Gardening and its Life Lessons
This is only our fourth garden since living in the Carolinas, and plenty of life lessons have been apparent as we've gone through this journey. Surprisingly, growing something as simple as watermelon and cucumbers has taught us a lot of valuable life lessons that help us manage our corporate positions that support our family.
Completing a project with a blank slate has started to become easier. When we start planning for the garden, we have such a blank slate to start with each year that we have to just go with it. Just going with the overall vision of being self-sustained by having a garden, and creating the project as we go, is so similar to projects proposed at work. I find myself having less anxiety when presented with projects at work because I’m used to the uncertainty in my garden. Like my garden, it will all organically work out in my favor.
We planted a whole batch of broccoli that never came to harvest. We couldn’t figure out what the mistake was; we followed the schedule, but the maturity date did not hold true. This often happens at work—promises made by managers and others in higher positions that never come to reality. Gardening has taught me that although the reward may not show when expected, it will show when ready. The broccoli was able to be harvested a few months after we forecasted, when it was ready. The same thing happens in life; everything is in due time.
Small victories never get missed in the garden because it takes so much work to get to that point. One cucumber is a major victory, and I’ve started to recognize that small accomplishments at work are worth the same amount of attention. Recognizing how much effort it takes to reach a certain point in a project helps with momentum by enhancing the sense of accomplishment and recognition in the team. This vibe helps me keep going with the garden, and also helps me continue with completing long projects at work.
Do you have moments of clarity in your garden? Have life lessons shown up for you to harvest?
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
When I think about the things I want to have on my children’s minds about their childhood, one thing sticks out. I want them to be able to say we prepared them to take care of themselves.
We involve them as junior farmers in our self-sustaining goals by explaining the benefits of the skills they are learning and helping them make the connection to how they could use them when they get older.
For example, learning how to take care of a garden from seed to harvest shows them how to create what they want to eat, and gives them another alternative for how they will consume food when they are older.
Here are some things we have them do so far:
Son (age 7)
• Collect chicken eggs
• Fill water bowls for all the animals
• Pick weeds out of the garden
• Water the garden (indoors and outdoors)
Daughter (age 12)
• Feed the chickens
• Put the chickens in their coop at night
• Help start seedlings indoors (organize seeds, prepare trays, etc.)
• Trim the edges of the garden area and transplant plants outside
Time flies, and children grow up so quickly! What do you want your kids to remember about their childhood?
Garden Planning. Every year, my goal is to garden better than the previous year. I’m not aiming to be the perfect gardener, because as I learned after listening to old-time gardeners, there is no such thing as perfection, only progress. This year, my progress includes starting more seedlings indoors, rotating the plant beds better to make sure the growth continues in each garden, and planting blueberry bushes and fruit trees.
Why Garden? We garden because it is an extremely meditative and relaxing act. Along with controlling our grocery bill, we have a sense of peace knowing where our food is coming from. We see the progress from seeds to our plates, which creates a sense of being present in the process of our earth providing us with nutrients.
Steps Taken So Far This Year
1. Seed Preparation. We soaked all the seeds in Tupperware containers overnight. If they were indoor seedlings, they were poured into the trays. Direct sow seeds were put directly into the ground after March 27th (the date when we are beyond the threat of frost in zone 8).
2. Soil Preparation. We turned over the land and mixed in manure as we went, and removed all old plants and plants still hanging around from last year. Then we planned out the layout by rotating plants around (we don’t want to grow the same thing in the same spot as last year).
3. Indoor Germination. I used the stickers from the seed bags to mark the end of each tray. Once the seeds were packed into the trays, they were placed in a pan and covered with plastic wrap. I filled the bottom of the pan with water, making sure to refill anytime it looked low over the weeks of germination.
4. Once the green leaves popped up, I removed the plastic wrap. I then sprayed the top of the plants with warm water for a few days.
5. Shortly after, I moved the plants into cups with holes in the bottoms, watering them like normal plants, and spraying the leaves in the mornings.
Next Steps—Zone 8
1. Direct sow the seeds outside.
2. Transplant the indoor plants outside.
If you have been avoiding adding green to your space due to light requirements, you're in luck! There are several plants that require low to medium light and little maintenance. Rooms with multiple or large windows and that face south have the most light. North-facing rooms have the least light, while east- and west-facing rooms fall in the middle range. Check out these top five limited light plants to spruce up your home:
1. Snake Plant. These hardy plants perform well in indirect low to medium light. They are very tolerant of neglect, and can withstand drought.
