I've wanted to grow vegetables at home for a long time, but for one reason or another I wasn't able to do it until now. I'm not planning on producing a lot, but this is my first foray into gardening so I'm looking forward to learning the basics.
If you thought the task on formatting devices was out of character for this site, now I'm going to journal about gardening 😅. To be honest, I wasn't sure about starting this task; but I began planting a couple of months ago and the idea has been nagging at me. So just to get it out of my head, here it is. And hopefully, it'll be interesting to others as well.
First of all, why do I want to grow my own vegetables (and herbs)? Certainly not to save money, because I don't think I will (even if I do, the time investment won't be worth it). But there are lots of good reasons. Most of my work and hobbies involve looking at a screen; I even read books and manga in a tablet. So a new hobby that doesn't is very welcome. I also think this type of skill is very enriching, even if I don't need it in today's society. And there is also some usefulness to it, because hopefully I'll be able to grow some vegetables that aren't so easy to find around here (like chili peppers).
So yeah, here's my journey from a complete beginner to hopefully being able to eat some of my own produce. Feel free to let me know if I'm doing something stupid though!
Since I was such a beginner, where did I start? Well, first I asked about it, and I got a recommendation for a couple of books. I've read them and I think they were very useful, particularly The Vegetable Gardener's Container Bible. One of the takeways from this book was that plants need basically 3 things to grow: Sun, Water, and Air. It may seem obvious, but reading this book made me understand how plants grow a lot better. My understanding is that If you can manage these 3 correctly (together with soil pH and nutrients, which went a bit over my head), you're pretty much set.
I started planting from seed in some egg cartons on March 1st; I planted 6 Jalapeños and 6 Basils. I actually placed 3 seeds in each slot, because I had heard that the germination rate is not always great. But so far it seems like most of them grew (90%+), so when I do it again I'll probably only use one or two seeds per slot. The initial step was to water them and leave them out of the light for about 3 days, then I brought them out to the window sill and kept them there for a long time. I watered them roughly once a day (according to the book, Basil and other herbs actually benefit from harsh conditions so I didn't always water them daily). By the way, one nice hack I learned from another book was to use a plastic bottle with holes on the top for watering. It was perfect to water small seedlings, but even now I've just moved to a bigger bottle.
On March 8th, I started seeing the first Basil sprouts. And it wasn't until March 18th that I saw that happen for the Jalapeños. I have to confess that I was surprised at how slow they grew. In part I think that's because it wasn't the right weather yet, but it's also possible that I was messing something up. I guess I'll learn with time :).
Then on March 21st I planted Tomatoes from seed as well, and they didn't sprout until April 1st. The other plants were growing but still not as quickly as I'd like or thought they would. It wasn't clear by reading the book when I should transplant seedlings into their own pots, but searching on the web I found that it should be done when the first set of true leaves show up. This didn't happen until April 4th for Basil, and it was also around this time that I started taking plants outside for some time to harden them up (I never made them spend the night though, until two days before transplanting). One issue I had is that Basil seedlings fell into the ground very often. I'm not sure why it happened, as I found them on the ground when I came back to take them inside. Maybe birds liked it more, or the wind threw the lighter box, etc. I still don't know why, maybe I'll learn more in the future. On April 18th, Jalapeños and Tomatoes showed their first true leaves.
Finally, on April 30th I started taking them out for the night to prepare for transplanting. Unfortunately, this killed the Basil so that was that :/. But funnily enough, some weeks before I had gotten an already grown Basil plant as a gift, so I transplanted that one into a pot. Transplanting was not too hard, and I also added some fertilizer to the new soil (I think this should be done only twice in a plant's life: on transplant and when they start getting big). I just followed the instructions on the box for quantities. Books I've read mentioned making your own compost and such, but I don't think I'm ready for that yet.
Today, two weeks since transplant, most plants seem to be growing a lot quicker than before which is nice (except one tomato that didn't survive). The plants are still a long way from producing anything edible, but I'm happy that I seem to be on the right track with some of them.
And that's it for now! I'll keep updating this as I go, but the updates will probably be very sporadic. This task could technically be open forever, but I'll consider it done when the growing season is over (November or December, I suppose).
Here's some pictures of the timeline I described:
March 1st — Seeds planted
March 8th — First Basil sprouts
March 18th — First Jalapeño sprouts
April 9th — Tomato, Basil, & Jalapeño seedlings
May 1st — Transplant
May 11th — They are growing!
Here's a short update on what's happening with the plants.
TLDR: They've grown a lot, but still no fruit. I've learned more rookie mistakes. Scroll below for pictures.
So, as you'll see on the pictures below, the plants have grown a lot, and I'm very happy about that :). For a first-time gardener like me, it's awesome to see what started as a bunch of seeds growing into such big and beautiful plants.
But, I'm still not sure that it's going as well as it should. For one, I've been told that I should have separated some of the plants. In particular, the Tomatoes that seem to be growing the best are in a bundle of 3 jammed together and that's not good. I tried to separate them, but they were too tangled up and I was afraid to kill them if I tampered too much. So I just moved them into a dedicated container. The Jalapeños seem to be growing fine and don't have this problem so far, but I think they've been stagnant for a while.
But recently, the Tomatoes started growing some flowers so I think that's a good sign and maybe I'll finally get to enjoy some fruits :D.
