Why you should garden. Yes, even in hurricane-threatened New Jersey.

Guest post by Nikki Cupcake

My garden.
My garden, “the Jungle.”
If I ever gave anyone one tip of advice it would be this: At some point in your life, grow your own food.

I came to this conclusion the other night while I was cooking dinner. I was standing at the stove rendering fat out of some bacon and simmering some onions when I decided my chili needed something else. After a few minutes I realized what it needed… peppers!

I then marched out of my cold, dark basement (which is perfect storage for canned goods) into the bright sunlight across my patio to what I affectionately call “the Jungle.” I picked some fresh peppers in a variety of colors.

I thought, “Why stop there?” I then picked some fresh heirloom tomatoes to throw into the mix. While I was chopping up the fresh picked veggies I began to realize how lucky my family and I really are. We get to eat vegetables and fruit on our own terms, and we all now appreciate all that goes into growing the food that feeds our nation.

After dinner I really started to think about my garden…

I live right outside Manhattan in a small New Jersey suburb. Our area is known best for wives who flip tables, bumper-to-bumper traffic, luxury SUVs, and that the malls (five within five miles of my house!) are closed on Sunday. So I can understand why people are shocked when I tell them that, on my small property, I grow cherries, apples, peaches, plums, pears, figs, tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins, eggplants, squash, cucumbers, corn, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and (BIG BREATH) fresh herbs. Plus I still have enough room for my three little monsters and one beast — I mean kids and a Mini Aussie — to run around.

It’s hard to imagine that three years ago there was nothing in my backyard but a pile of dirt that a dump truck had just dropped off. Now it’s an extension of my living room with a garden filled with native plants and fruit trees.

My garden has seen a lot of change, and has taught me a lot…

It’s taught me about hard work. Before my garden I never really knew how hard it was just to maintain a garden. It actually is quite the workout.

It’s taught me patience. It is really hard having to wait months for your work to pay off if at all. Now I understand why patience is a virtue.

It’s taught me to keep trying. After my first year gardening I was very discouraged. I barely yielded anything. At that time I didn’t know much about growing my own fruits and veggies. So the results were mixed. Two hurricanes, and two gardens later I know a lot more than I did three years ago. And now ball jars are my best friend. If I just gave up I wouldn’t have the garden I do today.

Finally, I learned that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Most people know the Jersey Shore was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, but most people don’t know that North Jersey was hit bad too. The trees that gave my home great shade in the summer came crashing down. I lost many of my fruit trees and all my hard work, time, and money. A large oak tree, that I loved when I first moved in, landed across my backyard and took out everything in its path. Luckily no one was hurt, and at the end of the day the only damage that was done was to my bank account.

A few days after Hurricane Sandy I remember standing in a snowy backyard thinking, “How am I going to come back from this.” Exactly a year earlier Hurricane Irene dumped a few inches of water in my basement and took out a lot of my garden with ice. That just involved cleaning up dead plants and waiting for a cleaning service to pump my basement. But now there were trees, mangled patio furniture, and splintered wood and plastic fencing all over the place. I was ready to throw in the towel and call it a day.

As the winter slowly moved on, the pieces of the tree that crashed into my life were removed. Underneath it there was nothing left, just stumps of fruit trees. This past spring I spent a lot of time thinking about what my next step was. At one point I actually had decided to skip gardening for the season. Then slowly plants that I thought were long dead were coming back. Seeing mother nature’s resilience gave me the drive to make my garden bigger and better than before. This past season I have had my best yields showing me theres a light at the end of the tunnel.

At the end of the day my garden has taught me to become a better human. Yes, it takes up a lot of time, and yes, sometimes it can be costly. The rewards outweigh everything. It also encourages my children to go outside and play. My garden has brought my family together, made us better people and feeds us yummy, healthy treats. It’s well worth anyone’s time.

Long story short: Gardening teaches you and feeds you. You should do it.

Comments on Why you should garden. Yes, even in hurricane-threatened New Jersey.

  1. My husband and I moved into our house in late June/early July this year so I felt like it was too late for me to do any real effective gardening for this year, but I am so excited to start a real garden here next year! Hopefully I can be as persistent about it as you!

