This month we heard from one of our second year gardeners, Kara Bellen. I’ve been hearing talk about Kara’s blackberry wine and homemade salsa since I arrived at Grow Ohio Valley a couple months ago, and I really enjoyed getting to hear more about her perspective on gardening, despite “not being a gardener.” 

Hi y’all!

My name is Kara, and I am not a gardener (or a blogger). And yet, here I am in my second season with Grow Appalachia’s Backyard Gardeners. I despise anything that crawls, especially spiders, I hate to be hot, I don’t do dirt under my nails, and let’s not talk about weeding… you know all the things that typically come with having a garden. But I think I have all my neighbors fooled, because today I spent 4 hours in my yard/garden trying to get it ready to put my plants in the ground tomorrow. Here’s my space:

Looks good right? And for spending my afternoon grumping about the heat and one brief moment where a spider crawled too close, I had a few moments to reflect on why I was out there.

First, nature is amazing and beautiful! I’m always surprised when I find garden “volunteers,” like the patch of cilantro or couple of carrots I found while cleaning everything up. It’s like in Jurassic Park where they say, “Nature finds a way.”

Secondly, nothing is more exciting to me than seeing the first blooms on my plants! I put some hanging strawberries in the ground last fall, and they are adjusting well and are blooming along with my blackberries that I’ve been cultivating for several years. Blooms are a sure sign of fruit, and I love to get in the kitchen with my garden haul.

Third, the smells from my garden are so lovely. I don’t have my basil in the ground yet (which is my favorite smell), but I have lavender coming back for its second season. And let me tell you, raking around that was heavenly! My mint is coming back, too. Mint is a prolific spreader, so I keep it in a garden box. And while you generally don’t catch whiffs of mint in the air, I do love the aroma when you pinch it between your fingers.

Lastly, none of this compares to the joy of harvesting so that I can share the bounty of my garden with friends and family. I am not a gardener, but I am a canner, wine maker, and occasional baker. Each year, my two blackberry bushes give me at least 20 – 25 pounds of berries. This easily makes a 5-6 gallon batch of wine, which is a neighborhood favorite. I planted a third bush so hopefully I can have enough to make a batch of jam and possibly a cobbler or two. I also planted all the staples for salsa and spaghetti sauce. Spaghetti sauce doesn’t last long when you have 4 kids, and salsa is my husband’s favorite snack, so this year, I am planting extra tomatoes. Some years, I grow cucumbers so I can make pickles and relishes, although this year, I’m not planting very many, as I have a stash to eat through still. Every year I make an assortment of jams/jelly. Last year, I made mint jalapeno jelly and strawberry jam, although the strawberries came from my son’s FFA group.  I give out homemade gifts to all my neighbors each year at Christmas (except 2020 – COVID got me, I gave out chocolates). I get so much joy making something and sharing with the people around me.

That’s what gets me gardening, even though I don’t love it (but I’m always super proud, by late July, lol).

 I love what I’m able to do because of my garden and because of the wonderful backyard program through Grow Ohio Valley. I’m so thankful for Hannah and the AmeriCorps Girls, Phoebe – from last year and Caroline – from this year. The knowledge they have imparted and the kindness they have shown has been immeasurable. I’m learning so much and I’m so thankful for the help! I’m so blessed to not be a gardener. I hope that if you look through this and think you’re a lot like me and not into gardening, but want to give it a go (for any number of reasons), that you can see that the work is well worth the rewards. Good luck!