Other than the plants I already mentioned last time, I've planted a new batch of Basil and this one's survived the transplant so that's nice. I also planted a couple of lettuce, but only one sprouted and it seems to be surviving so far, but I'm not sure it's doing great. We'll see.
Something I've realized I haven't done at all is trimming plants. The only thing I've done is planting, transplanting, and watering. I have also tied the tomatoes to a couple of sticks because I was told they need them (and it is quite windy up here), but that's all. I'm not sure if I should be tending them any other way. For example, I've been taking some leaves from the Basil and that wasn't a good idea, because Basil is supposed to be harvested from the stem (not stripping the leaves). So the Basil has now started to grow flowers which is not ideal, but I'm just leaving it be to see how it goes.
Overall, I'd say I'm happy how it's going, and I think if everything goes well I should accomplish my goal of eating at least one piece of food grown from seed. Although I'm seeing that I may have some issues in August, because I'll probably leave for a week or two and I have to find a way to keep the plants alive. I'm thinking that I could install an automatic watering system, but I'm not sure how feasible that is because I don't have any water outlets near the balcony. Another option would be to ask someone to check on them, but I don't want to inconvenience anyone and many of my friends will be on holidays as well. I still have a couple of months to think about it, so we'll see.
Here's some pictures of what's been going on:
May 20th — Some tomatoes are growing a lot
May 28th — Relocated some plants
May 29th — New Basil and Lettuce sprouting
June 6th — Tomatoes are too close
June 8th — Tomatoes show first flowers!
June 13th — Basil growing flowers
June 18th — The entire garden!
Now that we're right in the middle of Summer, I thought it's about time that I gave an update on how this is going. And the short version is: Success!
I've accomplished my initial goal of eating something grown from seed, and to be honest this has surpassed my expectations by a long shot, which is nice :). For details, continue reading. And if you only want to see some pics, scroll to the end.
Last time, I mentioned that some flowers were sprouting. By the end of June, I could already see some of the first tomatoes showing themselves. And by the end of July, I harvested the first ones. After eating them, I cannot say that they are the best tomatoes I ever tried. To be honest, I didn't see that much difference in flavor from tomatoes that haven't been freshly harvested as I had read. But they are good and definitely a success :D. I'll probably grow them again next year (and they're still giving fruit). I didn't use them a lot for salads, the ones I buy at the store taste better, but they are perfect for Pisto.
One the other hand, jalapeños have been late bloomers. They didn't show flowers until late June, and even though fruits started showing up early July, I haven't harvested them yet. One issue I'm having overall is that I don't know when to harvest the plants. For tomatoes, it seems like shortly after they turn red is a good time. But jalapeños should be harvested right before turning red, or even when they are red. And that hasn't happened yet. Still, some of them already show some lines and I'm pretty sure I could pick them up if I wanted.
The rest of the plants are doing so-and-so. Basil did well, but I harvested it too late and it's not in good shape anymore. And the lettuce is still growing but I have no idea when to pick it up, because it's quite small (I think the container I'm using isn't big enough).
By the way, last time I mentioned I'd have some issues during holidays. What I ended up doing is asking for help and someone came over to water the plants. But instead of doing it every day, I settled for doing it every two days and covered the plants so that they don't suffer as much from the sun. I'd say it worked out because they are still alive and I haven't seen any detriment to their growth.
Something else to mention is that for a while some of the tomato plants started showing yellow spots in their leafs. Reading online this doesn't seem too uncommon, and just removing the entire tomato suckers was enough to stop them spreading too much.
And that's about it, I'll probably do one or two more updates before closing the task for this season. But I'm already super happy with the results :).
June 29th — First tomatoes
July 15th — Operation holidays! Covering the garden while I'm away
July 24th — First successful harvest!
I didn't grow the cherries from seed though, that's why I didn't mention them before.
August 16th — The garden today
Now that we're well into autumn (although it doesn't feel like that over here!), I'm going to close this task as finished.
The plants have been on decay for a while, and I even stopped watering them a couple of weeks ago. So today I removed the plants and cleaned up the garden for next year. Needless to say, though, this task has been a huge success, and this is the expected end to the yearly cycle. I did ponder whether to plant some other seasonal plants for autumn or winter, but ultimately I decided I wouldn't. I'll probably get back to it next year, but I'm not sure if I'll continue talking about it here. I guess it'll depend if I have something interesting to share or if it's just more of the same.
For a first time experience, it went a lot better than I expected, and even though the fruits weren't huge, it was well worth it. I definitely got a year's worth of jalapeños, which was my number one goal in terms of output. Some of them I already cooked as jalapeño poppers, others I pickled (which I often add to salads), and the rest are stored in the freezer.
But that doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement, of course. For starters, I did plant the vegetables too close to each other, and that's probably one of the reasons why some fruits were small. It was also a pain having to water daily, and ask for help when I left for holidays. Something I may explore next year is an automated watering system, or maybe give self-watering containers a try. And finally, I'd like to try planting other varieties. The only herb I planted was basil, and I'd like to give cilantro a try as well. Tomatoes were nice, but I'm not sure if I'll plant them again because the ones I could buy at the store were a lot better. And the lettuce was a complete failure, so it would be nice to grow that one properly.
And that's it! Here's some pictures to close this down properly:
August 18th — Jalapeños!
October 3rd — The last tomato
October 19th — This jalapeño has a visitor
November 1st — See you next year, garden!