Scratching the Surface

You're probably aware of my love of gardening by now. Like many die-hard gardeners, I fell into it as a child, introduced to the wonders of it all by both my parents and my grandparents. Along with sewing and knitting. While I may have acquired the skills to lead a frugal and self-sustaining lifestyle, my love of these old-timer skills have little to do with becoming self-sufficient, and even less with current fashionable trends: I just like to make things with my own two hands. 

Just as there is an immense sense of pride and self-satisfaction when you take out a loaf of bread from the oven (no matter how wonky the bun), wearing a hand-knit hat and eating a home-grown salad bring just as bright a glow to your soul. If you are a gardener yourself, then you know exactly what I mean. If you are only a dabbler, or have never tried your hand at growing something, then you may be a little wary of such pronouncements. Worry not, I'll make a gardener of you yet!

And by gardener, I do not necessarily mean a person who starts planning their planting beds in mid-January, surrounded by countless seed and plant catalogues. You can join the club even if you only tend to a pot or two of herbs on your windowsill. Despite the fact said pots come from the supermarket. (And we all know how difficult it can be to maintain a pot of supermarket basil!)

You can grow some green onions trimmings, just like Mimi does here! It might not cover all your scallion needs, but you will get enough spring onions for a dish here and there.

I have extolled the virtues of growing your own many times, but I forget that not everyone necessarily has the confidence to actually go out and do it. And yet, developing green thumbs is not that complicated at all. So here are a few tips to steer any novices in the right direction.

To start, you need to assess your space: how much space can you give over to growing plants? Beginners should start small, but there is nothing wrong with dreaming big! Start with the window sill, a corner on the balcony or in the yard. Next, how much sun does this area get? Most food plants and flowers like to get at least 5 hours of sun, but if you get less, there are still quite a few things that will happily grow. At the height of summer, leafy vegetables such as lettuce and radish do enjoy some respite from the blazing sun.

Another thing you need to consider is whether or not you have easy access to water: if you are going to be using a watering can, then you should start with a smaller area, just to make sure that you don't get overwhelmed trying to keep up with the watering. You also need to bear in mind that container gardens still need to be checked daily for water, because you can't rely on the rain to do it for you. When you decide to expand your gardening endeavour, you can install a rain butt: the water is virtually free, and is better for your plants than tap water.

Last but not least, you need to consider your soil quality. Container gardening requires that you use a potting mix, and not garden soil. Any commercial potting mix is fine, so your main concern should be the mix's peat moss content. In North America, peat mining is a huge industry, so any efforts to reduce its use have been half-hearted at best. However, peat bogs are extremely fragile environments and need to be protected. Coir, a waste product from the coconut industry, is a more sustainable alternative to peat, and is becoming easier to find. Whether you are gardening in pots or in the ground, you will eventually need some garden compost -your own or from your city: compost is an all-around miracle salve for plants! It provides nutrients to the plants, improves soil quality, and studies (as well as personal experience) have shown that it makes plants healthier.

I hope all this information will tempt you into growing a plant or two... or more! As for that supermarket basil, it's not you, it's them! Once you get that pot home, take the basil plants out of the tiny pot, split the ball of roots in two or more, and pot them into bigger pots with plenty of good compost. Water them in with room temperature water, and keep them out of the sun for a few days. After three or four days, place the pots on the sunniest window sill you can find. They may need to be propped up by a few barbecue sticks, but they'll be happier to hang out for a few weeks now.

Happy gardening, and bon app'!


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