Green Deditos: Gardening Babysteps
When Kahlo and I first started this website and blog we'd hoped to document our journey with food: to document our family recipes, maybe make a few videos, and maybe even recommend a few great books we'd read along the way pertaining to food. This year we vowed to (try to!) grow some of our own food. While we didn't grow enough to feed us, we certainly grew enough to snack on, and most importantly grew enough to give us insight into our relationship with our plant relatives. We learned more about what we didn't know than what we did know. We also gained some awareness of what inherently came to us in terms of being caretakers of our seeds and plants. This entry will be about our journey into connecting our hands with the earth, learning to listen to the plants, and learning how to ask for help when intuition was not enough.
We began our journey back on March 16, 2019. We went to a local store, bought some seeds, some dirt, some pots, and commenced to planting a few things we thought would (hopefully) ease us into gardening. We also chose some things that we wanted to eat: tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, cilantro, lettuce, green beans and parsley. We started everything from seed.
Everything began in my bedroom, placing the seedlings in the windows where they got the most sun and where it was warmest. Even though the back bedroom is west-facing and does not get sun until the afternoon, it was enough light and warmth to get some of the seeds sprouting. By March 24th, the cilantro, peppers, and parsley started taking shape. Kahlo was so excited that she asked if she could eat the cilantro sprouts. We sacrificed a few to see if they tasted like cilantro yet -- to our delight, they sure did! Several days later, by March 27th, the sprouts were even more gorgeous. We decided to give them more time until they had some strong roots below.
The re-potting mid-April went pretty swimmingly. The habanero and jalapeno pepper plants were doing well as were the baby cilantro plants. Sadly, the tomato and strawberry seeds never sprouted, so we ended up buying small plants (below). We also lost our parsley seedlings as we forgot to water them and they did not survive (the cilantro did though!). We bought larger containers for the next phase and a do-it-yourself small greenhouse to put on the deck (below). Who knew the next phase would be so far away. We had a particular chilly spring, making it difficult to determine when to put everything outside.
April 19th was an exciting day as the very first thing we planted form seed outside (not in the bedroom) started to poke up above the dirt: lettuce! By May 7th, we finally felt it was warm enough to put the rest of the seedlings and young plants outside to give them some real sunshine. Our deck faces east, so it would get a nice exposure to the sun until about 2pm. Kahlo and I enjoyed watching the progress of our plants, checking on them every day, and creating intentional family and quiet time. It gave us something to look forward to each day as well as a shared experience we could discuss each week. Since it was a chilly spring, it did take a little while for each plant to grow, which made the anticipation even sweeter.
After that first week of May, after putting all the plants in direct sunlight, we started to see much more growth. The lettuce continued to poke up (left, below) and by May 7th we got our first strawberry (right, below)!
Mid-May would start the beauty of the growing season where the weather started to hold. It was a little wet, which meant we had to keep moving the plants around so that they would not get water-logged but it was worth it. Our greenhouse was keeping some of the younger and smaller plants warm at night. We also tried planting some chamomile seeds. Unfortunately, they never sprouted. We'll have to try that again, as we both love chamomile tea.
The cilantro we grew from seed was super happy to be outside and showed off some beautiful medium sized leaves. The basil (a plant that survived from the year before) continued to thrive being outdoors again.
Just as the month before held an important date of the first strawberry starting to form, about a month later on May 14th that strawberry was red and juicy. Kahlo couldn't wait to pick it! We continued to watch our plants do their fancy things. The strawberry plant would produce one berry at a time. They were smaller than we thought they'd be but still super delicious. The tomato plant got bigger and the lettuce started to take the shape of a head. It was fun to watch.
May 16, 2019
It wasn't until the end of June and beginning of July that we again saw significant change. This process taught us a tremendous amount of patience and a level of care-giving we were happy to undertake. I enjoyed it immensely. Kahlo was less enamored with the in-between maintenance part and way more excited about the prospect of harvesting something part, of course. We both had our roles.
By mid-July Kahlo's wish came true! She finally got to harvest a more significant amount of produce. Our strawberries were popping up consistently and the lettuce was in the full bloom. Kahlo would head out in the morning to the deck, grab some lettuce for herself, the guinea pigs, and the bunny (she got a bunny for her 7th birthday on July 14th!). You can see by the last photo above, that head of lettuce is down to the stalk! Ha! This was the part that brought joy to a mama's heart. Being closer to nature, however we do it, brings us a serenity and understanding we sometimes miss otherwise. Growing your food, however big or small, also teaches us about patience, origin, life, and how to be a caretaker. Towards the end of July we received our biggest harvest of strawberries. I believe there were 12 in total, but Kahlo ate some before she counted, so it's our best guess.
Kahlo: "My favorite was picking strawberries. They were sweet and sour. I liked showing my cousins the plants and letting them taste the berries when they were ready."
Sadly, after harvesting our cilantro we never got another bunch again. We tried planting more seeds, but they just never grew to full size. Next time we'll start by keeping them indoors (as we had the first go round) and bring it outside once established and see if that helps! They grew smaller than we had expected but the intensity of the flavor was more pronounced, so no complaints here!
By the end of August, we got our first tomatoes!! We were pretty darn ecstatic. Cherry tomatoes are one of Kahlo's favorite fruits and we had almost resigned ourselves to the fact we would not get any fruit this time around. The plant had become very leggy with sad little leaves. At the suggestion of someone from our local CSA, we re-potted our tomatoes to a bigger pot and lo and behold! It started to fill out within days. Our jalapeno plant, habanero plants and green beans plants were not fairing the same, however. The jalapeno plant grew gorgeously but never bore any peppers. The other two plants just seemed growing. They had not born any fruit and in some cases were like the tomato plant had been: sad and leggy. We decided to buy some organic fertilizer to see if it would boost them with some needed fuel.
In September we attempted to plant purple potatoes but, unfortunately, they never sprouted. We'll keep trying with that one! Throughout the rest of the month we continued to have some warm weather and a lot of sun. It kept all our plants healthy and bearing fruits and vegetables. Not only did we continue to get tons of strawberries and a healthy bunch of tomatoes but our green bean plants that we had almost given up on finally grew 6 little beans. We ate 2 raw then cooked the other 4 to see how the flavor differed in each state. They were, indeed, delicious either way.
Kahlo: "It took a long time for the tomatoes to grow but I love tomatoes and it was exciting to check on them every day and see which ones were ready to eat. The green beans were so little when they first started to grow. They were so cute."
Through September we continued to get strawberries and tomatoes but finally had to bring the plants in as it got suddenly cold, wet and windy. We moved all the plants into my bedroom, where some of them had first begun their little lives and they've continued to do well.
When we began this lesson in growing our own food back in March we suspected it would take some work but weren't quite aware of how. With a little experience under our belts we are looking forward to getting our deck garden started again in the spring. As a mama who has a deep respect for plants and where our food comes from, I had hoped that this would be prove to be a great learning experience for Kahlo and not a frustrating one. I am so grateful that it was not only a source of fun but also of healthy snacks and something she couldn't wait to show off to her friends and cousins.
I asked Kahlo what she wants to try to grow next year and she said, "I want to try to grow parsley, broccoli, more tomatoes and strawberries. I love them!" I am definitely going to try my hand again at cilantro, chamomile, and potatoes. We certainly worked our green deditos, our green "little fingers," and now know a little better how to use them. We hoped you enjoyed learning about our gardening babysteps. Let us know about some of your gardening stories below. We'd love to hear from you!