One of the most rewarding things about gardening is enjoying the fruits of your labor – that first ripe organically-grown tomato that you started from seed, nurtured under grow lights, hardened on the porch, strung up from trellises, and then watched and waited as it produced green fruit and you struggled against all odds to keep your one year old from picking it so it would slowly change color and become a delicious sandwich, an amazing salad, or a nutritious sauce.  Knowing exactly where and how the food we are consuming was grown and eating it fresh off the plant is priceless. One of our goals for our garden this year was to be as self sustainable as possible – we didn’t want to buy a vegetable from the grocery store, we wanted to have plenty to share with friends and neighbors, and we wanted to preserve as much of our harvest as possible – canning, dehydrating, and pickling what we couldn’t eat. Our chickens, ducks, rabbit, and goats could eat whatever got eaten by bugs, got overripe, or went to seed. 


We ran into some obstacles. The spot we selected for our garden hadn’t been tilled in over 50 years. It was heavily compacted and absolutely full of rocks, but it also had 50 years of cow and horse manure. Preparing the soil and getting everything ready to plant took much longer than expected, and so we completely missed the timing on our spring garden. The heat and lack of water this Spring really hurt our tomatoes and the bugs were insatiable (I’m looking at you, Japanese beetles!). As soon as we bought and installed drip irrigation, it began raining every day and then we started fighting mold and rot and blight. We let the grass and weeds go, and our okra almost got buried so deep in grass we couldn’t find them. We planted our rows of pole beans too close together, so our long beans have been shading our our greasy beans. Long beans are best eaten fresh, but greasys are great for canning and preserving. We’ve made plenty of mistakes, but we’ve learned so much this year, and Build it Up has been so instrumental in many of these lessons. We are so excited for next years’ garden and are already planning how we’ll do things differently.

Regarding our goals, we have been able to put up a decent amount of food, but nowhere near what we were hoping for. We planted 75’ of tomatoes and I still went and bought a box of romas that were grown down the road  so that I’d have enough to can. I’ve made hot pepper jelly, eggplant jerky, sun dried tomatoes, sauerkraut, pickled green beans, canned whole tomatoes, and we currently have lacto fermented long beans and peppers doing their thing. We’ve harvested our first run of winter squash which are currently curing in the basement for use this winter. Our potatoes are ready to dig, and our Jerusalem artichokes, sweet potato and pumpkin vines are producing vegetables that will last through the winter.

One unexpected use of our garden veggies has involved the Elizabethton farmers market. When we heard from BIU that they were looking for more vendors, we decided to go ahead and participate. While it has not always been highly profitable, it has been a great source of networking and education, and it’s helped us to keep up with our garden. Since we have had to have produce ready to sell on Tuesday, we have spent most Mondays pruning and picking and preparing for market day. It’s been fun to meet other farmers in the community and see how and what they’re growing, but it’s also been so rewarding to talk with consumers and to share new types of produce with people (we’ve had multiple people ask us why our long beans are so long – did we forget to pick them? What is wrong with our eggplants – why are they white or green or shaped different than the grocery store?).


But the most rewarding thing about gardening this year has involved our young children – watching as they learn to plant sets, help with tilling, pull weeds, pick Japanese beetles off of cabbages (and then pour them and the soapy water onto the ground), and enjoy veggies straight out of the garden. We didn’t cook a single pea this spring – our kids ate every one straight off the vines. Our one year old discovered tomatillos, stomped all over our young corn plants and tried to pick every tomato before it turned red. Green beans were always a struggle at dinner time until the boys picked two foot long beans off our long bean vines, and now they walk around the house munching on raw green beans throughout the day. Our five year old even invented a car game called “find food” where they point out different types of food while we are driving around (soybeans, tomatoes, corn, cows! …). They’re learning about where food comes from and starting to identify plants and foods while they’re still growing. This has been the greatest, most fulfilling aspect of our gardening journey, and one that will have the farthest reaching reward.