As a homeschooling mama of three, I have found myself settling into the cliche role of homemaker. To my mother’s surprise, the once wild child she remembers has turned into a stable, homebody who enjoys teaching, baking, and cleaning (just kidding, I still hate cleaning). I was never taught to cook, sew, or garden, but I have built an arsenal of skill over the years with the exception of gardening. Sure, I’ve kept herbs on the windowsill or thrown flower seeds into a pot, but the intricacies of planting marigolds with tomatoes baffled me and gave me anxiety sweats. My first attempt was with overcrowded raised beds that I planted it so full, nothing could grow and everything ended up rotting before it matured. I borrowed some books on the subject but still came up short. Too many conflicting opinions and techniques left me at a loss. Last year, I made a close friend who has been learning how to garden, herself. Through Build It Up, she was given the know-how to provide fresh, organic produce for her family in her own back yard! Fast forward to this year, and I find myself standing in her shoes— planting seeds that produce sprouts and plants that produce food.

At first, I thought it would make for a healthy hobby, but these days, I think it’s become more of an obsession. The more I learn, the more I want to learn. The cycle has snowballed and created a dirt-covered monster. Seriously, my nails are stained green. We started small, planning to slowly build each year until we have a micro-farm that will sustain us and hopefully begin providing fresh, local ingredients for our area as well. First, we constructed ten raised beds and filled them with soil from my parents heavily-wooded property— rich, humus-heavy soil that my plants have loved. Once the beds were placed, we began adding plants and seed from Build It Up, slowly filling each garden space with greenery. I’ve eagerly attended monthly meetings in which we were taught everything from gardening fundamentals to pest control and fertilizers, everything done in practical and organic intention.

It’s been truly humbling to learn and grow beside other new gardeners, each with specific goals that they’re able to achieve through a single program. Since we started this with the intention of slowly building, I planned to only supplement our meals, buying less produce that has traveled hundreds or even thousands of miles to lie there limply on our plates. As I looked out to my garden each day, I waited, hopeful that my carrots would be sweet, my broccoli would be flavorful, and my spinach would be abundant. My spring crops grew and were ravaged by cabbage moths and flea beetles, but we were still blessed with an abundance of cabbages, kale, strawberries, and radishes. Unfortunately, my carrots were tiny (thanks to that overcrowding issue I still had); my broccoli was so delicious it was soon eaten by caterpillars, and my spinach never came up.

I learned so much from that first season and became less squeamish with creepy crawlers. Sometimes, you have to go around with a bucket of soapy water and pinch off all the little bugs; other times, you have to build a home for spiders (ugh, yes, spiders) to have thick layers of straw around each plant. Since spring has passed into summer, I learned the importance of interplanting to transition seasons so that something is growing and producing at all times. I planted tomatoes with my cilantro and broccoli so that my the time these spring producers started bolting, my summer tomatoes would be forming. After my tomatoes became more established, I interplanted beets and beans for later harvest and nitrogen-fixation. Also during this time, we added a compost bin to begin composting kitchen and garden scraps for next year. Even the kids have gotten excited about watering, dumping compost, and picking goodies to have with dinner each night.

As my garden continues to evolve, my skill-set is increasing, and I’m taking on new learning opportunities provided by the Build It Up program. At the top of my list for this summer are fermenting and canning. Serving homegrown veggies and fruit throughout the year started as the goal. I hope to build on these skills more with the fruit trees we planted last year and the chickens and berries I’d like to establish next year. I’m so thankful to the Build It Up program for giving me the knowledge, skills, and confidence I didn’t have before to provide for my family!

-Kellye Wood