First-time gardeners find growing produce in Elk River backyard exhilarating, rewarding

by Jim Boyle


Danielle Healy and her fiance, Cory Hartje, gave gardening a try for the first time this year, and it turns out the couple might have a pair of green thumbs.

The harvest has been bountiful, and hundreds of pounds of produce have been easily divisible between themselves, their neighbors and even the wider community through donations to places like the Elk River American Legion.

They may have an orange thumb too, as they harvested a pumpkin weighing in at 114 pounds, according to their scale. It’s hard to handle and even harder to lift.

Between corn, peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, onions and broccoli, to name a few of the items they planted and grew, the two are now hooked on gardening.

“We can see how people find gardening addicting,” Hartje said.

The couple said the decision to plant their first  garden came as a result of the prolonged urging by Healy’s father and sister, who have a passion for gardening. It was not the direct result of the pandemic, but they say they did have more time to put into it than they would have had in previous years. Healy and Harje now see it as a way to be more self-sufficient in uncertain times.

“It was nice not to have the run to the store,” Hartje said.  

The couple started the year terrified that all their homework, purchasing of supplies, planting and twice weekly weeding wouldn’t work.

“It worked,” Healy said, her voice sounding like she was smiling during a phone interview this week with the Star News.

Healy said she liked watching the garden develop and even doing the weeding that was needed. Growth was slow at first. The month of June was capped off with a house boat vacation that took the couple right up to the Fourth of July. Upon their return, they could hardly believe their eyes.

“It was like we went away and came back to a Jurassic Park growing in our backyard,” said Hartje, who described sharing the bounty with others as his favorite part of the whole experience.

One neighbor repaid them with rhubarb they had grown in their garden. Greg Artman, another neighbor, was able to get some produce for his family and even feed folks at the Elk American Legion Post, where he helps out with dinners and the Legion Riders.

“They’re great neighbors,” Artman said.

Healy and Hartje say they will plant another garden next year, and with all their success this year they hope it will be even better than the first.

“This year was all trial and error,” Healy said. “We learned a lot.”

Healy planted the pumpkin seeds to have pumpkins for kids and their grandson. She plans to plant a separate garden for pumpkins, taking this year’s harvest as a challenge to grow an even bigger pumpkin next year.

Hartje said the garden was a lot more work that they anticipated, but well worth it when it came time to harvest.

“It was so fun to see the size and quality of what we were able to grow,” he said. “It was a good feeling all around.”

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