3 Things I Learned from Starting My Own Garden

1. Temperature is key to seed germination, but good seeds are also the key.

When I first started gardening, I’d feel very discouraged after sowing 2-3 seeds of one plant and it never came up. I bought a heat mat, and babied the seedlings so much. I thought there couldn’t possibly be more that I can do.

Seeds have a life, just like all living things, even though it’s not moving. Some seeds are bad, and some seeds never germinate (i.e. from hybrid plants). Sometimes saving the seeds you bought more than 2 years before decreases the germination rate drastically as well. It’s not your fault if you did everything right but the seeds don’t sprout.

The key to battling seed germination disappointment is to:

  1. sow a shit load of seeds. You will be so happy something has sprouted and forget about the ones that didn’t.
  2. buy variety of seeds (different vegetable seeds, herb seeds, flower seeds, and different varieties of the same plant also helps). 
  3. buy potted plants and don’t have to worry about seedlings! Although this route is a little more expensive. I bought 3 tomato plants from Sam’s this year because I did not germinate my seeds in time to grow. Totally worth every dollar I spent.

2. Don’t follow the rules. Experiment and fail fast.

Some people argue one should prune tomatoes, others argue not. Some people put down cardboard to kill weeds, others use fabric weed barrier. Each group is strong believers of their methods and points out the other method’s flaws. It’s hard to decide who to listen to when you start gardening. Looking back, I would take everything with a grain of salt, and experiment with your own environment. 

One of the things I enjoy watching / learning the most from gardeners all over the world is to see them experiment with different soil type, different seeds, different time to sow seeds, sowing multiple seeds in one place, dig vs. no dig in the garden, burying fish heads in the ground, etc. 

3. Stick your fingers in the mud and get dirty!

This was probably the hardest thing for me to learn. I am a bit of a neat freak. Ever since I was little, I like things organized, neat, clean, and tidy. To get my hands dirty and use my hands to dig, plant, and pull out weeds was a challenge. I used to wear a pair of gloves to go out into the garden and found that to be soothing as I have a barrier between me and the dirt. Recently I have watched many experienced gardeners use their hands in the garden, whether to pull weed, or making a hole to sow seeds, or harvest. I thought I’d give it a shot. It was hard to adapt to at first but as time went on, I felt a lot more connected with the garden and plants. I know some people even went a step further and talk to their plants. I am not quite there yet but I do feel like my plants like me more now that I tend to them everyday!

Mistakes I’ve made during my short period of gardening:

  • Trying to transplant seedlings by yanking them out of the soil instead of flipping the pot upside down and dump them out in order to not disturb the root, or accidentally break the stem
  • I tried cutting the leaves on leeks I grew, thinking they are like Bak Choi and will keep growing new leaves from within. This is probably not the best way to eat leeks. Eventually it just dies and stops producing more inner leaves.
  • I tried planting a sprouted sweet potato, and it was dug up by some rodent and eaten. Should have checked on this sweet potato every once in a while, and probably not a good idea to throw it in the garden in the dead of winter hoping it would grow some sweet potatoes.
  • I was very “stingy” using the seeds like they are precious commodity. The germination rate would never be 100%. I don’t know why I was hoping each seed would grow up like Jack and the Beanstalk. Now I multisow my seeds after stumbling upon Charles Dowding’s youtube channel.
  • I tried using the soil I have in the backyard without mulch or compost, thinking that all soil are the same (I also didn’t think I need to buy “expensive dirt” from Home Depot). Composted soil makes life SO MUCH easier. Currently, I am using cow manure and leaving it in the garden for a couple of days for the worms to compost it a little for me. I also use the potting soil from Miracle Grow with the cow manure. In the future, I’d like to buy compost in bulk from my local soil company.
  • I tried only grow only one thing at a time, being the perfectionist I am. Looking back, I don’t know why I didn’t grow more stuff in the same period of time! Plants die; there are weaker ones, ones more susceptible to disease and fungi. Sometimes it’s just pure luck when the raccoon decides to visit at night and stamp on the seedling and killing it.
  • I tried germinating seeds from pure vermiculite. It works on some seeds but not others. I think because vermiculite does not hold water as well as compost, smaller seedlings struggle to stay moist and dies after germination. I now mix compost with vermiculite to germinate seeds.

