Nan Reinert’s long, narrow backyard is a place of pure joy. Growing there are artichokes, strawberries, grapes, asparagus, eggplants, potatoes, spaghetti squash, lettuces, New Zealand melon, Japanese pink celery, two varieties of mushrooms, tatsoi, 39 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, 36 types of peppers and much, much more, all of which she plants, grows, harvests and either eats, preserves or barters.
She also makes traditional medicines, balms and ointments from the huge variety of herbs she grows.
“I’m a homesteader,” she said. “I grow almost everything I need. I don’t make a lot of trips to the grocery store. If there’s something I don’t grow or make, like honey, I’ll trade vegetables for it.”
On a property that backs up to the Schuylkill River in Robeson Township, Nan spends nearly all the time she’s not working at her job as a bookkeeper and office manager outside.
Tending a garden that provides nearly all your food requires a lot of work, and in the summer, she sleeps in a screened-in room she built herself nearly every night. When she gets too hot, she ties an old inner tube to a tree, tosses it into the river and floats for an hour or two.
“Practically everything we need is in this backyard,” she said.
When Nan moved to the property about 15 years ago, the yard was a lawn stretching back to an embankment that leads to the river.
“There was nothing here,” Nan recalled. “I just started taking out chunks of grass.”
And then she started building raised beds, making a habitat for two turtles she has had since her father bought them for her 55 years ago when she was born, laying a cobblestone path, constructing grape arbors, fashioning wire arches for squash plants to climb, stringing lights and planting. Much of what she plants is in pots, making it possible to move plants from one space to another, as necessary. About 25 tomato plants are grown in buckets that are part of a self—watering system.
The Alaska Grow system uses plastic pipes to connect each bucket to a water barrel. Water is released and sent to the buckets when a float automatically drops down to open a valve. Nan bought one system a few years ago and liked it so much she added a second one.
“It works like a charm,” she said. “This is something I want people to know about because it helps you understand you can grow food wherever you are.”
Encouraging people to grow their own food is part of Nan’s passion. She does so on her Facebook page, Chubby Pickle Farm, a name she has given to her backyard.
“Almost everybody can grow food in one way or another,” she said. “It doesn’t take tons of space to grow lots of food. But, even if people aren’t going to grow their own food, I hope to get them thinking about where their food comes from and how it is grown.”
Nan is a popular presenter at workshops, cooking demonstrations and canning education sessions. She preserves her own food by canning, freezing and drying fruits and vegetables. While she is not vegetarian, she greatly prefers vegetables, fruits and grains instead of meat.
“It’s a lot of work to live this way, but it’s very satisfying and it gives me a lot of joy,” she said. “I consider myself to be very blessed.”
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