Reflections on growing veggies + a few tips

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May 2019.
The jungle consisting of three kinds of chillies, two kinds of peppers, cucumbers and two kinds of tomatoes.

I get A LOT of questions about this topic (JK, but we've all heard that one before amiright? #everyfishyblogger) about growing your own food, and while I WOULD consider myself an expert*, I don’t want to claim so because of the dangerous farming lobby that will come after me if I tell you guys how to do it yourselves instead of buying their fake veggies.

So, speaking from a purely leisurely perspective, I will now tell you all my secrets... Yeah, so I have no secrets, this will just be a rambly post about the first three months of this growing season with a few tips at the end, okay?

I used to consider myself a ”combat cultivator” because my favourite form of growing stuff was to throw out seeds onto a selected surface and just kind of wait and see. A few years down the line I have to retract that epithet, because I have been known to grow plants thousands of miles north of their natural habitat, aka here in Fimbulwinter’s God-forsaken lands and that calls for some extra steps to the regular plant maintenance.

And by extra maintenance I mean running in and out with the plants because winter returns in late April, sowing stuff at the right time (the dead of winter), not over-watering anything, having artificial lights on (we didn’t have any this year, you can tell by my crooked chili plants) because the lighting in Sweden in February is, let’s say… ”substandard”.

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You also have to replant everything in bigger and bigger pots but hell if you put a small plant in a too big pot directly, shit will hit the fan! And also, having them out on the glazed patio, ie the only thing keeping them alive in this climate, requires a whole lot of checking temperatures because it gets piping hot in there if the sun shines all day, and I have to slide windows open to let in air when it gets too hot, and remember to close the gaps before it gets cold at night, and also have a heat fan on to keep them alive during nights and keep track of watering the plants one or several times a day, depending on the weather.

Oh, and also propping the plants up with sticks and supports so they don’t fall over and murder themselves by ripping out at the root and falling to the floor when I’m not there (still crying over that jalapeno plant), tying up the climbing cucumbers and the bushy tomato plants so they don’t ya know, break off and die, and having plant sex (with a brush) with the flowers in order to pollinate them just in case any pollinators haven’t been visiting lately. Later this season, I will have to fight pests and weeds off of the plants that are to grow outside. And then there’s the harvesting at the right time, not letting frost get to the plants, covering stuff to shelter them from the sun (ironic...), preserving the yield before it goes off, seeing to using the right kind of fertilizer for every type of plant (and not too much nor too little!), and just generally not killing my plants with stupidity.

But other than that, it’s not that hard!

*ahem*

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I'm not even exaggerating, I wrote all that meaning it and it looks terrible. Why on earth would anyone choose to do this when it's cheap and easy to just buy veggies at the grocery store? I don’t have a good explanation, but like… it gives me meaning! I love the feeling of growing plants from seeds, tending to them and watch them get scarily big without much help, and then eating all the fruits they produce. My mom always waited for me to appreciate gardens, and lastly, I did. But not the kind she loved, she was heavily into roses and flowers and beauty. I love that too, but roses are too much work for me. Growing edibles on the other hand, has gripped me. When we first got those little tomato plants by my ex-mother in law in 2013, I had no idea how much I would enjoy growing my own veggies.

And here I am now, six years later with, honestly, overwhelming plans on a garden and veggie beds and we got literally 15 tonnes of soil delivered yesterday to make all that happen. It's gonna be so much work, and I can't wait!

Not all forms of growing plants are for everyone, you just gotta find your niche. Do you want to grow orchids and scheme against other orchid growers like in Midsomer Murders? Do you want to grow hydroponic herbs all year long? Do you want to grow every sort of pumpkin there is and decorate all of them for Halloween? Do you just want that one kaffir lime plant in your kitchen window because you use so much of it in your cooking? You do you! Try it out and see where your favour falls.

Lastly, not to make this a completely useless post, I DO have a few tips for anyone out there thinking about growing a few veggies or whatever.

