Gardener Story: Carolyn Andrews

This year has been an exciting gardening year for me. Up until this first year of my participation in Build It Up, I had grown a variety of vegetables in my backyard garden space—but my efforts were basically uninformed. I needed to learn gardening whys along with how’s, and Build It Up is providing all this information and more.

I am fortunate to have good garden soil and good sun exposure. My backyard has quite a slope, so a few years ago my husband and I built a retaining wall to create a flat gardening space and filled the area with topsoil. In this space we created four-foot-wide beds with two-foot-wide walking/harvesting paths between the beds. No-till gardening was my goal. We also created a bonus narrow bed at the back of our house.

After we created the gardening space, I began the ongoing task of building up the soil. In autumn, I collect fallen leaves from neighbors, shred them, and put them on the beds. For the past two winters I have planted winter rye in the beds as green manure. Four loads of premium Hoffman compost distributed over the past two years has made the soil extra happy. In addition, almost weekly during the spring and summer I scatter dried grass clippings on the beds. (My next-door neighbor was having her lawn service provider haul her clippings away until I asked if I could have them.) The no-till approach, combined with the building up efforts, has made the beds a gardener’s dream. The soil is loose, and planting is easy. If grass or a weed pops up, I simply pluck it out with thumb and forefinger.

Participation in Build It Up has taught me a great deal to date. I’ve learned about the importance of a garden plan and crop rotation and about the wisdom of trying to prevent (as opposed to waiting to react to) diseases and pest infestation. I’ve also learned aspects of the science of fertilizing.

I love tomatoes. Build It Up has convinced me of the value of pruning my tomato plants, and I’ve enjoyed using the Florida weave method of trellising some of them. I’ve experimented with various ways of trellising other veggies, including using T-stakes with Hortanova netting, a tepee, and a repurposed jungle gym.

The Build It Up handouts have been extremely helpful and interesting. For example, a planting suggestion that stood out to me when I first read it was to plant two pepper plants together to help protect the peppers against sunscald. I followed this suggestion, and it is working well. The handouts contain many tips like this one that I look forward to sharing.

My biggest garden surprise so far has been broccoli. This year was my first year of growing broccoli and seeing what it looks like in the garden rather than in a store’s produce section. Upon the recommendation of our Build It Up leaders, I have eaten the broccoli leaves and find them oh-so-yummy. How did I get to be a senior citizen and not know about this delicacy?

My biggest garden challenge has been the mystery critter or critters who get to my ripe strawberries before I do. I am trying to thwart their efforts by covering the plants with a net, but holes in the ground suggest that something is coming up from below. I am trying to be at peace with the situation and to cheerfully share the wealth.

More images from Carolyn’s garden!