City Girl Gone Gardening

By Jackie Hollenkamp Bentley

I was a goofy teenager the first time I had ever sunk my hands into the ground and pulled up something that I would later eat. Oddly, it was a lot of fun digging in the mud that rainy day with my mom as we peeked and prodded the roots to see if any potatoes had grown.  Both of us squealed every time we found a tuber. My parents had just bought property that year and my mom tapped into her childhood memories to plant those potatoes, and also corn, green beans, tomatoes, peppers and Lord knows what else. Then, she canned it all in mason jars.

My first little garden in 2010
My first little garden in 2010

Back then, it was a novelty for this city girl to “go country” every now and then to help my mom on their “second home” in Marengo, IN. Living in Louisville suburbia, the South End mind you, phrases like “sustainable” or “farm-to-table” weren’t used in everyday language as they are now. “Organic” maybe, but that was only if you were a hippie, and a rich hippie at that because there was no way this middle class family could afford such things. “Canning” was something old ladies did in the Great Depression, a dark time that could absolutely never happen in this day and age.

Fast forward 20-some-odd years and now I’m a goofy grownup with a husband, three kids, a three-bedroom ranch on a quarter-acre lot. Most of that lot is occupied by the house, a two-car garage, a deck and a lot of concrete.

Scary reports from such places as The Internets, Facebook and Twitter are littered with stories of childhood obesity, rising diabetes, foreign countries with their fingers in our food supply (literally and figuratively), genetically modified crops and mutant food in our fridges, not to mention Armageddon, Global Warming and various and assorted catastrophes.

It’s not to wonder that people are learning the basics again: gardening, canning, and, dare I say it, prepping.

Honestly, though, when I planted my little backyard garden five years ago, it was to recall the wonder of knowing my family is eating what I sowed. And I’m cheap. Not having to buy trucked in veggies during the summer made my budget very happy.

What’s more, the Windstorm of 2008 and the Ice Storm of 2009 showed us that frozen food will thaw if the freezer doesn’t have electricity running to it. I wanted a more stable method of keeping food in my house for extended periods of time. Again, I’m cheap. Having to throw out food made my heart hurt.

So that’s what led me to stab a shovel into my little backyard in 2010. I had my mom to fall back on for knowledge, and she showed me how to keep the rows straight, how many seeds to plant in each row and how to lay newspapers in between the rows to keep from hoeing all the time.

My backdoor neighbor often appeared at the chainlink fence to discuss the garden’s progress and offer some tips from his country-born-and-raised wife.

Then came canning. I canned a lot of pickles and tomatoes that year, of course, under the tutelage of my mom. My sister-in-law joined me in that adventure and we eventually went in together to purchase a pressure canner.Gagel's

Even though I’ve continued to garden and can, I still feel like there’s so, so much more to learn. As a writer, I’ve never been afraid to ask questions, so when I visit Gagel’s Farm on Lower Hunters Trace, or Wilson’s Farm and Greenhouse on Blanton Lane, or my mom, or my neighbor, I pummel them with a ton of questions and they gladly, happily tell me what they know.

So over the course of this growing season, I’m going to share with you my adventures and misadventures in the garden. I’ll talk to growers in and around my neighborhood and glean what they know. Stay tuned.