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