2. English Ivy. These winding and invasive vines do best in low to medium light with mild watering. It should dry out completely between waterings for healthy growth.
3. Ferns. Many species of fern enjoy shade: holly ferns, oak ferns, western maidenhair, and Boston ferns, among others. While these ferns prefer low to medium light, they thrive with moist, well-drained soil.
4. Cast Iron Plant. This slow-growing plant is hardy and tolerant of extreme conditions. The cast iron plant grows well in low light rooms, and stays strong with occasional watering.
5. Peace Lily. In evenly moist soil, this plant can bloom several times per year. Medium to low lighting will keep its elegant green leaves thriving.
With these easy-to-grow options, you can skip the fake plants! Explore these plants to add a little green to areas your home where you're missing additional lighting.
Soilless gardening, or hydroponics, has been around since ancient times. Take, for instance, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon or the Floating Gardens of Ancient Mexico. More recently, scientists have been experimenting with hydroponics for the past 50 years or so. It sounds daunting to tackle advanced gardening, but there are some perks to hydroponics as compared to normal gardening. Hydroponics can increase plant growth rate by 50% compared to soil-grown plants, and yields can increase as well. Soilless gardening also serves as a useful alternative for winter seasons or for people lacking the space to garden.
With the issue of soil erosion, hydroponics serves as a sustainable alternative, with methods like the Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) that require no soil whatsoever. NFT is what most people usually think of, where the roots of the plant are completely suspended in water.
There are six basic methods of hydroponics: wick system, water culture, ebb and flow, drip, NFT, and aeroponic. The simplest method, water culture, consists of a platform (usually made of styrofoam) that holds the plants, and floats on top of a nutrient solution. Similar to an aquarium, there’s an air pump that bubbles up the solution to the roots of the plants and filters in oxygen. Cheap to construct and easy to build, this method works best for water-loving plants like lettuce.
The most widely used method is a drip system. Like a sprinkler, it uses a timer to regularly drip nutrient fluid onto each plant. Building this drip system requires more steps and resources than a water culture hydroponics garden. For anyone interested in something a little more challenging, here are some instructions for building a drip system hydroponics garden.
Personally, I’m a visual learner, and have found YouTube to be a helpful tool. Listed are a handful of videos to help you get started.
- DIY Hydroponic Garden Tower (Includes In-Depth Written Instructions)
- How to Start Seeds for Hydroponics Gardens
- Hydroponics for Beginners
- Dutch Bucket Hydroponics
- Vertical Hydroponics Tower
- 2-Liter Bottle Hydroponics
If you love working on projects, then you’ll probably enjoy this gardening method. It works inside and outside of your home, and doesn’t even require a green thumb. Good luck, and happy gardening!
Every year I get better at planning out my garden planting calendar ahead of time. I have my best start so far this year. I have only a small garden space, so I have decided to concentrate on the things that have been growing well for me and that I love to eat.
I have three 10-by-10-ft. garden plots, one in full sun and the other two in partial shade.
Plot One had peppermint, strawberries, and zucchini last year. This year, I will dedicate the whole plot to growing peppermint. Last year, our mint harvesting process improved, and the peppermint made delicious tea, but I ran out of the dried mint in the middle of winter.
Plot Two is my herb garden. This garden already has a lot planted in it; it currently has rosemary, sage, thyme, spearmint, chives, leeks, strawberries, and flat-leaf parsley. Some nice orange cherry tomatoes sprang up from seed last year; I will keep them if they come up this year. I will replant more leeks, some basil, and some cucumbers on the trellis.
Plot Three still has a few parsley plants that might survive. I will plant cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, peas, cilantro, and possibly asparagus.
I like to be able to change my plan and allow for some spontaneous creativity. My goal is not to have the highest yield, but to enjoy the experience and learn as I go. My husband and I often try new things just to see how it works out. Sometimes we put interesting compost trenches and spontaneous artwork in our gardens.
Here is my simple garden plan for this year:
Chives — seed in greenhouse
Leeks — seed in greenhouse
Lettuce — seed in greenhouse
Parsley — seed in greenhouse
Asparagus — seed outdoors (or crowns outdoors)
Lettuce — plant starts outside
Peas — direct seed in plot
Cucumber — seed in greenhouse
Basil — seed in greenhouse
Cilantro — direct seed in plot
Leeks — plant starts outside
Chives — plant starts outside
Parsley — plant starts outside
Basil — seed in greenhouse
Cucumbers — plant starts outside
Tomatoes — plant starts outside
Replant whatever I want to.
Garlic and Onion — direct seed in plot