Their garden hosts a wide variety of produce and herbs such as tomatoes, peppers, carrots, green beans, basil, thyme, and kiwi trees, just to name a few. During a particularly impulsive yet humorous move, Jen planted jack-o-lantern pumpkins, which resulted in one-hundred-foot vines that wrapped around the garden twice and six pumpkins weighing at least 40lbs each!
Despite its challenges, her garden has always been a place of excitement and hope. Jen and her husband do their best to involve the kids in everything they do. Daughter Eloise has loved going into the garden with mom since she was a baby. Frankie does as well, even if he isn’t quite as hands-on.
“It’s valuable knowledge to pass on to our children. The idea that you can take a seed and grow a zucchini plant, which will produce enough zucchini that you can start leaving baskets of them on your neighbors’ porches is just thrilling to us!” Jen said. “Eloise has already gained a wealth of culinary knowledge and loves snacking on our homegrown strawberries and cucamelons!”
The Buczeks’ love of food doesn’t stop at the edge of the garden, however; if produce isn’t getting munched on or mixed into dinner, there’s a good chance it’s going to end up in a jar.
“I have been canning tomato sauce with my parents for as long as I can remember—I don’t remember a time when we weren’t dodging the hot juices of tomatoes as we made a puree. When I moved out was when my interest in making jam peaked.” Jen has expanded to jams, jellies, pickles, and mustards, too. Some of her favorite jams are red currant and strawberry, not to mention the apricot jam she swears tastes like sunshine dipped in honey. “I pick all of the fruit for the jam I make myself, and it’s either grown by me or a local farmer—I have a spreadsheet with all of my favorite U-Pick farms!”
Food waste is naturally unwelcome, and rather than throw away the unused peels and skins of vegetables, they end up saved to be used in a stock. Dehydrating apple skins makes for a great snack her daughter loves as well: stick them in the dehydrator at the lowest setting for about eight hours and add just a pinch of cinnamon and sugar. (The skins can also be used to make a homemade apple cider vinegar!) And when it doubt? “Compost—these are just small things I can do, but I think taking small steps is key.”
In the end, Jen’s best gardening advice is to simply start! A number of herbs are easy to grow and add to just about any dish, and she encourages others to play around with some beginner plants that best suit them: peas, cucumber, basil, rosemary, sunflowers, and carrots. “Bulbs can be fun too—plant them in the fall and harvest them in the early summer. If you’re on the fence, grab a few strawberry plants and raspberry canes, stick ‘em in the soil, wait a year, and you’ll be blessed with the onset of some of the most delectable fruit at the exact right time to eat it!”
Jen recommends letting kids play in the soil—invite them to help you plant vegetables and be part of the watering process for the plants. Encourage them to join you in planting flowers and hunting for strawberries when it comes time to harvest. Jen and her husband follow the philosophy of “no such thing as bad weather” with a goal of reaching 1,000 hours outside with their kids over the course of a year.