. There is also a time to turn over your soil.”

He reads Dr MacDonald’s Farmer’s Almanac to learn the best times for planting certain things. His aim is always to produce the biggest, tastiest vegetables. He’s been known to grown giant cabbages and pumpkins.

“If I can allow one beet to take care of a family of five for three days, that is a good beet,” he said. “I am always looking for ways of how to get the best out of that particular product.”

He said a vegetable garden can cut your grocery bill by as much as 40 per cent.

If you estimate $50 for seeds and other things needed for your garden, you can reap around $1,250 in produce, if the season is good. How much money are you willing to spend if you don’t grow it yourself? If saving money and knowing what you’re eating in fruits and vegetables is your end goal, make sure you plant things you actually enjoy eating.”

He said the benefits are more than monetary.

“When you are out in your garden, you obtain sunlight, exercise, and tranquility,” he said. “The stresses of life are quickly pulled away from you. I don’t go to the gym; all my workouts are in the garden. Today, I can say that the great lessons I have learnt have come through the garden.”

A number of companies, including several grocery stores, are sponsoring the event.

“This is not about competition,” he said. “They know quite well the island can only sustain so much. Someone might come out of the course saying to local grocery stores, we have vegetables to sell you.”

For information about Mr Santucci’s classes call 278-6467 or 278-6469