What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned from starting your own garden in this pandemic?

 

The Upside of the Pandemic

COVID 19 Map

COVID 19 (Coronavirus) has been in the news for a good month now. I bet I am not the only one tired of every single accidentally subscribed company’s “Important COVID-19 Update” email clogging up your inbox. This doesn’t even include work emails, various social groups, gym, or the library. Even my previous dentist that I don’t go to anymore sent me an email about how they were going to limit seeing patients. All the headlines from news articles are about the most updated status of how many people have been infected with the virus. The world now officially moved from talking about Trump 100% to talking about Coronavirus 100% (half of that is probably still about Trump dealing with Coronavirus).

My company, along with many other big companies, have asked their employees to work from home until at least April 3rd. I took a bike ride out today and yoga studios, restaurants, bars, and food trucks are all closed. There are a few brave coffee shops still open but they are only doing curbside pickups. I started sharing work-from-home memes and gifs with my friends.

While everyone is panicking about the stock market, their 401k’s, and whether or not they have enough toilet paper to last for a whole year, there are also many unprecedented unmentioned upsides to this pandemic.

1. This pandemic has forced many companies to re-evaluate how they have repeatedly told their employees that they “cannot work from home.” 

As it turns out, there are a LOT of s&*t we can do remotely. Don’t have a monitor at home? Company can ship you one. Need to fill out an I-9 that needs to be in person? Someone else can verify it. A lot of “must be in person” meetings all of a sudden can be virtual. There are virtual town-hall meetings, virtual scrum stand-ups, even virtual marathons! Not to say every job can be remote, but certainly a LOT of office jobs do not require the employee to be chained to a desk. Next time your boss tells you to be in the office “for optics reasons,” there might be a great historic datapoint how “optics” does not actually increase productivity. 

2. It has forced people to learn how to cook!

This is just as wholesome as it sounds. Because with all the restaurants closed, delivery services halted, many people who used to be relying on restaurants and take-out like UberEat, Grubhub, and Postmate now are learning how to cook (because you can only eat ramen noodles so many times in a row).

There is a new wave of social media sharing on the successful and not-so-successful home-cooking. Here’s a very addictive channel on the basics of cooking (Basics with Babish). I certainly have started to become more creative with my cooking as the local grocery aisles are starting to look like this:

3. There are way less cars on the road so we can bike / run!

One of my biggest complaint about this small town in Arkansas is that people probably lived their whole lives commuting by cars, even though it could be just a 15-minute bike ride instead. People are not used to pedestrians or cyclist on the road when they are driving. There are no sidewalks on the road, no shoulders to pull-over, and no sharing the road with a bike. Most of the time, drivers are courteous, and they wait for a good time to pass. But there are other times I have been almost clipped, almost hit, honked at, and yelled at for being on the road with a bike. 

Thanks to Coronavirus, the whole town is almost silent! With no traffic on the road, and 65 degrees weather, it is like heaven. I almost wish this would last a bit longer. 

4. It is a great time to experiment on spending less and love more.

Since everything is closed, there is no place to spend our time and money. People started reaching out to their friends across the state, country, and ocean to ask whether they are doing alright. Although, sometimes it is your annoying ex-dentist reaching out.

This reminds me very much of Mr. Money Mustache’s article about what if everyone is frugal . I wonder if this would be what the world is like if we all-of-a-sudden decided to all become frugal and consume only what we need. Maybe we don’t need all the clothes, food, cars, or other status symbols that we buy to make ourselves feel more worthwhile. All the material things are dwarfed by the threat of our health and loved ones. 

 

*If you’ve never played Plague Inc., it is a cool game that simulates what a pandemic is like! I always name the virus after my pet princess Tali just so at the end of the game it would say “Tali has eliminated Earth.” This may also give you some hope that it’s actually kind of hard to infect and destroy the entire human race.