Hello hello, Happy Earth Day, and welcome to Episode 23 of Life On the Brink!
Appropriately, today we are talking about what is perhaps my favorite part of springtime: the garden. Finally the ground has thawed and I can spend my days tinkering about in the garden, tending and watering, dreaming of what it will look like at the peak of summer, and holding onto bigger dreams of future large-scale projects. I only have one season of outdoor gardening under my belt, but I am so so excited for what this second season holds.
You may recall from last spring’s podcast on the Quarantine Garden Phenomenon that Josh and I started a small outdoor garden outside our apartment, focusing on growing a few vegetables and herbs in containers. It helped keep us sane during the intense months of lockdown, and became a joy through the summer and fall. Some things were a success, like our abundance of cherry tomatoes, while others didn’t make it, like the spaghetti squash we tried to grow from seed. I learned so much in my first year of research and experience, and I’ve kind of surprised myself with the amount of knowledge and confidence that I’m bringing to the garden this year, so I thought I would share some of what I’ve learned with you!
I’m someone who loves research, and if I’m entering a new field or hobby, I’ll most likely begin by diving headfirst into all the books, podcasts, articles, and Youtube videos that I possibly can. I want to feel learned and like I understand the whole process. Of course, gardening is a huge, expansive, life-long enterprise, and it kind of excites me to think about how much I still have to learn.
I have also discovered, though, that sometimes it’s helpful to have someone else do the research, break it down, and bring the material to you in a way that you can understand. Without that push it can seem like a very daunting task, and sometimes it discourages us from even trying.
So, to that end, today I am focusing on vegetable gardening and sharing why I think gardening is so wonderful, what to consider growing, and a simple step-by-step process to get you started!
What’s in my teacup? A light green tea flavored with ginger and lemon. I sweetened it slightly and drank it slowly.
BENEFITS OF OUTDOOR GARDENING (just a few of them)
-Free food! (kind of): obviously there are some costs to setting up your garden, but once things are growing, your plants will keep on giving for the whole season. I’m so looking forward to summer when I’ll be able to simplify my grocery list and harvest from the garden.
-It’s a great form of exercise: yes, exercise! Making gardening a part of your everyday life brings with it a little bit of physical activity. Plus, things like transporting soil, transplanting seedlings, carrying a watering can are all physically demanding tasks. Of course, you can adjust your garden to fit your lifestyle and capabilities, but it’s a great habit to make nonetheless.
-Gardening helps calm anxiety and lift mood: Did you know that gardening can soothe you? Scientists are even developing the concept of “horticultural therapy”. There’s just something about spending time outdoors and working with your hands.
This is the abstract from a 2010 scientific study in the Netherlands (read the whole thing here):
Stress-relieving effects of gardening were hypothesized and tested in a field experiment. Thirty allotment gardeners performed a stressful Stroop task and were then randomly assigned to 30 minutes of outdoor gardening or indoor reading on their own allotment plot. Salivary cortisol levels and self-reported mood were repeatedly measured. Gardening and reading each led to decreases in cortisol during the recovery period, but decreases were significantly stronger in the gardening group. Positive mood was fully restored after gardening, but further deteriorated during reading. These findings provide the first experimental evidence that gardening can promote relief from acute stress.
-It gives a sense of agency: There’s nothing so satisfying as watching something grow from a tiny little seed or seedling into a thriving, fruitful plant and to know you had something to do with that! It boosts my confidence to try bigger and more difficult things.
-It teaches you about food: Even as someone who loves to cook and is generally familiar around a market, growing my own food has helped me learn so much more about where food comes from, how it forms. For someone who perhaps feels a bit foreign in the kitchen and wants to learn more, this is a great start! I also feel like gardening with children would be even more rewarding for this reason.
I also have a couple personal takeaways:
-As someone who loves fast results and completing projects, gardening has taught me to have patience, and that it’s ok to wait for results.
-I’ve also come to appreciate the rain during the warmer months. I love a sunny day, but a nice shower in the afternoon or even the occasional storm now acts as a helper by watering the garden for me.
Are you inspired yet? Maybe you’re wondering where to start? Let’s talk about what to grow! I highly recommend this video by Carrie Rad where she talks about her experience with some very easy-to-grow veggies. I’ve added to it a little bit based on my own experience and have come up with this list!
8 EASY VEGETABLES FOR BEGINNERS:
1. herbs: Nothing could be easier. You just get a plant from your garden center or grocery store, plant it outdoors, and continue to harvest all season!
2. tomato: tomatoes grow crazy well very easily. This is a great veggie to start with, and are so delicious all through summer.
3. zucchini: I’m trying zucchini for the first time this year, but apparently zucchini is so prolific, it’s not uncommon to sort of be overloaded with it! It’s such a versatile vegetable, and the blossoms are edible.
