God and tomatoes occupy most of the Rev. Jim Bennett's time.
When he isn't preaching to his Grovetown United Methodist Church congregation, he's exulting the rewards of gardening.
Former host of the network television show The Weekend Gardener and an instructor with Southern Living magazine, Bennett, 60, has been a local Methodist minister for the past nine years. But that doesn't mean he doesn't love getting his hands dirty with a little topsoil.
Bennett hosted a Spring Gardening and Landscaping Seminar on Monday and Tuesday at his church.
In fact, Bennett said the gardening and preaching are more closely related than the general public might think.
Bennett's Tomato Planting Method
Dig a small trench about six inches deep and four inches wide.
Pinch most of the main stem leaves off to make a long stem on the plant.
Lay the tomato plant in the trench with the plant at one end and stem stretching out along the length of the trench.
Water with a starter solution of half strength liquid fertilizer and one multiple B vitamin per gallon of water in the same solution.
Cover the stem with the soil and water again with the starter solution.
Bennett says his method will increase yields by 30 to 200 percent. This method will allow the tomato plant to produce more roots, thus stronger, more resilient tomatoes that are also more flavorful.
"John Wesley, who founded the Methodist church, is sort of the father of European gardening," Bennett said. "In his time there were a lot of people going hungry. He would hand out flower and vegetable seeds and show people how to take care of them. Then gardens started springing up all over Europe so people could feed themselves. So, gardening is pretty closely linked with the Methodist church."
Bennett grew up gardening with his family, but he never considered doing it for a living until The Weekend Gardener came along.
"I started the show in 1980 and it was on until 1994," he said. "I remember at around our fifth show I got a note from a TV critic that said, 'I know your show will be responsible for selling a lot of TV sets. As a matter of fact, I'm thinking of selling mine.' But the critic was also my brother, so."
The seminar covered various gardening and landscaping techniques. He opened the seminar by handing out doughnut seeds, which were actually Cheerios in seed packages.
When all the kidding was aside, Bennett began instructing on how to grow record-breaking tomato plants.
"A normal tomato plant will yield around eight to 10 pounds worth of tomatoes," Bennett said. "With my technique, I can harvest around 100 pounds per plant. I held the record for a long time for the most-yielding tomato plant."
Bennett's lecture included selling a booklet on tomatoes and his technique of growing them using a trench and constructing a homemade compost bin.
"You have to plant your tomato plants in a deep, shallow hole," said Bennett with a laugh. "I know it sounds funny, but it's true."
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