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Day 64: Serving up homegrown goodness

April 16, 2012

The idea of growing my own produce has been increasingly appealing in the past few years. My rental home, unfortunately, doesn’t offer suitable space. Now that gardening weather is just around the corner and I’m verging on the edge of homeownership, I figured now would be the perfect time to plant some tomatoes.

But there’s one that one little thing holding me back. You’d think being a mother, one would posses the capability to nourish a mature, long-lasting plant. My little boy sprouts like a healthy little weed year after year; how hard can keeping a plant alive really be? Well, it turns out child-rearing and plant-bearing have nothing in common. I’ve got a black thumb. Plants meet their demise under my care – every time. 

A coworker friend of mine recently revealed her knack for growing veggies, fruit and herbs. Perhaps she can help me surface shades of green hiding beneath my black prints. Meet Kelly Metsker, corporate pro by day, runner, foodie and gardener by life.

Kelly Metsker


The birth of Kelly's garden

When Kara asked me to write a guest post about gardening, I was thrilled – at first. Then I quickly became intimidated by the task. Funny – that’s exactly how I felt when I decided to grow a rather large veggie, fruit and herb garden last spring.

So here it goes…my adventure, my advice, and a few things I’ve learned along the way.

In an effort to eliminate nearly all processed foods from my diet, the idea of growing my own food was thrilling, but when I began to research and turn the first bit of soil, it became a little intimidating. But, as my philosophy goes “if you want something, make it happen”. So, I did.

When I told my friends and family about my garden plans they were excited and volunteered to take anything ‘extra’ I may have. They were also quick to warn me “start small,” “don’t do too much,” and “watch out for the weeds.” But, in typical Kelly fashion, I didn’t listen and set out to prove to everyone that I could do it, and do it BIG! My intimidation quickly dissolved and the excitement took over.

I planted nearly 75 square feet (give or take), which doesn’t include the five potted tomato plants and six potted herbs. My garden consisted of six varieties of peppers, two melons, four squash, three varieties of onions, three sugar snap peas, two cucumbers (one died) and three strawberry. As my dear mother said, “you tend to over do things, you always have.”  Well said. “If only the food would grow as fast as the weeds,” was a recurring thought. It was definitely a lot of work, but I learned a lot.