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It can get more expensive than you thought at first

Maybe you need seeds and pots and saucers and watering jugs and soil and fertilizer and sticks and string and shading cloth, maybe you don’t. Check around and see what your resources are, if you have things at home to use already or if you need to buy stuff. Just make up a plan, however simple, and look at the plant’s future needs (a plant that gets a meter high needs a big pot in the end, etc) and your own resources. Remember, there’s no end to how much money and time and effort you can put into a garden if you choose to, so you have to set up the boundaries. And as I'm about to mention, you don’t want to get carried away after not being able to kill off the extra 56 tomato plants that now need a lot more soil and a lot bigger pots, right?

Be prepared to care a lot more than you expected to

This one ties into the next point as well. Standing there with your partner, having planted the seeds together, cheering on the little seedlings that are just poking up through the dark soil. When you go around every day updating yourself on progress and tending to the little pots, is when it gets sort of real, ya know. It’s not just a white little seed in a pot, it’s a living thing! A living thing that will need attention, support and will give you wonderful produce to enjoy in the end.

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Don’t be sentimental and/or don’t plant safety seeds

If you’re sentimental, DON’T sow ”safety seeds”, ie many more than you want just to be safe in case a bunch of them doesn’t take on. You’ll just end up with 114 chili plants, unable to kill any of them when they all turn into living things that demand maintenance, bigger pots, and a space to live. Also, you can’t give any of them away because all those peeps who cheered you on when talking about growing your own veggies just want to EAT homegrown veggies, not grow them themselves like common hippies, duh!

So you’ll just end up having to build an entire greenhouse for the plants to live in and THAT certainly wasn’t a part of your budget for this year, dangit! Don’t be sentimental with too many plants, those who are not up to par, those who do not bear fruit, etc. If it makes you feel better, thank the plant for its participation in your life and send it off to the distant gardens of eternity. I’m sure you’ll see each other there, no hurt feelings, etc.

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Don’t plan to sow too many seeds, to begin with

In the dark of January when you start craving life again, it’s easy to think that yeah sure I can handle five of each type of veggie, but reality hits when you suddenly have to replant 50 mini pots a few weeks later, without having even touched the next round of seeds to be planted. I don’t really have room for my plants, but I’m keeping them anyways, OKAY. They’re sort of bundled together, maybe causing them to miss out on sunlight and that may lower the yield... And... I’ve gotten rid of five already, and I still can’t fit the ones left. Note to self, read this list in seven months. I mean, I knew that the tomato shrubs would get a little unwieldy, but now… they hit the ceiling and just fold over and continue growing horizontally in order to fit. Which brings me to...

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Yeah so, getting smaller tomato plants next year…

Be sure to check the plant’s prerequisites before you buy the seeds

Look at the information on the back of the seed packets. Are they gonna be massive and you can’t fit them? Do they crave sunlight and you dwell in the shadows? Are they unable to live outdoors in your climate and you don’t have anywhere inside to keep them? How long does it take for the plant to grow fruits, is there enough time before winter comes? Check the facts first, so you don’t have to practice not being sentimental as much.

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We tried growing “apple cucumbers” this year, a culture classic apparently. But the plants were huge, slow, unwieldy, took up too much room and the fruit tasted like a bitter version of a cucumber. In the time it took for us to harvest four regular cucumbers, we got two small apple cucumbers. It wasn’t for us, so we parted ways, aka I threw them out.
*practicing not being sentimental*


Sunk cost fallacy

Remember, just because you’ve spent hours on sowing, planting, replanting, tending, watering, moving everything in and out of the house because of the cold, tying up, supporting, pollinating and fertilizing, doesn’t mean you have to keep the plants if they give you no yield or if the produce tastes weird. Sometimes, they're just not the right fit for you, and that's okay!

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Thank you for getting all the way here through these ramblings! I’m gonna go stare at a huge pile of dirt now.


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* The thesaurus says that an expert is a person that is very knowledgable or particularly skillful within a certain topic, and with a sprinkle of the classic truthiness, I can be considered as such. Ahem.