    I don’t know if other states have something similar, but here is an awesome vegetable planting calendar for different areas of Missouri! Super helpful!


  2. Yes, you are a better human…. until you start wishing terrible deaths upon the groundhogs/woodchucks that eat your cucumber plants!

    But seriously, it is so cool to be like “What’s for dinner? Let’s check the backyard!” As a beginner, I’ve found it’s more interesting to plant 1-2 of a whole bunch of different plants, so if something doesn’t work out, it’s not a huge loss. I am trying to add a couple new things each year- this year it was beets and shallots.

  3. I’m amazed that you have the mini Aussie and no fencing around your jungle! My doggies reach over the chicken wire to eat things off the vine in my garden (beans, tomatoes, etc…) and I think they would stomp on plants while wrestle-playing too. I need to keep my plants safe from the dogs (who at least do chase bunnies).

    We have several neighborhood great horned owls too. That also helps with the critters.

    • The only issues I have with the fur baby and the garden was when the plants were still rather small and this was the first year we had a dog and a garden. I actually got her a year ago today. Its funny tho she loves to run in between my corn plants and shell walk around my tomatoes and she doesnt bother them shes also on the small side. Even my boys who were 2 and 3 stay pretty much away from the garden unless its time to harvest they all want to help next year my daughter will be walking so she may be the garden monster but well wait and see

  4. Absolutely wonderful story! I grew up in Jersey City, and still have lots of family in North Jersey (who all also garden extensively!). If you (and they) can bounce back from Hurricane Sandy, then there’s nothing standing in my way from conquering my own garden next spring. Thanks for the inspiration! Good luck with your future endeavors!

  5. My husband and I planted our first garden this year. We weren’t quite as ambitious as you, but we do have tomatoes, zucchini, green beans, and a variety of herbs. It’s still delicious! Next year I want to add bell peppers and beets to the mix.

    I live in Delaware, and I can vouch that for all the negatives about NJ, they have wonderful produce as well!

  6. My garden is going quite well so far this year, my pumpkins are just starting to poke their heads out. I had to build a fence to keep hurricane-tillie (my kelpie X) out of it though, she likes to rip up plants, I reckon she’d try for an oak if she was a bit bigger, but mostly its been chives and chard.

  7. We’re moving this weekend from an apartment with a tiny shared balcony (on which I grew a couple basil plants) to a house with garden-space! It’s a rental, so I’m not going to drastically expand the gardens or anything, but I’m looking forward to having a little dirt in which to play!

    • Shhhhhh ill let you in on something I build my garden to move with me when I had started my garden i had no intention on living at my hone past 5 years. Im now on year 3. so dont let your rental space stop you. My fruit trees can always be removed and replanted some are even in containers my paving stones can come up and instead of investing in a expensive watering system I went to harbor freight and got cheap soaker hoses

  8. I work for a Boys and Girls Club, and this spring/summer we started a small community garden behind our clubhouse. It was AMAZING! The kids loved being outside and learned about patience, perseverance, and hard work. They learned how long it takes for food to grow and had a better connection to what they were eating, as opposed to thinking it just magically appeared off a truck. Finally, kids who wouldn’t eat veggies were suddenly begging for salad. I can’t wait for next season!

  9. I absolutely love to garden! (although to the untrained eye it may not appear that way!)
    Its October and in Ireland thats late Autumn/Fall, I’m still picking cherry tomatoes from my greenhouse (HURRAY for regional,heirloom varieties), my chard is going strong, my winter squashes have just been picked and moved indoors and my winter salads are coming up!
    There is something so refreshing about growing and eating your own food, plus you get exercise.

    My partners mother lives in the countryside and does not drive, and often struggles to get good quality, fresh vegetables. This year we gave her some seeds / starter plants and she was delighted to have fresh food available all the time. We stuck to easy to grow plants such as courgette / zucchini, chard, beetroot etc.
    For this winter I planted up some pretty indoor containers so she would have lovely winter salads, no need to go outside and couldn’t be fresher
    (THESE PRETTY FELLOWS!!! http://www.ikea.com/ie/en/catalog/products/00207642/ )

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