Rookie gardener Deb Jellenik shows off her harvest Wednesday morning. (Photo by Jim Willis. Click to enlarge)


With backyard gardens around the Green yielding their early-August bounties, redbankgreen stopped by the Red Bank Community Garden to see how its first-year harvest is going. We found Deb Jellenik picking tomatoes and spoke with her about her experience thus far.

“I was a latecomer to the community garden,” says Jellenik, who was one of the last people to reserve a plot at the narrow, borough-owned parcel on Marion Street. But she’d been walking past the garden almost everyday, watching the plots take shape, when her desire for fresh tomatoes for making sauce spurred her to act.

“I decided I wanted to make my own sauce,” said Jellinik. “I frequent the Farmers Market at the Galleria on Sundays, and last year I bought a lot plum tomatoes, so I thought, You know, wouldn’t it be nice to grow my own?’”

“We don’t get enough sun in our yard to grow tomatoes,” said the Mori Place resident. “I tried for years running, and it just never worked. It never yielded anything.”

But “I walk past [the community garden] every day — it’s very close to my house, and the price, $25 for the plot, is very reasonable.”

A self-described vegetable fanatic, Jellenik is now enjoying her first foray into growing her own produce.

“I’ve kind of developed an enthusiasm for coming down here and harvesting and taking it from garden to table,” she said. “I’ve found that to be really fun. I was able to use a few zucchinis, and the difference in taste from being fresh — even if you buy organic — there’s a huge difference.”

“There’s a kind of pride of ownership bringing home the food, “ says Jellenik. “Everyone has remarked — because my husband likes to tease me about my black thumb — and he’s totally impressed that this [waves hand over her plot with a flourish] is happening. I came down last night and made a salad out of mesclun and arugula and brought it to my mother-in-law’s.”

Jellenik’s fellow gardeners share their knowledge with each other via an email list and occasional meetings that take place behind the garden at a table surrounded by tree-trunk stools.

“I’m a very inexperienced gardener,” says Jellenik, “and I [wrote an email to the community garden email list] saying, ‘I have this powdery white mildew over the leaves of my zucchini. Does anybody know what I can do to salvage them?’” The list yielded a few suggestions, but Jellenik says of the vegetables, “I think they were too far gone.”

It’s possible though, that the greatest gardening wisdom that Jellenik received wasn’t about the zucchini. “I started obsessing when my zucchini plants started going south. Obsessing. Calling people. Asking all kinds of questions. The [other gardeners] said, ‘You know what? Let it go. Just let it go.”

Would she do it again next year? “Absolutely,” said Jellenik. “In fact my mother-in-law wants to do it with me so hopefully we can get a whole row together.”

She’s even plotting her plot in her head.

“Next year, as much as I enjoy making the sauce from them, I’m not going to plant as many plum tomatoes,” she said. “I want to do heirloom tomatoes for slicing. And I think I’m going to do basil, and want to plant some more exotic vegetables — if you look around here you see people are doing corn and broccoli. I’ll also get going earlier with the chard and the beets.”