Homegrown: Gardening is in Johnson’s blood

Don’t miss the special insert in the April 28 Chief: Home & Garden 2011 Gardening has been a part of Merilee Johnson's life for as long as she can remember. However, she has not always had a fondness for it. Merilee grew up on a dairy farm west of Arcadia. Her parents always grew a big garden and a big patch of sweet corn, and it was the kids' responsibility to help take care of it. "I really didn't enjoy gardening all that much then," Merilee smiles, as she reflects on her childhood experience. She says her mom did lots of canning and froze a lot of corn. She was also well known for her pickles. When Merilee grew up and left home, she also left the garden behind. Then when she married her husband, Delton, her mother got her back into the dirt by asking the couple to plant some of her gladiola bulbs. "We planted them all upside down," laughs Merilee. "They all came up though!" The couple moved to their current home north of Broken Bow in 1973, and the following year planted their first garden. Merilee was hooked, and has been growing a large garden ever since. Gardening is somewhat of a science for Merilee. She keeps a chart of where she plants each variety each year so she can rotate the rows from year to year. She tries to keep the plants as organic as possible, and only sprays if it is absolutely necessary. They keep their large garden area fenced to keep out the deer and rabbits. "Our biggest problem is bugs and weather - just like everyone else," she says. More than 10 years ago, Merilee began taking some of her produce to the local Farmer's Market. She discovered it was a hobby she really enjoyed and could make a little money at. "I really enjoy meeting all the people, and knowing you're providing a quality product to the people," Merilee explains. She likes trying new things and makes it a point to plant one new vegetable each year. But she also has her favorites, like green beans and beets. She has always frozen lots of corn, like her mother did when she was growing up. She also freezes onions. "I just chop them up and put them in a freezer bag, then anytime I want them for a soup or stew I just pull it out of the freezer and throw them in," Merilee says. Merilee also raises four or five varieties of herbs, which generally includes parsley, chives, basil and dill. She says this year she plans to try growing cilantro. Her garden also includes an asparagus bed. At the Farmer's Market, Merilee typically sells beets, green beans, snap peas and spinach. "We all kind of have our specialty items, and we really do try to be careful not to infringe on each other's specialties," she explains. Since Delton's retirement he is available to help in the garden more, and now accompanies his wife to the market. Merilee says he enjoys it as it allows him to have that interaction with people that he misses from working full time. Merilee has four siblings, and she says all of them still garden - at least to some extent. Apparently, once gardening gets in the blood it is there to stay.