This is my first year in the Build It Up backyard gardening program; it also happens to be my first year gardening (fruit & veg) period. I started at absolute zero – no experience, no talent, no tools, no plan, no garden… nothing. I described my level of experience as “I was an adult when I learned that green and red bell peppers are the same plant”. Throughout my life, I had impressively managed to kill every single plant that had come into my possession. I share all of this extra context so that when I tell you that if I can do it, anyone can – you’ll believe me.

I have learned that most things in life involve a combination of talent and skill. I have no innate talent for gardening, but a skill can be improved through education/practice. When I heard about the BIU program, I began to wonder if skill could be enough. I like learning new things (and I like food), so I embarked on this journey to “get back to my roots”.

After discussing options, I decided to start out by building four 4’x10’ raised beds and did everything I could to set myself up for low maintenance in the future. I laid down landscape fabric, sourced some lumber, and filled the beds with a 50/50 mix of topsoil and MooPoo from Superior Mulch (they were incredibly nice and very helpful). Next came a raised bed drip irrigation kit from Berry Hill, which has worked great and was user-friendly enough for beginners (I put it together by myself). I also got an auto watering timer for like $20 off Amazon, which has been my favorite investment (you can program how long/often to water, what times, and even do rain delays). Between including a 3 foot strip of landscape fabric around/between everything to act as walkways and prevent weeds, and using it (and/or mulch) on top, my weeding was basically non-existent. Because we have a LOT of deer, groundhogs, rabbits, etc. – we put up a 7’ net around the perimeter, laid down some bars of Irish Spring soap, hung up aluminum pie tins, and threw my reject veggies into the neighboring woods to encourage lazy/well-fed animals – all in all, it’s worked pretty darn well. I kept up a good schedule for spraying until the end of summer, then life got in the way (as it does), and I was shocked at how quickly pests/disease can totally decimate a garden. But that was a good lesson too: about letting go, learning from mistakes, and being grateful for the incredible experience I’d had.

For my first year, I decided to try planting a little bit of a lot of different things, focusing on what I knew we would eat, and only choosing “easy” plants off the list. I didn’t have a lot of surplus, but I did try canning for the first time and managed 8 pints of pickled banana peppers. Unfortunately, my husband and son didn’t like the softer texture caused by the canning process. After some research and experimentation, we discovered “quick fridge pickling” recipes, and we’re in love. They don’t last as long, but the fridge pickles and banana peppers we’ve tried have been delicious (and crisp!).

My favorite part of this whole endeavor has been spending time in the garden with my son. Teaching him where food comes from, our relationship with nature, and why it is so important to protect the Earth and our natural resources – these are essential lessons. He’s been a great helper and I’ve had a blast learning so many new things with him. This journey has added such joy and peace to our family. When my picky eater asked if he could go pick some snap peas to have with dinner, I told my husband that this whole adventure had been worth it just for that. Additionally, I am eternally grateful for the amazing community that I have been introduced to. Everyone – the ARCD gals, presenters, other gardeners – has been kind and supportive. They’ve answered my 8,327,392 newbie questions, offered advice/equipment/supplies etc, and helped keep me grounded when I get overwhelmed. It is a LOT to learn (especially for someone like me), and I spent a lot of time standing in the garden Googling questions. But I can’t wait to see what happens next year (and hopefully many more years to come) – to keep learning and growing.