Vegetable gardening — dirt under my fingernails and up to my elbows


Farmers are found in many of the branches of my family tree. The Thompsons are bulb farmers growing daffodils that are exported around the world. The Whitings make a living growing Midwestern staples such as corn and beans. My mother kept a large garden with pumpkins, carrots, broccoli, corn, and green beans which she canned, froze, and served fresh in many of the countless meals she made. So be it nature or nurture, I love playing in the dirt and growing my own food.

My first attempt at a vegetable garden was small scale, just a few types of peppers and green beans from starts bought at a nearby nursery. While tearing up the sod was a bit of work, overall I was pleased with the harvest relative to the minimal effort. The next year, I was more ambitious. I decided to start from seeds while it was still cold outside with re-purposed plastic milk jugs serving as terrariums. Only a few of the seeds grew into plants. I must have made an error somewhere in the process, as the cold frame is a commonly used approach amongst gardeners.


Last year, I decided to sow directly into the soil a couple of weeks after the last anticipated frost date with heirloom seeds. There’s such an amazing selection of heirloom seeds available on online, so many wonderful flavors and textures to evaluate. Hours were spent debating the benefits of early ripening, shorter germination periods, and indeterminate types of plants. Some boasted being better for freezing, others best enjoyed fresh. In the end, how I wanted to prepare the vegetable was the biggest deciding factor finally settling on muncher cucumber, green bush zucchini, blue lake bush 274 green beans, stupice tomato, large red tomato, and delicious tomato. (Check out

Most of what I’d read about non-genetically modified seeds suggested that this wouldn’t be easy. These plants would require extra care and attention to survive. So with low expectations, I sewed the vegetable seeds in a new, bigger bed closer to the spigot (thanks to the muscle of my boyfriend, Stephen). Despite it being a cool summer, the garden provided a good harvest and my confidence in heirlooms grew.

There’s over a foot of snow on the ground, but I’ll soon be placing an order for heirloom seeds for the garden this year. With eager anticipation, I await the season when I feel the warm earth under my bare feet and have dirt under my fingernails and up to my elbows.

Jackie MahlerJackie Mahler
Jackie Mahler and have been work carpool buddies for about a year now, and what do you think we talk about most while driving? Food — cooking, eating, restaurants and foodie shops. Jackie often tells me inspiring tales of her foodie experiments at home with pork belly and other adventurous cuts of meat. A lifelong Indiana resident and graduate of Purdue and Indiana universities, Jackie works as a product configurator for an RV component company in Elkhart. She enjoys hiking, camping, yoga, cooking, baking and taking leisurely strolls along the Mishawaka river walk, preferably with warm sunshine on her face. Read a little bit more about our baking relationship and find a recipe for flourless monster cookies here.