John Bennett loves getting his hands dirty, and his lifelong passion has earned him a prestigious opportunity to meet some of the finest minds in the field of plant science.
Bennett, an incoming fourth-year plant science student this fall, has been named a 2012 Golden Opportunities Scholar, one of just 20 students nationwide to receive the honor by leading plant science organizations.
As a Golden Opportunities scholar, he will travel to Cincinnati this fall for a weeklong meeting of plant science experts and pair up with a mentor. The scholarship and its experts come from prestigious groups including the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America and Soil Science Society of America.
“I’m not sure what I want to do in this discipline, so having a mentor to show me these options will be a really big help for me,” Bennett says.
Although his love for greenery began from childhood in his parents’ garden, Bennett attributes his interest in plant science to an L.A. Times article he stumbled upon in high school about plant doctors who advise farmers about how to keep pests and diseases at bay.
“I thought that would be kind of cool, and the article said that a lot of plant doctors are getting old and retiring, so there’s a wide open career field,” Bennett says.
He says the world of plant science is seemingly endless, with careers in genetics, nursery management, farming, private advising, soil science and pest management.
Bennett, a member of the Kellogg Honors College, dreams of a job “that I love to do and a job that I can do for years.”
This summer, he is tending his tomato garden as well as gardens at the Huntington Library in San Marino, where he volunteers. He spends Wednesdays in the Huntington Ranch, a new experimental urban garden. “They have me working outside, mulching, weeding, pruning some stuff and watering. I’m also at the herb garden and Shakespeare garden,” he says.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to grow tomatoes, Bennett says, but for a good crop, you need a little patience and know-how. Here are his tips for tomato triumph:
- Purchase a good plant from your local nursery. He recommends indeterminate tomatoes, which will keep producing throughout the growing season. His favorite is the green zebra tomato, a flavorful variety that is great when cut and served fresh.
- Give the plant plenty of sunlight.
- Use a mulch mixture of wood chips, leaves and grass clippings.
- Water as necessary, but let the plant dry out, and even wilt, because too much water will produce flowers but not fruit.
- Tomatoes can grow directly from the ground, and Bennett suggests using a wired tomato cage.