I went five days without any drains and this is what happened

Nothing. Nothing happened, you clickbaity titles-lovers! Or well, not nothing. A lot of things happened. Taking the bus to the nearby mall at my regular daily toiletry hour happened five days out of seven, for example. Apparently, a LOT of people don’t wash their hands at Ikea..

Life has its twists and turns. Sometimes, you lather yourself in technology, tumbling around in phones and surf pads and mobile chargers and cords that you trip over and you feel very modern when donning fitness trackers that count every step you take and, ahem, exactly how many minutes that nap lasted for. But sometimes it’s time for little more old school versions of life, a gentle reminder of everything we have and all the things we maybe don’t take for granted, but at least rely heavily on in the everyday existence.

Yes, it was time to renovate the drain and sewage pipes allotted to this piece of real estate.

We had hardly awoken from the effort of hosting a party for 42 people when two young men showed up on our door step with huge rolls of white, squishy floor protection plastic, duct tape and an enormous amount of tools, gadgets, beasts and trolls to set loose in our home.

Either it was time to ditch all our pipes, or the local serial killers had become REALLY organized. We chanced it. After being left alone in the house with the two men for a couple of hours and they had mostly just pattered by me, rolling out plastic in what felt like the entire house and disassembling all of our drains, I felt quite sure that they were in fact the pipe-renovation guys.

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After quietly huddling in the living room sofa for a few hours, because having strangers messing around in your house is surprisingly unsettling the first days or so, the moment had come. One of the guys peeked in and said; “We’re gonna get stuff rolling now, so you know”.

And I knew.

No tipping coffee remnants in the kitchen sink. No washing one’s hands like normal. No doing laundry. No dish washer. No… flushing the toilet.

Well, now they had actually taken our toilet by then and put it in the hallway upstairs so not using it came quite easily, and if I may say, extremely naturally... But being able to get water into the house but not out the drains though, is a whole other matter. Completely fucks with all your habits. Filling buckets instead of the drains, putting stuff as reminders in the sinks, messing around with buckets of dirty and clean water and keeping track of what you put in what and PLANNING so much, it’s hard man. I’m just glad I didn’t have my period that week, because messing with a menstrual cup would have probably been awful.

But Ellet, you wonder, where ever did you pee (because women don’t poop, right!)?

Well, we were gifted, as a courtesy of the pipe renovation company, a plastic box with a ring and lid with classy double bagging as a replacer for the comfy white porcelain poop-be-gone-magician. I was handed a bucket of wood pellets and a scoop when I around hour six of the guys stealing my toilet went up to the one closest and said; “I’ve heard something about a glorified litter box?”.

And a glorified litter box it was. Also, the only location that I was guaranteed privacy was the garage, so out it went. At least I now know that sitting down on a plastic ring in a garage that holds the quaint temperature of just above freezing feels exactly the same as sitting down on the porcelain ring in our regular bathroom. The things you learn, right?

My biggest challenge was day 3 when I really needed to shower. Still feverish and beat from the cold that had been ravaging my body for a week by then, I couldn’t muster up the strength to take the bus downtown and shower at my old job, or say, my empty apartment. I just couldn’t do it, but I really needed to wash myself.

So what does one do then? Yes. I know you guys know where this is going. Yes. Three buckets of hot water, a small towel, a big towel and soap was carried out into the garage, early as to get myself cleaned up before any dudes in their mid-20’s arrived to possibly pop up anywhere at any time. After careful planning to go from cleanest to dirtiest with the buckets, and only undressing the necessary bits at a time, I was clean! Proudly, I could ascertain that cleaning oneself in a garage in a temperature around freezing, was surprisingly not-terrible. I mean, it wasn’t great. But I did manage to get clean and didn’t freeze much at all. Sometimes I wonder if I actually can carry my Swedish-Finnish mix with some kind of pride.

