My First Garden, Post 1

by | May 25, 2012 | 15 comments

If everything dies, this will be my first and only post, but so far green foliage is incrementally moving upward, each day stretching just a little closer to the sky. I feel it is now safe to blog about this garden venture because of the initial growth, but also because financially speaking I’m upside down about 30 years worth of prolific vegetable production, so my garden is an investment I’m motivated to see through. Pretty much if I don’t eat squash and pole beans everyday that I’ve personally grown until I’m in my sixties, I will have lost my retirement.

Here’s how it started. Exactly 18 days ago I was having brunch with two friends, April and Mary Katharine.  Somehow we stumbled upon the topic of homegrown tomatoes, probably because this word gets used often in my vocabulary. I can be talking about almost anything and, bam, the word tomato pops out.

“How about I devote tomorrow to help you build raised beds for a garden?” my now forever best friend in the world, MK, says to me.

My articulate response to her proposal went something like, “That sounds amazing. I’m freaking out backwards.”

April was fit to be tied because she was scheduled for a job the next day and was suffering from what my friend Paige calls FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). Having no idea what I was talking about, I assured April that there would be years and years of opportunity for her to contribute to what was about to explode in my backyard.

You should know that at this point my backyard was known only for grass, general blah-ness and an occasional firefly. But I’ve always had higher visions. In fact, starting a garden has been a dream of mine over the past few years, ever since I started canning tomatoes from our farmers’ market and subscribing to a CSA, ever since I devoured Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, along with a couple books by Michael Pollan and Joel Salatin. For various reasons I could never get started, partly because I’m the type of person who thinks I need a doctorate in photosynthesis before I toss my first seed in the ground. Friends are a tremendous resource for me when I get locked down like this.

“If we think we have to know everything there is to know about gardening we’ll never get started”, Mk said. This felt like wisdom to me, so the next day we set our alarms – because farmers rise early – and we tore off to the farmers’ market in a blaze of ignorance. Though I was smitten with the burgeoning vegetation roaring in the display beds of the market, I couldn’t even think about seeds or plants yet. I had to get my beds built and the proper soil put in those beds. Fortunately I met a really helpful store manager named Aaron. He seemed to enjoy me at first until he realized I was an unlearned gardening wackadoo. I think the only reason he put up with my myriad questions was because he sensed that my unharnessed fanaticism may lead me to plunk down the money for enough untreated cedar and organic soil to keep him in business until Thanksgiving, as well as to destroy the shocks of my Jeep.

My friend and I loaded up and made 3 round trips, pulled into my backyard and unloaded each time, put together cedar rectangles, wheel-barrowed bags of soil to those rectangles, and dumped them in one bag at a time. As the day wore on and my muscles fatigued I’d slam the bags of soil into the wheelbarrow, gravity would take over, and then the wheelbarrow would take off with a shaky, pale, 30-something woman tearing off behind it. After 140 excruciatingly dense bags of this, I was beginning to rethink this whole garden “adventure” and my friend was rethinking her friendship with me. Turns out that drilling screws into cedar boards and unloading a zillion pounds of manure and worm castings made “going to work” on a Monday look pretty enviable.

After two beds of bordering on illegal amounts of labor I decided to hire my neighbor Manny to build and fill the third bed – this drove up the cost, but again, think of all the money we’ll save if we eat our own vegetables everyday until we’re 109.

Here are the first two beds before Manny built the third one. (There were only supposed be a total of two but I’ll explain the “need” for a third one in post #2. Assuming everything lives that long.)









Here I am celebrating what looks to be pretty much nothing, but it’s all about the hope of what’s to come…









After these two beds were built and filled with the proper soil, I began to obsess about what I would plant in my raised beds. Tomatoes of course, but what varieties and what tomato plant gardener could I really trust? (Heavy stuff.) I had my deep bed for tomatoes and my shallow one for other vegetables like squash and zucchini, beans, peppers and eggplant. Mary Katharine also insisted on okra, cucumber, artichokes, and jalepenos, so these were big dreams we were chasing. And for you gardeners out there, you know they were big dreams limited by small spaces, but I discovered this soon enough.

Next up, my adventures with Lisa Harper to Marrianna’s Heirloom Seed Farm, along with a few spiritual lessons God’s already shown me from elements like plants and dirt. Pretty amazing stuff it turns out.

Would love to hear about your gardening successes and obstacles, especially anything about tomatoes…





  1. @NickiKoziarz

    Hi Kelly!

