They say gardeners have green thumbs.
In the case of Glen Tymiak the ‘green’ extends over both thumbs, his fingers, hands and quite likely toes.
To say Tymiak is an avid gardener would be understatement.
The back yard of his Yorkton home is something of an organized jungle of apple trees, tomato plants, potted plants and other plants, leaving only a tiny patch of lawn for a table and chairs, a spot to enjoy coffee with friends, the friends left marveling at the garden.
It would seem enough garden for most people, but not for Tymiak. Across the back alley from his home lies a strip of idle city-owned land, or at least it was idle.
There is now an area, about 75-feet square that has raspberry bushes, and more tomatoes, spaghetti squash, dill, garlic, onions, potatoes, carrots and well simply put a large and thriving garden on land leased from the city.
The concept appears to have caught on too as other garden spots along the alley have been claimed from the city’s sea of grass growing gardens.
The interest in gardening may have been the result of growing up on a farm in the Tadmore district, taking his early schooling in the small town before heading to Sturgis for high school.
Tymiak took the ride to high school in a rather unique bus seat in terms of student seating.
“In Grade 11 and 12 I drove the Tadmore school bus,” he said.
In his Grade 11 year, that meant an income of $60 a month driving the bus to Sturgis. In Grade 12 he got a raise to $75 per month.
That might not seem like a lot of money by today’s standards, but it opened the door for Tymiak in terms of post-secondary education.
“I saved up enough money to go to university. At the time it was about $1000 for tuition and room and board,” he said, adding without the bus driving income university would have been beyond what his parents could have afforded.
So Tymiak went off to university, emerging from the experience as a teacher.
“I guess when I was young I had in my mind to teach and to work with children,” he said.
Tymiak’s first teaching position was in a small community west of Estevan called Outram teaching Grades 4-5-6, and then transferred to the Estevan Catholic System for a couple of years before taking a position in Yorkton. He would spend the next 30-years at St. Alphonsus, St. Paul’s and St. Mary’s schools in the city.
The last 24 years of Tymiak’s teaching career he was principal at St. Mary’s School.
“I had great staff,” he said, adding the school board was always positive as well.
But it is the students Tymiak smiled broadest over.
“At St. Mary’s I had three students I had in Grade 6 on my teaching staff,” he said, recalling Karen Dlugan, Tammy Krasowski and Debbie Wiens following career paths not so different from his own.
Of course the teaching career was evolving a lot over the decades too.
“It had changed a lot; everybody with computers coming in,” said Tymiak, adding that technology fundamentally changed how students could go about finding answers.
Interesting Tymiak may be most proud of being part of developing a program, which while operated through the schools, is all about getting students out of the classroom. He was a charter member of the Yorkton Catholic school system’s outdoor education program, now known as AMPO.
“The program is still carrying on strong. That’s nice to see,” he said.
The program has students stay at St. Michael’s Camp at Madge Lake away from asphalt and cellphones.
“For a lot of kids it’s their first time to get out among nature,” he said, adding many don’t get far from city streets in their everyday lives.
Through the program students experience the simple pleasures of canoeing, a walk in the forest, camping, building a fire, and simply being closer to nature, said Tymiak.
“To just sit around a campfire in the evening; a lot of children don’t get that opportunity,” he said.
While Tymiak loved teaching, he also knew when the time was right to retire.
“I made up my mind about a year before that I should retire,” he said, walking away from the chalkboard in 1995.
While he felt ready to retire, the transition was not as easy as he may have thought it would be.
“The following year I just felt guilty going down town; I should have been at work,” he said.
It helped though that he filled in as a substitute teacher for a number of years, and would end up as assistant manager of St. Mary’s Cultural Centre for a number of years as well.
But much of Tymiak’s retirement has been focused on his garden.
He noted they, he and wife Lena, purchased the house they still reside in in 1967, a year after marrying. They paid $14,500, and Tymiak said when the realtor offered to show them an $18,000 house they balked unsure how they could ever pay for such an expensive home.
Over the years the house grew, as they added bedrooms for daughter Lori and son Geoff, a garage, deck and solarium, stopping expansion when the house and garden meant leaving no room for further growth of either.
The garden grew as did the house.
“There was no landscaping done. It was started from scratch,” he said.
It was a process that once started never seemed to stop.
“When I started it was having a little garden, then a little larger garden,” he said.
Then he added a small greenhouse to start plants and selling extras.
Then as the garden grew the production out-stripped the couple’s needs, and those of their now grown children and their families.
“The kids take all that they need or want,” he said, adding he sells the over-supply at the local Gardener’s Market.
As the garden has grown, so too has Tymiak’s knowledge and success, as a gardener. For 14-straight years his garden was tops in the local Gardens in Bloom competition.
Photos of his cabbage and his Kelsey onions have been included in the T&T seeds catalogue as a prime example of the variety.
He has sat on the Saskatchewan Horticultural Society, including a stint as president.
And, he has become something of an expert on tomatoes, his favourite garden plant.
“My passion is growing tomatoes,” he said. “I’ve been asked to give many presentations on growing tomatoes.”
So is there a secret to growing tomatoes?
Well Tymiak said getting the plants ready for garden conditions is a good start.
“Getting them acclimatized before putting them out is important,” he offered.
And grow different varieties if you want production late spring to fall as not all tomatoes produce at the same time.
Some good varieties include Big Beef, Celebrity, Manitoba, Fantastic and Better Boy. “They’re very popular and produce well,” he said.
Tymiak also explained tomatoes can be grown from cuttings, so if a plant can be cut down and potted, you end up with two plants as the original plant regrows from the root.
As much as tomatoes grow for Tymiak the simple radish is something of a nemesis.
“I seem to have trouble with radishes. Everything else I’ve tried grows well,” he said, adding that “every year is different” based on the weather.
In the winter, like his garden Tymiak rests.
“I stay inside where it’s nice and cozy by the fire place looking at seed catalogues,” he said.
And even after all these years in the garden Tymiak looks to try new varieties.
“There’s always something new, some new variety that is just out,” he said, adding “there are 10,000 varieties of tomatoes alone.”