I wanted this space here on Grow Your Health Gardening to be focused on how to grow food for the gardening novice, but today I wanted to pause and just reflect on something (or should I say someone) that is near and dear to my heart.
Last night, our family attended a beautiful catered banquet through our local County Extension Office Master Gardener Organization where our oldest son, Joshua, received his official Master Gardener Certificate and official name badge. He is the youngest Master Gardener in our county of 164,044 people (at the time of writing this post.) It was definitely a proud moment for me, his Mama, having watched him grow (pun intended) over the years in his passion and skills.
Of my five children, Joshua is the one that noticed me saving a seed every now and then. Soon, I was finding other seeds next to my collection and now he is a better seed saver than I am! He gets it. He understands that within that seed is life and the potential to keep giving life-giving food to others he loves.
I sometimes call him “Farmer Josh” out of love because he loves to play in the dirt and grow things. We come from a long line of wheat farmers. Joshua’s middle name is fitting, because he is actually named after his Great Grandfather who was a dry land wheat farmer. (Growing wheat definitely isn’t Joshua’s future because we learned he was allergic to wheat dust one year while helping out with the harvest.) Every summer, my family would help bring in the wheat harvest. My grandmother had a large garden and instilled in me from a young age the value of a garden. My parents continued to teach me through growing our own family garden for years and then the busyness of life demanded the need for convenience over preparedness and the garden fell to the wayside and eventually our plot of dirt became grass and then a garage was built over the location.
When my twins were three years old, my husband got a consulting job in the Southeast, and we moved 3,000 miles across country to Atlanta, Georgia. Our soil profile changed from grey-ash-like soil to red dirt full of clay. I would put rich compost down into my garden beds only to find them return to hard clay by fall. My growing mojo had come to a screeching halt. (I would later learn what to do to re-build the soil profile thanks to new friends made in Georgia and other Master Gardeners.)
Feeling discouraged, I kept thinking there had to be a better way. That’s when I stumbled across a video of a guy on YouTube who was growing tomatoes hydroponically in Bato Buckets. I was fascinated by his methodology and soon I was pouring myself into any resource I could find about how to grow food hydroponically. It was also about this time, that my oldest two sons were studying the difference between human cells and plant cell structures. Since we were homeschooling, I decided to dive deeper into teaching them more about plant biology (botany) and together we were going to learn about hydroponics and how to grow food. My husband helped me guide the boys in building a Bato Bucket system like the one I saw on YouTube and I went down to my local nursery and bought 10 different tomato plants and we transplanted them into our new system. The boys would monitor the pH level and nutrient level of the plants and write down observations. It was a lab of sorts for us to learn from and boy did we learn!
The following year, my husband had a heart attack. It was then that I realized we were not doing enough about eating wholesome vegetables. In my research the previous years, I had narrowed my next hydroponic system to two options. But when our need became more urgent, I knew I didn’t want a DIY system — I needed something out of the box that would just work. (My last DIY system cost as much as the one out of the box.) He agreed to getting three Tower Gardens by JuicePlus+. Here was our first year’s crop (pictured below).
I was amazed at how easy it was to fit it into my busy lifestyle. No weeding. No effort to build up soil. No nematodes to eat my crop. No irrigation system to monitor or standing there day in and day out to water plants for a half hour while our water bill took a hit. I would just watch the reservoir every week and check pH and nutrients — it was right up my alley. I needed low-maintanence gardening. Joshua dove in with me and helped monitor the growing system as well.
I also learned of our local Master Gardener program through our Extension Office that shared space with 4H. I took the kids to any free program they had to offer on growing things or even one was on bee keeping. In fact, Joshua won the door prize at one of these meetings and he and my youngest son walked away with some free plants! It was around this time (I think Joshua’s Junior year) that I turned to him and planted the seed-thought of him becoming a Master Gardener. He had the time now to make that happen and then could use the skills he learned for the rest of his life instead of waiting to the end of his life when he retired to enjoy it. He was excited by the thought of that idea and inquired only to find that you had to be 18. He wouldn’t be able to do it as his senior year project. But he didn’t give up on the goal. He applied for the Master Gardener program that was to begin around the time of his 18th birthday.
What probably many don’t know is that during this time, our family went through a difficult time. My mother, who lived 3,000 miles away, needed help getting through a situation she found herself in and I had to leave for several weeks to help her. This unfortunately coincided with Joshua starting his Master Gardener training. He took an Uber each day and paid $20 out of his own pocket to get to his classes until other arrangements could be made on his behalf.
One of the great things that I love about the Master Gardener program is the wisdom of those who are involved. I’ve tried to teach my children to reach out to those with grey hair as they are a library of untapped resources. Joshua was blessed to have these amazing individuals come along side him and help him. They loved him because with his youth brought much needed muscles! lol I really wish there could be more young people involved because they are missing out on such a great resource. I want to see what can be done to bring these two groups of people together.
Joshua juggled working his required 50-hours of volunteer hours around with working a job. I saw him increasingly frustrated when he would miss a Master Gardener meeting (often held during the day) because he had to work. But it showed me what he truly enjoyed. Thankfully, he came to realization himself and asked if he could work for me and help me instead of continue in the electrical program he was pursuing. I really needed his help knowing that my own goals included the possibility of growing our crops to the point where we could take it to the local farmer’s market to sell. So here we are today, working on our upcoming growing season and it is such a joy to work alongside my son. He’s smart and helps things get done when I don’t have the bandwidth to get to it. Currently, he’s helping me clear some land to do an herb garden installation. He is put in charge of his younger siblings who help him clear out ivy that has overrun the space we plan to utilize. He also is good at cleaning out Tower Gardens and sanitizing them (as well as our cutting tools). We hope to also propagate some of the beautiful resources on our property to sell at the upcoming Master Gardener event this spring. And his favorite thing to grow indoors — orchids!
So, last night’s award dinner was truly special and I felt so proud of him for pursuing what he loved. And I feel so blessed to be his Mama and thankful that we have something in common to share over the years. I am praying for Joshua and that the Lord will continue to direct his steps as one day he will have his own family to provide for (and possibly me in my old age, Lord willing!)
Thanks for letting me share from my heart. And if I can encourage any of you with children… learn together! You don’t have to have all the answers or be an expert to be qualified to teach a child. It’s through the process of learning together about something that your children will come to understand that anything is possible to learn about if you just pursue it.
Happy Growing —
PS: If you ever read this post, Joshua, know that I am proud of you and can’t wait to see what you do next! Never stop dreaming and learning! Love you, Mom