Pearl is an extremely knowledgeable, delightful and positive member of our Vegetable Garden group on Facebook who gardens in a small town in Northern Illinois, USA. She caught our attention when she posted about her immense vegetable seed starting set-up. It was huge! And so organized! We weren’t the only ones interested – that particular post of hers (pictured below) also caught the attention of thousands of the other community members. We’re excited to showcase Pearl and her story as a vegetable gardener as our second ever “gardenstead spotlight” feature.
A little bit about Pearl:
“I’ve been gardening my whole life. My parents bought our little 3-acre farmette when I was just a year old and I’ve been getting my hands dirty ever since. I moved back to the farm about 5 and a half years ago to gradually take it over for my parents, so they could actually enjoy their retirement. When I first moved back, I was trying to work part time and keep up with the farm, but I just kept getting more hours at work and wasn’t able to keep up with everything, so I had to make a change.
We had a beautiful garden every year, but we also found that we often had way too much produce and were giving a lot away. There were times we were giving away 5-gallon buckets of jalapenos to someone that would can them. I loved getting back into gardening and having food sensitivities myself, I knew how important all naturally grown produce is, so I decided to start a farm stand. I could provide healthy, naturally grown produce and be able to stay on the farm, where I belong.
I’m going into my 4th season of business as The Farmacy Farmstand, a little stand at the end of my driveway. My motto is “Small Stand, Big Standards”, I start everything from seed and tend to it meticulously.”
A little bit about Pearl’s Farm:
“I like to say my way of life is “Full Circle Farming”, everything has a purpose, and nothing goes to waste. The rain water off the barns is collected in containers storing over 2,000 gallons of water, that I use to water my gardens. We have chickens for eggs, but we also crush up the egg shells to add them to the soil in the garden, We recycle as much as possible too, my farm stand is made out of recycled doors, windows and pallets from my dad’s work.”
How long have you been gardening?
I’ve been gardening my whole life, but when I came back to the farm 5 and half years ago, I was reintroduced into gardening and that’s when I really fell in love with growing my own food.
Tell us a little bit about the space you garden in.
When I moved back to the farm, our garden space was actually a section of our pasture that my 3 little goats didn’t need. We expanded last year and took up more of the pasture, but they still have more than enough space and enjoy eating the garden scraps and keeping me company! The new garden we are currently working on is actually where our original garden was 20+ years ago! It was extremely overgrown with trees, so we decided to do cinder block raised beds due to all the roots. We’ve been prepping the space for months, cut down dozens of trees, put up a whole new fence and are currently still working on digging out and building the beds!
What is a favorite memory that you have from the years you’ve been growing in your space?
I don’t have a particular memory, but one of my favorite parts of gardening is at the very end of the season, when the garden is done and the frost has hit, I get to let all the animals in the garden to feast! It’s a bittersweet moment, but watching the goats chow down on some pepper plants, the chickens eating the rotten tomatoes and the donkeys carefully selecting what they want to eat, it’s a pretty magical time that I only get once a year.
What are the main challenges that you’ve faced in your garden?
One of my main challenges is probably working alone most of the time. I say “we” a lot as my parents do help me out and this is still the family farm, but most of the time it’s just little old me. This year my parents are helping more than ever as we are creating an additional garden, but last year every single plant in my 4,000 sq. ft. garden was planted by me, by hand. With a garden my size it is tiring and there are situations that come up where it would be helpful to have an extra set of hands. You have to come up with creative solutions, like using bricks to hold something down or finding ways to prop/tie something up, but usually there’s a way!
I also struggle with growing all naturally. I really only use a little bit of dawn in water to deter bugs. Last year I did struggle with flea beetles on my eggplant and ended up having to add a little rubbing alcohol to the dawn/water mix, but that is literally all I’ve used in my garden. I’ve purchased organic products before only to get home and read the label and see it isn’t safe for bees or aquatic animals, etc. I not only have to think about the food I’m feeding my family and selling to others, but I have to think about my animals, the bees, my creek and my impact on the environment. Most of the time it just takes a little more patience to keep bugs out, but there are a few things I haven’t tried growing again, because the bugs did take over and I haven’t found a safe, natural way to deal with them.
If you were stuck on an island and could only grow one vegetable or fruit or herb, what variety would you pick and why?
Probably zucchini! There’s a lot you can do with it and it’s easy to grow.
Do either of you have any rituals or routines in the garden?
I don’t have any particular rituals, but I sure do talk to the animals a lot! Both my pets and the wild animals. I talk to the goats and donkeys a lot as they have to be near you at all times. I’ll also talk to the toads, maybe thank them for eating the bugs and tell them how cute they are. I’m a crazy animal person, I don’t know what to say! Lol
If you were to give a piece of advice to someone who is just starting to get their hands dirty, what would it be?
- – Buy yourself some overalls! They will save you so many trips back and forth to the house. Load the pockets up with scissors, string, a measuring tape, your phone, seed packets, pencil/marker, etc. Seriously it’ll save you so much time, I feel lost when I don’t wear mine. Personally, I prefer men’s overalls, because they have bigger pockets and more of them, functionality over fashion!
- – Start small! It is really easy to get overwhelmed; I’ve seen it happen to many first-time gardeners. So just start with a few plants of a few different types of your favorite veggies! There’s a lot to learn and it might take up more time than you think, you can always go bigger next year!
- – Don’t be afraid to experiment! There’s no one “right” way to grow a tomato, so feel free to try 2 different ways in one year or try a new way next year. It’s about finding what works best for YOU! I am still learning and trying new things! I’m trying several things I learned from Gardenstead’s Vegetable Gardening Facebook group this year (like pinching back my pepper plants). Also, try new varieties! Last year from the group I found my new favorite variety of beans, something I would have never tried otherwise!
Do you have any gardening secrets to share?
I don’t think I have any gardening secrets to share. I really do try to share as much information as I possibly can. I’ve learned a lot from my mom and still bug her with questions, but I also realize a lot of people don’t have someone to turn to. I do feel like one of the great things about gardeners is that we’re always willing to help one another out! I’ve had people stop by my farm stand and ask for advice and I help them as much as I can, but I’ve also received some really good advice as well! I’m actually trying several new varieties of tomatoes this year based on customers recommendations!
A special thank you to Pearl for featuring in our gardenstead spotlight. Photo credit to Pearl.
You can follow Pearl’s gardening journey on her Facebook page: www.facebook.com/TheFarmacyFarmstand/