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Litter box to the left, cleaning station post-wash to slight right

The job dragged out for a few extra days because of a little trouble, but we got to the end at last, having been totally without drains from Monday lunch to Friday at 8 PM, and then during office hours Monday-Tuesday the following week. And in all the madness of super loud air compression machines shoving epoxy soaked socks into our pre-war cast iron pipes like female condoms into muffs everywhere, almost soaking one of the guys in coffee because I forgot right at the end that I wasn’t allowed to pour it down the drain, having them running around in our house for eight (EIGHT) long days, machines going RAWR! every 20 minutes twice overnight, and washing myself in the garage in the dark so the neighbors wouldn’t think that the new people in the neighborhood are weird AND exhibitionistic (I mean, I can handle weird), I learned a few things.

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I called it sewage chic

1.       You get used to strangers hanging out in your house real fast. And I mean real fast. Three days into it, I constantly forgot they were there as soon as they quieted. I’m sure they heard a TMI conversation or two because.. well, I don’t censor myself at home most of the time.

2.       Having to go outside in the middle of the night to pee doesn’t bother me at all as much as I had feared. I have survived camping and now this? Who am I? A REASONABLE person?

3.       Hanging out late at night, brushing one’s teeth with one’s partner outside with the water mug on a frozen log, isn’t all that bad. It was one of my favorite aspects of the whole thing. Well, apart from having whole pipes, that is.

4.       You’ll spend weeks afterwards opening your eyes in the morning and going “I’m gonna pee this morning! INSIDE!” and really enjoy a luxury tour to the bathroom.

5.       If I’m really tired, I can sleep through someone sawing through metal. And then still wake up if a bird jumps around on a branch outside my window the rest of the time. “Okay”.

6.       Smoothing the insides of cast iron pipes with diamond studded chains sounds like letting an angry badger loose in the pipes, from a home owner’s point of hearing.

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At least all the monstrosities that they dragged in didn’t make the old oil-burner room,
that I’ve dubbed “The horror room”, any WORSE right?

I'm moving. Again.

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Looking out my window, the rooftops glisten white. Winter threw itself over us with what felt like little to no warning. Autumn was short and intense, after five months of unprecedented summer that stretched on for what seemed like forever.

When I joked around the last time about not being able to stay in one place for more than two years, I didn’t know it would be true this time as well. My little apartment was my fort, my safe zone, MINE. I was to stay here for a long time, not to lay my place to live in the hands of another. I wasn’t supposed to spend my time in a home that I was allowed to dwell in by the good graces of another person, being able to rip it from me at any time just by using a couple of words, like “It’s over”.

But as the first snow crunches underfoot, my apartment is in disorder. I’m packing, and I’m leaving my safe spot. I’m moving to a house, with a man and his two kids. If you told me this in June, I would have old-lady-cackled at you and said “Yeah that’s not happening!”.

Yet here I am. Moving to start a life with a family, with a little yellow house to tend to, a garden to plant things in, space to DO things and kids to hang out with.

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Space and a feeling of home has been my main gripe since I lost my first real home-home (the feeling of really belonging somewhere) three years ago, and ending up in small rooms in crowded apartments. Don’t get me wrong, I’m forever grateful for the open arms I’ve stumbled into these couple of years, but I’ve missed the house. Missed having space. Missed having MY space, large enough to live life as I wanted to. Missed having a garden to whine about weeds in, watch flowers grow, feed birds. Missed having a fireplace to warm my senses when fall comes along. Missed having somewhere to invite people for dinner without getting cramped. Missed the connection to nature that is so much more apparent when living in a house instead of an apartment.

So, having gone through three apartments in three years, I’m now moving to ground level. With a family.

That’s why it’s been all silent here for a month. With parts of my health being shaky, seven exams and a move within a few couple of weeks, it’s going be silent here for a little while longer. Then I’m back, hopefully with returned vigor, because I’m going to have a real kitchen again. A living room. A CRAFT ROOM. Shit. I’ve already got a long list of things I want to do, craft, cook and decorate.

Oh, and I’ve also, in pure anticipating and joy, brought back my inside-outside header. Because soon, I’m gonna have an outside again. Let’s hope it’s for the long run this time.

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