While most people head to the grocery store or a local farmer’s market for produce, Mercer volunteer Chris Mihalik only has to walk outside.
“I grow and eat a lot of my own vegetables,” she said. “I don’t have to spend much time in the produce section at the grocery store.” Mihalik grows zucchini, pumpkin, basil, parsley, rosemary, cilantro, figs, oranges, plums, and more. She turns much of her unconsumed produce into preserves, baked goods, and jellies to share with friends, neighbors, and other Mercer volunteers.
Mihalik has always enjoyed gardening. Starting in 2014, she began volunteering in Mercer’s potting shed every Thursday and helping at the March Mart Plant Sale. Before becoming a volunteer, Mihalik visited Mercer regularly with her husband.
“When I retired, my husband asked, ‘Why don’t you volunteer at Mercer?’ We’ve always loved it there,” she said. “I spend time in the potting shed where I’m continuously learning new things about plants. I enjoy what I do , and the people I work with.”
Now, Mihalik applies gardening techniques used at Mercer in her own garden. She grows plants from her own garden cuttings and sells the excess plants at garage sales or gifts them to friends. Greenhouse manager Jacob Martin said many volunteers benefit from Mihalik’s garden.
“Chris loves to share the plants she propagates at home,” said Martin. “She is always bringing in tons of plumeria cuttings to share with other potting shed volunteers. She’s never shy of working outside, even when it feels like 100 degrees.”
One of Mihalik’s top tips for establishing a healthy vegetable garden is to use good compost. Mihalik composts her perishables and even collects compostable material from neighbors. In addition to helping the environment, Mihalik has seen results in her garden.
Last year, she threw an old pumpkin from a neighbor’s trash bin in her compost pile. By spring, she had four pumpkins. “Believe it or not, it grew from my compost bed,” she said. “It popped up in early spring, got flowers, and took over the whole bed. We just let it go. It grew up into the grass and wandered around a little bit.
“I made pumpkin pie, pumpkin muffins, and pumpkin bread. I gave everyone I knew pumpkin something.” It wasn’t the first time she’s grown something by accident. An old cantaloupe in her compost bin also sprouted. “You don’t have to work as hard with good soil,” she said.
Although enriched soil makes gardening easier, Mihalik has yet to find a shortcut for keeping her plants watered during the Houston summers. Despite the work, Mihalik believes the payoff is worth it.
“I love to watch things grow,” she said. “It’s exciting to watch a little sprout develop into a plant.”