The Non-Professional Gardener

I love plants. All plants! Even the ones that make us itchy and blistery. I am very lucky to not be highly allergic to poison ivy, while my sister wells up in nasty blisters if she’s within a 10-foot radius of the three-leafed fiend. Meanwhile, I pull that weed without gloves like it’s nobody’s business. I might get a slight rash on my wrist, but a little rubbing alcohol, some Caladryl, and I’m good to go! Not that I’m bragging…ok, maybe a little.

Currently, I live in suburbia with two roommates, a dog, and a cat. My green thumb is confined to the deck of our townhouse, where I am making due with planters and terracotta pots.

My dream is to one day have a huge, sprawling herb and vegetable garden in my backyard, complete with beehives and chickens. Why chickens? They’re omnivores! You can feed them kitchen scraps, which means less garbage going into landfills. They eat bugs, such as ticks (those nasty, blood-sucking insects that carry Lyme’s disease), spiders (which I actually have an admiration for), and wasps (definitely NOT a fan of those aggressive little a*#holes). Also, chickens come with free fertilizer for that beautiful, vibrant garden, and, you get farm-fresh eggs. What’s not to love?

There are so many reasons to grow your own plants! They are countless, numberless, infinite even. It’s a lot easier than one thinks it will be. I started growing Lavender in a small cup on my window sill in my college dorm. It sadly died from neglect a couple years later, but that’s all in the past.

What are my reasons for growing? I am a baker, so naturally, plants are my life. Flour comes from wheat which is a plant, fruits are plants, vegetables are plants, sugar cane is a plant…you get the picture. I have been dying to make my own cooking extracts, and experiment with essential oils. Also, making mixed drinks is more fun when you can go pluck mint and thyme from your own back yard rather than having to go to the store.

So here are some really simple steps to start growing your own greenery:

Step1: Decide what you want to plant. Seed packets are available virtually everywhere, even online (most of mine came from Amazon).

Step 2: Read directions on the back of the seed packet…not necessarily my forte. It will tell you how much sun it needs, how much water it needs, how long it takes to grow, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Step 3: Find a pot. There are so many kinds, shapes, sizes, to choose from. Be creative! choose the pot that speaks to you. Coffee and tea cups can work for small herbs–but for me, that’s counterintuitive, since I have better things to do with my coffee mugs…like drink coffee from them. Put a few small rocks in the bottom of the pot for drainage purposes.

Step 4: Soil. Potting soil is best for a seedling, or just go to the backyard and grab a few handfuls of that nice, dark, moist dirt from some neglected corner (if it works for the grass, it will work for your seeds). Add soil on top of rocks in the bottom of your chosen vessel. Fill the pot to just about 3/4 full.

Step 5: Use your finger to make a hole in the soil for the seeds. Add seeds. Cover them with soil. Pour water over the top; not a lot of water, but just enough to make the soil damp, not sodden.

Step 6: Wait. Be patient. It will happen. This is where instant gratification can be a real beast. In this day-and-age where we can press a single button to get what we want, waiting for something to grow can be borderline painful. But it’s a wonderful feeling when you see that tiny little speck of green peeking through. Just remember: water and sunshine are a plant’s best friends. Make sure they get plenty of both. Unless it’s a cactus or a ficus.

Step 7: Cultivate. If it’s herbs, use them when you’re cooking. If it’s vegetables or fruits, see my previous statement. If they’re simply there to look pretty, that’s just as good.

I don’t know anything about different types of fertilizers, or plant foods, or weed killers. My reasoning is that if it doesn’t belong in the ground, it shouldn’t be sprayed, sown, or planted with your plants, edible or otherwise. It’s not necessary to have giant tomatoes, or mutant squash, or watermelons the size of the Hulk’s head. Also, the poor bees get sick from the chemicals. I like bees. Their waspish cousins can go stick their stingers somewhere else, but honeybees and bumblebees help to make a garden thrive.

Here is what I do know:

  • A nitrogen-rich soil is a plant’s best friend (aside from water and sunlight). Composting is a great way to get a nutrient-dense potting soil. Not all of us have space for a compost heap, but there are organic soils available at most gardening stores and nurseries. And remember those chickens I love? Their fertilizer (my nice way of saying chicken poop) contains ample amounts of nitrogen. Really great for roses, apparently.
  • There are certain plants that act as natural repellents to certain bugs and rodents. For example, plant strawberries with mustard greens to prevent bugs. Rabbits don’t like marigolds. Plant them around the borders of your garden if you have one. Thumper won’t like it.
  • If you are like me and only have pots, use already used coffee grounds as a fertilizer. When I brew coffee, I put ground cinnamon in with the coffee grounds. Cinnamon is also a pest repellent. Bonus for me! I have lovely cinnamon-flavored coffee, and I repel pests from my plants. Used tea bags are great too.

That’s all I have for you today! Until next time, happy planting!