So here it is, trial by fire…

  1. Location, location, location! Finding the right location is key to a successful garden. The size of the space will help you determine what to plant, or if you need to supplement the space with pots, but having the right amount of sun is important. Also, you’ll want to think about closing your garden off with a fence or chicken wire to keep away pesky rabbits, or your family dog, from eating everything before you get a chance to harvest it!
  2. Dirt vs. soil- Is there a difference? If you ask me, no. I’m not an agricultural genius, but I do consider the two things a bit different. Dirt, to me, is the stuff you get off the ground or by digging a hole. Soil, to me, is the stuff you buy in a bag at the store. They both work.  I mainly use dirt, but will add a little soil to my potted plants because the soil tends to be super nutrient rich – and I can’t say for certain that my dirt is nutrient rich!  But as you read on, you’ll find that fertilizer can make your dirt nutrient rich without buying the pricey soil in a bag.
  3. Pots vs. ground – there’s a need for both.Herbs grow really well in pots, as do tomatoes. I have personally never planted tomatoes in the ground because my ground spots don’t offer the amount of sun that tomatoes need. I’ve also grown strawberries in pots, which seemed to work well, however, my dog ate most of them because I situated them too close to the fence. Lesson learned!If you’re limited to a small space, or have limited sunlight, pots are your best option because you’re able to move them into or out of the sun, and they can be set virtually anywhere. Think outside of the box as far as location. When I lived in an apartment on the second floor of a house, I was still able to grow tomatoes and herbs. They just happened to be in pots on the roof! But take caution if you choose rooftop growing; bring your plants inside during a storm because after several tumbles to the ground, they may not survive.Herbs are a great way to start because they can be grown inside, year round, if you have enough sunlight. Keeping indoor potted herbs is a great way to add extra freshness to your meals without the hefty grocery store price tag. Plus, you can always move your herbs outside during the summer. A third option is called “raised bed.” This is a bit more work but tends to yield a larger crop due to the soil and plant spacing. I’m not too familiar with raised bed, but I plan to try it myself this year.
  1. Simple tools. The good news is you really don’t need a lot.  If you’re growing in pots, then you’ll only need a bypass pruner. If you’re growing in the ground, I suggest a bypass pruner, a trowel, and my favorite: the garden hoe. With these three tools you’ll be ready to maintain your home garden. Also, treat yourself to the wood-handled stainless steel tools. The cheaper ones tend to break easily – and rust.
  2. Do Your Homework. Before planting anything, research. You may be surprised as to what you learn, like certain things shouldn’t be planted next to each other.  For example, you don’t want to plant your peppers next to your strawberries. They don’t play nice together!  Certain plants make the soil acidic – which means their neighboring plants must also like acidic soil. On the other hand, there are plants that work nicely together. The other thing to consider is that you have early and late harvest. Some plants, like lettuce or leafy greens, prefer the cooler climate we experience in Michigan during May and June. But most importantly, learn about and plant the things you love to eat! And, if you have the space, plant a few of everything. That way if one plant doesn’t make it, another might.
  3. Fertilizer, water, sunshine and attention. The four ingredients to a successful garden.
    To keep it simple, you can use egg shells as fertilizer – they work great! My preference is to purchase organic fertilizer from the store and supplement with egg shells when I have them. You can use both types of fertilizer, or just one. There are a lot of choices, so again, do your homework.Water is also important – obviously. But be careful not to overdo it, too much water can give your plants root rot. But they’ll dry out without enough. A good rule of thumb for watering is to keep the top layer of soil damp five out of seven days per week. But the best advice is to be aware of the weather. If it rains like crazy, you probably don’t need to water for a few days. If you haven’t seen rain in weeks, you should probably water every day or so.Sun, sun, sun! Most fruits and vegetables need about six hours of direct sun per day, so choose your location wisely.  Make sure to read the seed package or planter to find out exactly the type and amount of sunlight each plant needs per day.

    And finally, pay attention. You need to be aware of what’s going on in your garden, and make changes as necessary. Not to mention, you’ll need to stay ahead of the weeds – which I find nearly impossible! You know the saying “growing like a weed?” Well, it’s true. Weeds grow fast, much faster than your crop, so you’ll need to keep them under control so they don’t overtake everything else.

Whew…. and I thought I’d struggle to find things to tell Kara about gardening! But I could go on and on and on with even more tips and tricks. But I won’t, because part of the fun is learning along the way. So, whether you take on the monster challenge of an enormous garden like I did, or you start by simply planting one potted herb, you’ll quickly recognize the reward of growing your own food and knowing exactly where it came from. You can do it, and don’t be afraid to fail. For as many years as I’ve been growing, every year something dies and every year I learn something new. Be open to the challenge!

When you’re ready to get started, start here! If you’re planting seeds – get moving. You should be starting your seeds indoors now. If you’re buying starter plants (my preferred method), then you have some time. General rule: Mother’s Day weekend is the beginning of the season!


Education – always a great first step to starting anything new. Afterall, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” was my bible as I prepared to be a mom. Kelly’s advice was with me as I bought seeds and starter plants this weekend (though, according to that last bit of advice, I’m lagging behind). Kelly’s tip on getting creative with location is just what I needed. I’ve definitely let my second-floor apartment stop me from potting tomatoes. I thought I’d have to transfer them to the ground at some point. And, like Kelly said, part of the fun is learning along the way. That’s parenting to a tee.

Thank you, Kelly, for motivating me to finally start this seed-sprouting adventure. My first tomato is yours!

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