What a blessing the Build it Up Garden Program has been. I moved to Tennessee last October and by January I knew that I would be hosting a family from Ukraine who were arriving in the United States with just a couple of suitcases. More recently a student from Kenya moved in when her housing fell through. I love learning about different ways to farm in different parts of the world. She grew up farming and has been a great help. Several friends showed up to help me get started. My Ukrainian guests love to help with harvesting and my Kenyan student loves to weed…and we are all enjoying the results of our labor.

Unlike Ukraine where there are 30 inches of fertile soil, the clay here in east Tennessee has been a challenge. I started in the spring with 6 cubic yards of compost and manure which had to be moved by wheelbarrow from the front yard to the backyard. This program has definitely increased my level of fitness. I added two raised beds: one for herbs, and one for small vegetables like tatsoi (new to me), pac choi, carrots, leeks, chives, etc. The herbs are growing well and I now have a dehydrator to start drying them. The only thing that didn’t fare so well was the cilantro which the resident ground hog (who thankfully has not breached the fence around the rest of the garden) enjoyed.

It has been exciting to see the different crops grow and the garden evolve from one season to the next. What I am not used to, coming from the Northeast, is the intensity of pests: cabbage worms, squash borers, beetles, and early tomato blight! It is a daily battle to remember which spray to use when, and to try to capture as many beetles and worms as possible. Despite this I have already harvested 150 pounds of tomatoes this month, along with lots of other vegetables. I hope to be smarter about all of this next year. On the other hand, this is the first time that I have been successful at growing cabbage, broccoli, peas and carrots. As others have said, it is so amazing to go out and harvest crops and herbs for meals. I love trying new recipes: salsa verde, Italian potato bean salad, Kenyan greens and tomatoes, Ukrainian zucchini pancakes, coconut curry butternut squash soup, and one of my favorites: zucchini pizza when the zucchini gets too big (with homemade tomato sauce, pesto and peppers from the garden). My next recipe to try is basil jelly since I have made about as much pesto, including carrot top pesto, as I can handle. This fall we will add borscht to the list. This is an amazing program and I am deeply grateful! All of the seeds, plants, fertilizer and tools have made starting in a new place so much easier.  The classes have provided such valuable information and I love having people to answer questions and offer encouragement with their expertise.  Thank you so much Rosie, Rachel and Lexy!