Tara Bone, contributing writer

THERE’S NOTHING LIKE springtime in Cache Valley when green sprouts peek through the cold ground, Meadowlarks sing their glorious return, and the Valley’s mountains awake with bursts of vibrant red, blue, and yellow flowers. It’s magical! It calls us outdoors to breathe fresh air and plant something! Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden comes to mind, a classic tale of the healing power of a blossoming garden.

It’s easy to get swept away with ideal visions of growing your family’s own secret garden. The vision gets even better when you imagine your children working alongside you, but then you remember … July. That month in the garden when you’re weeding in the hot sun and “encouraging” the kids to get back to work.

You wonder, is planting a family garden worth the time, effort, and resources? I ask this almost every year, especially if I’ve been telling myself “no garden” all winter. But then that Cache Valley spring comes along and I remember the whys. There are many benefits to growing a family garden — including physical activity, stress relief, family bonding
time, healthy eating, knowledge acquired, and strong work ethic taught. But if growing a family garden still seems overwhelming, start small and look for inspiration from families who make gardens work.

Annika and Lydia McCulloch, the sisters behind Two Sisters
Cider Mill and Orchard.

One story of inspiration comes from Kim McCulloch, a fellow Cache Valley parent who happens to be a physician and avid gardener. Kim and her husband, Monte, moved to Cache Valley in July 2003. She started practicing obstetrics and gynecology at the Budge Clinic and says Cache Valley has been a “great place to be an obstetrician with so
many great families and lots of babies!” Kim’s love for gardening started as a child growing up in Montana where her family had a large garden. They enjoyed vegetables from it year-round because her mom canned and froze everything; to this day Kim loves to pick her food fresh from the plant. Kim and Monte have passed down their love for gardening to their two daughters, Annika and Lydia, both active teenagers.

When they bought their first home in Cache Valley, they started with a few fruit trees and some planter boxes. Then they expanded to some acreage between Smithfield and Hyde Park and Kim says, “that is where my green thumb really got a chance to get busy.” Today they have a fenced area with over 2 acres of garden, including grape and blackberry vines and about 70 apple, plum, peach, and cherry trees. In an unfenced area, they have another 18 fruit trees and another half-acre of blackberry and raspberry plants. “To me, this is a paradise, we eat from our yard all year. I love it,” Kim said.

Their family shares their harvest in a farm stand at the end of their orchard, but their business ventures don’t stop there. To experience all aspects of a business, the girls started “Two Sisters Orchard and Cider Mill.” In the fall, they custom press other people’s apples and they recently produced 60-gallons of cider from their own crop. It’s hard work and the girls get paid by the hour. Kim says they’re often in the cider mill late at night after soccer games.

Like most families, they’re busy, and Kim is often busy at work around the clock, but their orchard and garden are priorities.

“It has been a fun family adventure and it really has taught the girls a lot about work and good food,” Kim said. “I love my ‘second career’ — it is just so different than what I do all day in my real job. I love my body to feel as tired as my brain sometimes!”

Take some inspiration from Kim and Monte and plant that garden. Enjoy the fruits of your labor — whatever that looks like. If it doesn’t turn out perfectly, that’s OK. Remember you’re growing children too, not just flowers, vegetables, and yes — even weeds.

Gardening Tips from Kim and the Experts

• Start small, think herbs or a few tomato plants.

• Plant blackberries; they are easy to grow in Cache Valley and are Kim’s most successful crop!

• Use drip-line watering to save water and manage weeds.

• Utilize USU extension websites, classes, and agent help.

• Plant in elevated rows wide enough to plow around or box gardens to help with weeds.

• Some garden years aren’t successful; don’t get discouraged.

• Plant the food your family eats. Find recipes online to be creative.

• Remember: Only plant one zucchini plant!

• Try a pumpkin and gourd patch and share it with friends or use for decorating.

• Pay kids to weed and work. Treat it like a job.

• Older kids/teens may enjoy work more if they run equipment, i.e., side-by-side, tiller, or weed whacker.

• Weeds happen, accept it, and do your best to control them.

• Wait to plant until Mother’s Day and even until Memorial Day for some things. Use Anderson’s Seed & Garden planting schedule as a reference.

• Point out successes and foster feelings of accomplishment.

• Involve kids in the entire process.

• Visit a farmer’s market.

• Problem solve bug and garden issues as a family.