As a home, garden, and travel writer and editor, Kelly Smith Trimble has worked for major lifestyle brands such as HGTV, Travel Channel, Lowe’s, Southern Living, Bonnie Plants, and the National Park Foundation. A master gardener, Kelly grows vegetables, herbs, and flowers in her suburban backyard in east Tennessee. In her latest book, Vegetable Gardening Wisdom, Trimble offers a book of tips and inspiration aimed at empowering new gardeners to grow food. Read on to learn more and enter below to win one of three copies from Storey Publishing!
What was that “lightbulb” moment when you realized the importance and joy of growing your own food?
I had lightbulb moments in college when reading about food ethics as it relates to the environment, which I write a little about in my introduction to the book, but I wasn’t really able to transfer those philosophical shifts into personal action as vegetable gardening until a few years later, when I had my own space in which to grow. I did a little volunteering with urban farms and farmers markets, but the more personal, tangible, hands-in-ground experiences came gradually. The first time I ate something I grew, the first time I served something I grew to others — these events happened but I don’t remember them really specifically. The recognition that experience and knowledge add up as they are collected over time is a key tenet of this book because it has really been true for me.
You mention wanting your book to help others develop a lifelong love of gardening. What else do you hope they will take away from it?
I hope they’ll discover some tips that will help them successfully grow something they’ve always wanted to grow. Having a little success growing a vegetable you really love to eat can be pretty meaningful. Along the same lines, understanding how much time, effort, and knowledge goes into growing something you really love can make you appreciate it all the more, whether you grew it or not.
I also hope this book will help others, whether beginner or seasoned gardeners, develop a daily practice of gardening. This means spending a little time every day checking in on the garden and doing activities like weeding, watering, planting, and harvesting. To me, this daily practice is not only a good way to approach gardening, in part so that it doesn’t become overwhelming, but also a way for gardeners to develop an intimate relationship with their gardens that helps them be successful and also harvest the more spiritual and emotional benefits.
The advice you give is great for each season. What keeps you motivated throughout the entire season from beginning to end?
The potential harvest is definitely a motivator. Even though gardening in the heat of July and August isn’t my favorite, I keep at it because of all the amazing vegetables ripening at that time: tomatoes, peppers, corn, cucumbers, squash, beans, and more. It’s such a time of abundance, but it’s also a time when I’d be equally happy jumping in a lake every chance I get. My hope is that efforts made earlier in the season, such as enriching the soil so that it can feed plants, will pay off and make summer a little easier.
On the flip side, it’s not hard for me to get motivated in spring. It’s more an issue of tempering excitement so that I don’t plant everything too early. Same story goes for fall. I love fall crops, but in my climate where it can stay hot through October, I sometimes need to wait a little to get them in.
Also, having made gardening a part of my daily life, something that truly brings me joy, it’s something I really miss in the slower seasons like winter. So even though there are certainly days where I feel less like getting out there than others, like maybe after a long day at the office, overall, it’s something I really look forward to doing rather than something I dread, no matter the season.
Describe your first garden…where was it, what did you grow, and how did it inspire you to grow more?
I think the first time I grew food on my own was at my condo in Birmingham when I was probably 25 or so. It was actually the first time I didn’t have the ability to step right out onto ground from my door — I was on the third floor with a tiny balcony but no actual soil or sunlight. I know that for many people, this is completely normal, but it was new to me. I loved my space but I didn’t like that part of it, so I started trying to grow in containers at the ground level, primarily in the back of the building which was a parking area. I grew tomatoes and peppers and it went pretty well, but I quickly wanted more space, which is partly what led me to sell my condo and buy my first house a couple years later.
Do you have a favorite gardening tip from this book and why?
Choosing a favorite tip is really hard. One of my favorite quotes relates to a collection of important tips, and that’s Eleanor Perényi’s quote on page 78 about compost and mulch. Beyond her subtle humor, which I love, I agree with her that subjects like soil and mulch may seem boring, especially to new gardeners, but are actually the most important elements of a garden, particularly an organic garden. So, I definitely hope readers pay attention to those tips, most of which are in the late winter and spring sections.
Are there any specific vegetables or herbs you would recommend for gardeners just starting out?
I definitely recommend growing lettuce and other greens, especially in spring and fall. It’s really so easy to grow these yourself and get a taste of gardening while also saving money on groceries. Mint is foolproof, and it’s especially fun to grow for including in cocktails like mojitos and juleps — some people consider it invasive, and it can be, but I love how it smells and using it in all kinds of dishes, so I don’t mind managing it. Both mint and lettuce will grow easily in containers, too. I also recommend trying to grow your own garlic. Not only is it easy, but it’s also really eye-opening to see that whole garlic bulbs grow out of individual garlic cloves — for me, growing garlic the first time was a botanical revelation.
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Which vegetable would you like to learn more about?
Be sure to include a valid e-mail address. The winner will be drawn at random from all qualified entrants, and notified via e-mail. (See rules for more information.)