4. kale: I’d also put spinach in this category, but kale is obviously more hardy. Again, this is my first year with these but so far they’re a breeze. You can just let it grow, then come harvest a few leaves whenever you need to.
5. radish: These are so fun because they grow so quickly, and they’re entirely underground so it’s kind of a surprise at the end. Some varieties grow in as little as 3 weeks!
6. peppers: They’re hardy and reliable. They’re the chillest of the bunch, in my opinion, they can’t be bothered. Plus there are so many different varieties out there, you can have so much fun with these.
7. green onion (sometimes called scallions): I treat green onion just like an herb, basically. You just cut it down and it grows right back. Did you know you can buy these at the grocery store and put the rooty ends in water? They’ll start to grow right on your windowsill!
8. cucumber: I only grew one cucumber last year, but it was super cool. This year I’ve got a trellis for the cucumber and zucchini to climb up, so they should be much happier. Cucumbers are so refreshing, especially in the summer.
What you grow should also depend on what you like to eat. In terms of quantity, I would just start small, maybe 1 or two plants each, for your first year.
Ok, ready to go? Now that you know what you might like to grow, here are 8 simple steps to get you started!
8 STEPS TO SETTING UP YOUR GARDEN:
1. Assess your space: Think about how much space you want to dedicate to your garden, and make it work for you! Whether you have a tiny balcony or sprawling acres, you have room!
2. Assess your light: All vegetables will do better in a sunny spot, and the more sun it gets the more growth you will find. Consider a spot with all day sun, or even afternoon sun (it packs more of a punch than morning light).
3. Find out your hardiness zone: Basically it just tells you when you can start planting outdoors without danger of frost coming in and killing all your plants. Click this chart to find yours.
4. Container or garden bed? You decide!
-Containers are very common as they can go pretty much anywhere. Just make sure you pick one that is large enough for the plants to grow. Whether it’s a terracotta pot, a decorative barrel, or any other kind of planter, just make sure it has a drainage hole at the bottom.
-Garden beds or raised beds are great too, but most soil isn’t great for growing vegetables on its own. Once you have your spot, I recommend bringing in some fresh soil and mixing in compost.
5. Have a garden day to set up: pick an afternoon or a weekend to get nice and dirty. I like to gather supplies and have a plan for the garden leading up to Garden Day, and then spend those hours executing it. Speaking of which, when it comes to supplies this is all you need:
-soil (and compost, if you like)
-a watering can
-your seeds or plants
6. Remind yourself to tend to it: If your fear is that you won’t remember to check in with the garden or water it regularly, why not set reminders on your phone? Soon enough it will become part of your routine. But, on the other hand, no need to fuss over it. Plants tend to thrive when they’re set up well, and you’ve already done that!
7. Prune or thin when necessary: thinning seedlings is a part of growing from seed, don’t worry! And pruning helps clean things up and lets the plant put its energy into growing leaves and fruits. Just take stock every now and then to see what needs tending.
8. Enjoy it! You are on your way to growing delicious vegetables and herbs all on your own!
Now, if anything I’ve said in this episode has made you confused (thinning? Trowel? Raised bed?) just google it. I couldn’t count how many times I’ve been in the garden center or looking at my plants and have no idea what’s going on, so I find someone who does! All kinds of gardeners have made every kind of video doing exactly what you’re trying to do, so don’t feel intimidated, my love. I know it’s hard to start something when you don’t know everything about it first, but when it comes to gardening, sometimes you just have to go for it. It can be so rewarding to just give stuff a try.
I love this quote from Paola, known on her Youtube channel as The Cottage Fairy:
“Gardening requires patience, and slowness, curiosity, and often problem solving. You can be a gardener whether you grow a single flower in a pot, or an entire field full of vegetables.”
And in case you need a bit more garden inspiration, here are some resources to get you dreaming...
-This Beautiful Fantastic, a film about a woman who is afraid of plants and learns about gardening and about herself.
-A Little Chaos, a film about a woman designing the gardens at Versailles.
-This Pinterest board that I’m constantly updating with all my garden dreams
And with that, you’re on your way! Take it little by little, any success is a great success, and any failure is only a chance to learn. This game is one of small risk and high reward, and all it needs is some time and attention.
This Week’s Little Joy: I received these soft boiled egg dishes for Christmas and have been so excited to try them out, but only recently did I finally do it. And how simple it was! I also prepared the toast “soldiers” to accompany (topped with salted butter, of course), and wow, it was so easy to make and fun to eat. I love an egg, and I’m excited to add this to my regular rotation of preparations.
What I’m Listening To: This self-titled album by Blossom Dearie from 1957. Blossom has a voice like absolutely no one else, and to me she is the epitome of springtime. In fact, three of the tracks on this album have the word “spring” in them, so I think it’s meant to be.
Thank you so much for tuning in to this episode! If you're enjoying these episodes, feel free to leave a rating or review on your podcast app.
You have a lovely week, and happy gardening!