If over the past few months you’ve seen more photos of basil plants, windowsill pots, or full-on gardens than you have in previous seasons, there’s a perfectly good explanation. Stay-at-home orders and social distancing recommendations have inspired tons of newbie gardeners to get their hands in the dirt and plant seeds for the first time ever. After all, gardening comes with a host of mental health benefits, and it results in fresh herbs and vegetables that can fill your plate, especially when you’re limiting your trips to the grocery store.
It’s certainly not too late to get started on your own quarantine garden, and if you’re looking for a final push of motivation to do so, you can take plenty of inspiration (and advice) from people who successfully started their sprouts and seeds just a few months ago. Here, three creatives share their progress.
The Herb Tower
Tended by: Ellen Van Dusen, founder of Dusen Dusen
The strategy: I planted herbs (basil, thyme, sage, cilantro, chives, and rosemary) at the very beginning of quarantine in mid-March. In April I planted carrots, Swiss chard, tomatoes, cucumbers, and jalapeños in my yard, but nothing has fully grown yet.
The inspiration: Feeling totally shut in at home made me want to bring the outside inside. Plus in the beginning of quarantine, when going to the grocery store was more of a challenge, it was nice to have fresh herbs on hand to add to a pantry-style dinner.
The challenge: The herbs were thriving until I think I must have overwatered them and got a bug issue. The cilantro was the first to die, then came the basil, then the thyme—but the sage and chives are still going strong! The bugs are gone, and now I’ve replanted a bunch of the original herbs. So far, so good. Getting into the groove of maintaining the herbs took a little time—I’d forget to water or overwater or trim the wrong way. I talked to my neighbor across the street who has an incredible garden and asked him for tips—he said to just keep trying and it would all click.
The advice: Check in on them every day! If they look droopy, water them. If the soil looks wet, give it a day or two.
The Resourceful Container Setup
The strategy: I planted these seeds on May 2, so they’ve been growing for about two months. I planted perilla, bird’s-eye chili, Thai basil, white sesame, black sesame, Tokyo green onion, and Korean cucumber peppers.
The inspiration: I cook and eat a lot of ethnic Asian food, but these herbs and flavors are pretty hard to find, especially in quarantine. Your local Whole Foods, C-Town, or Met Foods isn’t going to have perilla leaves, Korean peppers, or Thai basil, which are used in curries, Korean barbecue, stir-frys, etc. Aside from that, gardening is just really fun and rewarding. I didn’t put in much effort aside from watering them, and two months later I have full-grown herbs that grow at a pace at which I eat them.
The challenge: Both sesame strains have not sprouted, nor has the bird’s-eye chili—both are my fault. I planted the sesame seeds in shallow egg cartons, so I think some of the topsoil covering blew away in the wind over time, exposing the seeds to full sun and/or nature. I also forgot to water them a few times (oops), so the shallow container dried out quickly and didn’t create a good environment for germination. As for the bird’s-eye chili, I believe it didn’t sprout because I started too early. There were still a few cold nights and days in early May, and usually bird’s-eye chili needs consistent high humidity and temperatures. I’m going to try planting another batch now since summer is in full swing, which should be a better environment.
The advice: Pay attention to watering frequency if they’re placed outside. They tend to dry up quickly, so you’ll have to water them every day or every other, depending on how often you get rain. And just like houseplants, if you see them suffering, think about sunlight first. Certain herbs do better in partial shade, so full sun may burn them. If they’re seedlings, protect them from the elements a bit more, because they’re more fragile.
The All-Out Plot
The strategy: I planted my garden in April, after fleeing New York City to stay with family in Pennsylvania. I wanted to start as much as possible from seed so that I could have control of making sure everything I grew was organic and I could get some great heirloom varietals. I ordered seed-starting trays online and many heirloom seeds for tons of lettuces, kales (Tuscan and red curly Russian), shishito peppers, and basically all of Dan Barber’s Row 7 Seed catalog. I have beautiful purple Beauregarde snow peas (which I can’t wait to cook with!), Habanada peppers, Koginut squash, and the oh-so-cute 898 squash. For some local-to-Pennsylvania purchases, I picked up herbs and about six different tomato plants from Rodale Organic Farms in May. I also added quinoa as an experiment to see what that would be like to grow!
The inspiration: It’s been a dream for a long time to own a farm, so when I saw an unused plot in my nana’s backyard upon arriving back in Pennsylvania, my mind went straight to starting a garden. I also have been super-busy with work and need a healthy outlet to pass the quarantine. I figure this is practice for when I eventually buy a farm in the next couple of years.
The challenge: The last frost was very late in Pennsylvania this year, so I didn’t get everything into the ground until early May. Most things have started to blossom and are showing fruit already, but others sadly didn’t take hold. The quinoa, most of the 898 squash, and all of the shishito peppers didn’t take. I definitely didn’t realize how many little weeds would pop up, and since I am doing an all-organic garden, I’m not using any pesticides or weed killer. This has added to the overall labor to weed, but then I discovered I could use burlap, newspaper, and blackout paper to keep the weeds down. My Tuscan kale is visibly being eaten by something and starting to turn yellow, so that is my latest project to research and fix. But as a whole, I think I am doing all right for my first garden.
The advice: Google—I did a lot of research on local soil, the best organic fertilizer, etc., before planting. And look for the best local seedlings or seeds online. Most of what you get at mass retail garden centers is chock-full of pesticides and not the best tasting. If you’re going to go all out, then really go for the best!
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