At first glance, Don Meidinger looks like a tough, rough-and-tumble kind of dude. But underneath his straw hat, a twinkle escapes from his eyes, and combined with his raw sense of humor and good-natured ribbing, you know you are in good company.
Although Meidinger, owner of Mydingr's BBQ and Catering, recently had quintuple bypass surgery, he is upbeat and grateful for his second chance. Not more than 15 minutes after his surgery, he died. The nurses and doctors at Mercy General Hospital brought him back.
"An experience like that makes you rethink life and what is important," he said.
His garden has kept him happily busy as he gets ready to go back to work for at least another year after he gets his doctors clearance.
With some "German engineering," Meidinger has trained his reddening Beefsteak and Better Boy tomato beauties up hog-wire. Then they outgrew the 4 1/2-foot fence, so he added stakes to brace the towering plants.
"There's no bending over here," says the 6-foot man as he proudly looks over his garden.
The 30 plants are grown in a raised bed with a drip system that is well-drained. He trims and shapes the plants, making sure the nutrients get to the fruit.
Last year during his first pick, he gleaned 300 pounds from his plants. This year will be better. He will harvest his first official pick in the next week. There will be plenty of canning for his soups, stews and chili.
Also in his garden are sunflowers, beans, serrano and jalapeño peppers, and eggplant.
His daughter, Deanna, posted on her Facebook about the "wall of tomatoes," Meidinger said proudly.
Contact photographer Jennifer M. Howell at firstname.lastname@example.org.