    I didn't get a chance to really talk to you the other day at the Lifeway leadership discussion but thank you so much for your message about judging vs redeeming, it was life-changing and we used many of the things you said throughout the rest of the day. 🙂

    Ok so… I only grow things in containers [and not very well ;)] but… I have this amazing friend name Samantha whose blog you should def check out. She's a gardening genus. 🙂 https://gardeningirls.wordpress.com/

  2. Karen Smith

    I am not a gardener so I will follow your blog for ideas. We are working on our garden (back yard) at the moment. God bless xx

  3. Jeanine

    Kelly, Sorry I have no words of wisdom to share with you about growing tomatoes—since the extent of my gardening expirence is trying to grow tomatoes from one of those up-side down planter type thingies (which btw, was unsuccessful).

    Just wanted to say I enjoyed this blog…very funny! Please, I hope your plants make it! Looking forward to the next blog. 🙂

  4. Mary Katharine

    This garden is going to kill me before the summer is over. I’m sure of it.

  5. Megan

    Tomatoes need more room than you think! I only have a twin-size bed plot in a community garden. Off my 1 cherry tomato plant I picked nearly a pint a day for 5 weeks. It needed a 5 foot cage, and it broke at the end of the summer because it wasn't sturdy enough. Plant that cage deep and enjoy!!

  6. @MsAnatha

    Hey Ms. Kelly, this is Annie from Woodmen Valley Chapel! I loved this! I'm writing my second book and it starts out with gardening, but leads to all things spiritual. That's right, there are some very interesting spiritual parallels between gardening and our walk with God. You're in the perfect "zone" to grow just about anything. Here in Colorado our growing season is short. To help your tomatoes flourish by some Epsom salts so once your tomatoes are about 5 inches high, put this around the plant. About 1/2 a cup. This puts the needed phosphates to help your tomatoes grow. Now here is an excerpt from my book.

  7. @AnnVoskamp

    This is FABULOUS, friend! I am so smiling. And cheering!
    This echoes everything we talked about at WOF. God is working all these things out — and all for His glory!

    And — I miss you.

    Press on for Christ! (I wish I was going down the Amazon with you 🙂 My prayers will be with you…

    Waving thrilled from the farm,

  8. Heather from CT

    So fun! We're backyard gardeners here too! Growing your own food is some kind of wonderful. Can't wait to read the next installment.

  9. Tina

    Your garden is going to be neater than mine being in the raised beds but I am going to love following your garden. I have growing in my garden, potatoes, squash, okra, corn, pole beans, bush beans, about 15 tomatoes, about 8 peppers and last but certainly not least birdhouse gourds! Blessings!!!!

  10. Melissa

    How fun!! I read your book The Fitting Room last year and instantly fell in love. I work part time at a Country Club in Atlanta. I was reading it at the front desk one night. One of the members walked by (a guy) and said, "I just read that book and loved it!!" He was sitting by a woman on a long plane ride. She had just finished it and was talking to him about you and the book. He borrowed it and read it on the rest of the trip. 😉 He said I know this is not a typical book a dude would read, but I loved it…


  11. Hilda Quintanilla

    Learning from you as you go along! 🙂 I just might dare start gardening.

  12. Alexi Eidam

    Your next adventure should be chickens! 😉 The only thing is they tend to die… Broke poor Lainey's heart! But then she realized we would have to get more chicks and oddly enough her sorrow vanished! Good luck with your garden!

  13. Pam O

    Congrats on your first garden. This is my first venturing beyond tomatoes… I do have a tomato story for you, though… https://paminflorida.blogspot.com/2010/07/things-t
    Watch out for the Tomato Hornworm!!
    Look forward to hearing about your Amazon experience.

  14. Wilda D. England

    Raised growing beds are used to solve many different gardening problems, most often soil problems. For example, the raised planting beds in the photo are built on top of pavement to line a used car sales lot. You might want to use a raised bed to overcome soil problems such as poor drainage, or to provide better accessibility for the disabled gardener, or to make maintenance easier. Raised beds can be constructed of many different materials and in many different styles. But all raised beds have one thing in common: they need dirt or soil in them. (Gardeners call it soil, rather than dirt.) Follow this guide to what kind of soil to use and how much soil and compost are needed.

  15. Shannon

    You might want to check out http://www.backtoedenfilm.com We are going to have our first garden this year using the method explained in the film 🙂

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