A Gardner’s Journey: Janet Kolodner

Janet Kolodner, a mentor with the Jewish Volunteer Gardening Brigade, has been growing vegetables on and off since 1980.

She developed her green thumb as she helped her father plant his backyard gardens when she was growing up in the 1960’s. He planted tomatoes, beets, cucumbers, carrots, peppers, and mint.

Her mother made borscht from the beets and pickles from the cucumbers and tomatoes. There was always mint tea in the house. And her parents were always proud of the food they made from the home-grown vegetables and fed to the relatives when they came over for dinner. When she and her husband moved to Atlanta and bought their house in 1980, they had the perfect space out back to create a large garden (200 sq ft), where they planted tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, basil, oregano, cucumbers and more; she called it her “ratatouille garden.” After she left Atlanta in 2009, she lived in apartments in Cambridge and DC and didn’t have land to use to plant a garden for 6 years. She had access to farmers’ markets in DC, and it was great getting fresh vegetables that way, but she missed growing her own.

When she arrived in the Boston area in 2015, Janet sought to buy a home where she could again plant a garden. Almost immediately after moving in, she began looking into the best ways of getting a garden going in her yard. She ended up putting in raised beds with new soil, the smartest gardening move she’s ever made, she says. She was able to use brand-new soil that produced almost no weeds the first few years, and she enjoys not having to bend down to reach her plants; gardening in raised beds is much easier, she says, than gardening at ground level. 

She began by planting many of the same things she planted in Atlanta, but each year, she learns more about what she can grow up here in the colder climate, and she has added greens, additional herbs, and beans. She also makes it a point before planting her garden each year to learn more about growing vegetables and herbs. Since moving to Boston, Janet has read about rotating crops, pruning tomato plants, using compost, correct ways to fertilize each type of vegetable and herb, and much more. Each year, she improves the way she manages her garden. 

As an experienced gardener, Janet has a lot of wisdom to offer newbies. She encourages people to experiment with new vegetables. Janet also suggests doing a lot of reading and watching videos on gardening. She began by reading and listening to resources provided by The Old Farmers’ Almanac. She has found other videos by looking at YouTube recommendations as she’s watching the ones from almanac.com, and she’s found much to read by simply typing questions into Google.  She also recommends planting in raised beds if you can, rotating the crops each year, and keeping track of the species you plant, where you plant them, and which ones do well and not as well. 

On the other hand, so much depends on the weather, the amount of sun the plants can get in the space they are planted in, and the seedlings that are available that it’s hard to know exactly what influences the size and quality of the harvest. After keeping track for five years, she’s learned the kinds of tomatoes she likes best, to use the back shady corner of the garden to grow greens, and that whatever she plants in the half-shade parts of the garden just won’t do as well as if they were planted in the sun. 

Janet loves the peaceful feeling she experiences out in her garden in the mornings. Seeing her plants grow and harvesting her produce excites her. She loves using the vegetables and herbs she grows in dishes she makes and making gifts of her produce. Her biggest gardening struggle is keeping her tomato and zucchini plants under control; she says she also seems to never plant her greens early enough in the season. She’s eating really well this summer, she says, but she greatly misses feeding others from her garden on Friday nights.