ST. CLOUD — Curtis Wood likes to sit atop a 12-foot ladder in the evenings at eye-level with the giant sunflowers in his garden.

One variety of sunflower, a Velvet Queen, is meant to grow between 4 and 8 feet tall. Wood’s is about 13 feet. 

The rest of Wood’s garden is booming too, and he credits an experimental irrigation system he installed. 

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Curtis Wood climbs a 12-foot ladder to approach the tops of sunflowers growing in the system he developed for his home garden Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020, in St. Cloud.  (Photo: Dave Schwarz, [email protected])

Wood, 60, calls himself an autodidact — a self-taught scientist who didn’t attend college. He applies lessons on heat from his father, who was a tradesman and heating expert, lessons on water flow from his plumber, along with other research.   

“I’m not a gardener,” Wood said. “I’m really not. I just found a way to move water.”

Wood runs city water beneath his plants, and they have access to ground water and nutrients in the soil as well, he said. As of late August, he’d produced more than 200 pounds of produce from a small patch of land, including 40 pounds of cucumbers from one plant.

He’s been taking the excess vegetables to local food shelves.

Last week Wood showed off his vegetables and experimental set-up to two St. Cloud Times journalists. Wood carried a vape pen that smelled of pastries: bear claws and cinnamon rolls. His dogs Rocky and Dixie stayed inside. 

Watering methods can help mitigate disease, wrote Katie Drewitz, University of Minnesota Extension educator in Horticulture, Small Farms & Local Foods, in an email to the St. Cloud Times. She didn’t know enough about Wood’s process to comment on it. 

“If using a drip irrigation or other controlled method you can limit the bacterial splash onto plants,” Drewitz wrote. “Watering schedules can also matter for controlling blossom end rot in tomatoes.”

START YOUR OWN GARDEN:Information from the University of Minnesota Extension

Wood published a paper in the Journal of Earth Science and Climatic Change in 2019 about soil temperatures and climate change. He’s applying some of those theories in his garden. 

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Sunflowers thrive Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020, in the garden of Curtis Wood of St. Cloud.  (Photo: Dave Schwarz, [email protected])

“This is a visual to show that the research was correct,” Wood said about his large sunflowers. The irrigation system doesn’t protect against all hazards, he said, including bugs, storm damage or dogs that dig up corn plants.

Wood is working to set up more of these irrigation systems in African communities with help from his Ugandan fiance Racheal Nalubulwa.

The couple started a non-profit called Spirit of Hope for Women – Africa, which combats gender-based violence, promotes education for girls, and seeks to provide them