Ask The Expert: Shelly Juurlink on Home Gardening

Where DO I start with the benefits of home gardening!? For me, it is about mental clarity. Something happens to me when my hands are in the soil and I prep a bed, plant a seed, clear out the weeds, or water a plant. So, even if I never get to eat anything that comes out of the garden, mental health is the number one reason I love to garden.


There are, of course, lots of other advantages:

  • The benefit of growing your food hyper-locally, saving carbon dioxide emissions from both traveling to the grocery store, and from the supply chain.
  • Use up your compost! When I see people putting their leaves out in the fall on the side of the road to be collected, all that goes through my mind is, “Why are you throwing away your good carbon?!??!”
  • It tastes better and fresher too! I once worked on an organic vegetable farm and actually made an entire batch of salsa ALL from the garden with the exception of salt and cumin. It was the best salsa I have EVER tasted!

Getting Started

The advice is simple, just start. Grab a pot, a bag of soil, and some seeds and JUST START. Once you “get bit by the gardening bug”, there is no going back!

Picking what you grow is pretty easy:

  1. Plant things you like to eat 
  2. Plant things you have space to grow

For me, that means a variety of greens, kale, spinach, arugula, and different types of lettuces. I love going out to pick a fresh salad and then dressing it up with whatever I have on hand. And I have an addiction to growing tomatoes.

Starting Your Seeds


If you live in a colder climate (anything less than 50F or 10C), plant the seeds that take longer to mature inside. This includes my beloved tomatoes, peppers and things like that. A bit later, plant anything from the squash family-like cucumbers and zucchinis inside so there is a good root system.

Things like beans, peas, and root crops can be planted after the soil is prepared.  

One of my favorite tips is to save some pea and spinach seeds to plant about every two weeks so there is always a fresh selection.

If you start from seeds, you learn a lot about keeping your crops alive! But the good news is that if you mess it up, you can buy pre-sprouted plants towards the end of spring that can go straight into your garden! I often can’t help myself walking by the pretty plants at my local garden center.

Starting A Greenhouse

I’ve been gardening a long time in many places, but last fall I was able to put up a little greenhouse, nothing extravagant, but made from recycled windows and lots of other things I found on the side of the road! This allows me to start my growing season earlier and end later. I also don’t need to have seedlings over every surface of my house with access to a window for months!

An intermediate step, or if you don’t have space, is building a little plastic dome over raised beds. This allows for direct seeding a bit earlier in the season without worrying about frost damage at night. 

20220516_134140-1Keeping The Critters At Bay

Let’s go from biggest to smallest.

Big mammals? In my area we have deer. I find a fence effective here. But, did you know that deer also hate the smell of Irish Spring soap?

Smaller mammals? I own three pesky cats, for example. Or you might have raccoons and mice, where strong smells do the job. Things like lavender, peppermint or garlic scents are deterrents.

Potato bugs? I pick them, blend them with water and spray them back on the plant.

Aphids? They don’t like soapy water with essential oils. If you see them just give everything a little spray and monitor closely

Slugs? VERY annoying. I have learned to fight these guys head-on using a variety of methods. I use scraps of 2x4” boards to make a physical barrier around the plants. The slugs like to hide underneath this and you can just pull them out in the morning. You can also save eggshells and circle them around the base of the plant. The slugs hate the sharp edges and usually deter the ones that keep going past the boards. Lastly, beer traps work. Just dig a solo cup into the soil, leave the top at soil depth, and put some beer in the bottom. They will be attracted to the beer and go in and drown.

Enjoy The (literal?) Fruits of Your Labor

Whether it’s salsa, salads, sauces and dips, make sure you pick out a few recipes to try as your garden starts producing food!

It’s not really a recipe, but last year I purchased a dehydrator and it has opened my world to what I can do with what I grow. I am able to dry and store all my herbs all year round, dehydrate things like cherry tomatoes, and zucchini and make fruit leather for the kids' lunches from our berries. It is just so fun to experiment and learn every year!