Gardening and I have never been friends, and, thanks to my husband and his enviable green thumb, it’s a skill I’ve never really needed to master. In fact, so brown is my thumb that pulling weeds – in essence, killing plants – is the primary role I play in any gardening-related activity at our home.
Two things about this really bother me. First, I am madly in love with the idea of growing my own food. And second, believe it or not, I really enjoy the time I spend weeding our garden, I find it therapeutic and calming for my otherwise nonstop self.
This season, I decided it was time to conquer my fears and give my husband a little break. Instead of giving him the reins, I decided to take on the responsibilities of growing our dream garden myself. I envisioned a variety of greens for salads, tomatoes, cucumbers, okra for my son — who eats them raw right off the plant when given the chance — zucchini and eggplants for summer ratatouille dinners, watermelon vines, and a few herbs for pestos and dips.
Clearly, I am not short on ambition. Luckily, I have the benefit of Kevin Espiritu’s Field Guide to Urban Gardening, a perfect companion for a city dweller like me — someone who may be short on time and space, but not on what she hopes to harvest from her garden. I instantly connected with Espiritu’s laid-back, no-nonsense approach. In his own words,
“I could give a market full of grandiose reasons why urban gardening is a wonderful pastime to explore: fresher food, less environmental impact, a more beautiful home. But for me, the real reason is simple … it’s fun.”
For a guy who stumbled upon the virtues of urban gardening by accident (to keep his younger brother from playing video games all day), Espiritu’s advice is like taking baby steps into a world which may otherwise seem too intimidating and complex for many. The book is divided by types of growing methods – Container Gardening, Raised Bed Gardening, Vertical Gardening, Indoor Edibles, Balconies and Rooftops, and finally, Hydroponics.
Let me just say, nothing boosts your ego like the beautiful photos included at the beginning of the book, featuring urban gardeners around the country using mason jars, plastic buckets, even hanging shoe organizers, to fulfill their own need to be a step closer to the food they consume.
Beyond the inspirational pictures, I found advice that spoke directly to all the reasons I have never been able to successfully take care of plants. Overwatering, underwatering, when to water, what to grow, whether to buy seeds or seedlings, etc. (If at this point you feel you are beyond such basics, worry not, the book also takes it a step further and gives you next-level information about soil tests you can perform, automated irrigation, optimal soil mixing, composting, pest control, light quality, and more.
While there are instructions on how to grow your lettuce in a mason jar or your cabbage in a five-gallon plastic bucket, there are also advanced project ideas. (I’ve set my heart on the tunnel-like arbor for growing beans and squash. Can you imagine how much fun it would be for kids?) Surprisingly, nothing in this book seemed beyond what I could do.
In addition to this wonderful book, Espiritu also hosts a website called Epic Gardening, which he founded in 2011 after falling hard for growing his own edible plants. Today, the website has thousands of followers from around the world. Offering tutorials, tips and tricks, and product reviews, it’s a great resource for both the beginner and established gardeners alike. The site also leads to Epiritu’s Instagram, podcasts, and YouTube channel where he shares even more ideas for becoming a successful urban gardener.
Needless to say, I feel like my brown thumb has finally met its match. My summer garden, which at first seemed like a lofty goal, now feels achievable. I know the steps to take in getting started, and how to problem solve for issues (like pests or rot) that might threaten my plants later. I feel ready to get my hands dirty — not only to eat better, but as Espiritu so well described, to also reap benefits that go beyond just food.
“In my own life, my front-yard has become a neighborhood talking point, starting conversations with passers-by that would have never been started otherwise … I waste less food because I understand on an intimate level the effort that goes into producing it … I feel a connection to nature that’s hard to come by in an urban environment.”
Kevin Espiritu lives in San Diego, California and writes about all things gardening on his website Epic Gardening.