Nan Reinert of Chubby Pickle Farm in Robeson Township, Berks County, is always happy to help others learn about smarter and more efficient ways to garden, knowing quite well just how stressful this therapeutic effort can become if you take on too much.
“I am passionate about growing and getting people to grow,” she says about her green goals. While Reinert uses the charmingly named Chubby Pickle Farm as a label for creating soaps, chap sticks and lotions, her efforts with the label also involve giving gardening and sustainability lectures and spreading the word on how to be wise with time and efforts in the garden.
“I knew it was perfect because you can’t say it without smiling,” Reinert says about her choice of business name. “Even on the hottest stickiest day, gardening makes me smile, and I want to share that joy and experience with everyone,” she explains. “I lived in Center City Philadelphia for about 20 years, and during that time, I volunteered with Philadelphia Green and helped build community gardens all over the city and taught people to grow and preserve the harvest.”
Her gardening labors today in her own backyard include raising about 10 months’ worth of produce, excluding this harsh past winter’s wear, which caused her to lose one month of growing time.
“My interest in gardening goes back to my grandmother who came to America from Italy with tomato seeds sewn into the hem of her skirt,” Reinert says. “I still grow those tomatoes every year, and I call them ‘Nana’s tomatoes.’ They are my favorite, along with a Howard German Tomato.”
Reinert specializes in heirloom vegetable seeds and plants and sees the value in both starting her own seeds and also sometimes buying plants that are already further along.
“By starting your own from seed, you open yourself up to a world of variety. Most vegetables, which anyone can purchase in the store or buy as a plant, come in seventy or more different varieties, and each one is so delicious,” she says. “When you start from seed, you also control the environment that your plants are grown in, and it’s much cheaper.”
For plants that are more temperamental when grown from seed, it’s good to know there are other options.
“Some things are a little too tricky to start from seed and a little more advanced, so starting with the plants is a great way to get growing, and it is certainly easier.”
A handful of plants Reinert suggests buying as already-grown plants are cabbage, kohlrabi, celery, comfrey and rosemary. Peppers are also slow to start, which is a reason why buying them as plants is a good idea.
As an organic gardener, Reinert advocates using compost tea to give plants their best chances at successful and healthy development.
“One of the best ways my grandmother taught me to fertilize, ‘feeding the plants,’ is through compost tea. I take an old pillowcase and put a few healthy shovels full of compost inside it and tie it shut with some rope,” she notes.
“I place this in a bucket of water and let it steep. Then I wring it out, much like you do a tea bag, and water my plants with this nutrient-rich water,” she says.
Reinert uses the same tea pillowcase for about a week and then prepares a new one. Starting a new one ensures that the water doesn’t stagnate and become deficient in its nutrient content. And this whole idea is just one sampling of many offered on her Facebook page.
For beginning gardeners who aspire to year-round gardens, Reinert recommends some easy spring time starters: lettuce, kale, peas, and onions.
“You can grow peas in a large pot using a tomato cage as a trellis, or grow a salad in a pot, lettuce to start, add a bush tomato after your last frost date, and maybe a pepper plant, depending on the size of your pot,” she recommends.
“There are always lots of springtime gardeners who don’t make it to autumn because they started too large, and it became overwhelming,” she says. “By starting small, you will assure yourself success, and there is always room to expand and grow as you go.”