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  • Writer's pictureBrandi Bird

2023 Roundup - Part 1

This is the 2023 roundup of my biggest wins and biggest boneheaded moves of the gardening year as decided by me, in no particular order. In this post: top 5 wins.

WIN: Destination Propagation

I propagated close to 2000 plants and my germination rate was higher than 98%. I rigged up a very successful grow room for around $270 with a few heat mats, reusable cell trays, timers, and a thermometer/temperature gauge. The real gamechanger was the ten pack of 4 foot shop lights; you do not need fancy bulbs or special plant lights for germinating seeds or boosting your growing plants, it's all about the lumens. I played around with lots of shelf set-ups and the one that worked best for me was cinder blocks and planks; I used the yoga blocks from my studio to raise the plants so that the lights were always about 2 inches from the tops of the growing seedlings. This method was much easier that moving the lights and I was able to keep plants of different heights on the same shelf.

Some videos or set ups you see have lights on chains that can be raised or lowered, but when you are growing dozens of varieties in a limited space, your beans shoot up much faster than your celosia, so either the beans get crispy fried too close to the lights or the tiny celosia are shivering for their lives. These are the timers I used and you can see my tray numbering system, I normally had at least 13 trays going at any given time so I could offer something new and different at each market.

The yoga studio pulled double duty as a nursery for about two months. Next year, I will figure out a way to block the windows better so it doesn't look like UFO lights are glowing from inside. The Flower Farmer: An Organic Grower's Guide to Raising and Selling Cut Flowers was an invaluable resource. If you want to start propagating FOR REAL on your own, watch the Garden Like a Viking channel on You Tube. This video will tell you everything you need in the most direct way; I turn to his videos time and time again. Nate is a proponent of JADAM gardening (as am I!) so he never tries to overcomplicate it or sell you stuff you don't need.

While I initially balked at spending that much to do what the sun does for FREE, upping my propagation game was the best win of the year. The equipment paid for itself after two markets and hopefully, I'll be able to use it for years to come.

WIN: Digging into Dirt

Dirt, soil, substrate, medium, whatever you want to call it, the stuff you grow your plants in matters. Kinda. My experience has taught me that you can get a plant or seed to grow in just about anything. I mean, if you walk on my paved driveway, there are Seussian Truffula trees coming up out of the dang cracks in the concrete. Plants can and will grow in pretty much in anything. However, if you need consistent results and if you want to make it easier on yourself, tweak your soil to your situation.

After many many trials and tweaks, I got a feel for the optimum (for me) texture. For germination, I made my own seed starting mix of worm castings, perlite, and coco coir (or sustainably sourced peat, so calm down about it). You want something that drains well and is light for the bebe plantlings. For potting up I use Fox Farms potting soil and compost. It is more expensive and harder to find where I live, but the best for my purposes. Fox Farms didn't give me any free stuff, I just use the heck out of it. The Salamander Soil it my favorite, but they are all great. The proof is in the roots and my roots were poppin' this year.

Houseplants and succulents have their own (different) soil needs which I will save for another post. Suffice to say, this was the first year that I really experimented and paid attention to the results in my soil trials. Mixing your own substrates will save you money and will help you understand your plants better, plus it's just fun. I like playing in the dirt and you will develop a textural feel for the Goldilocks "just right." I hate Miracle Gro and it is my least favorite choice for everything. Recap: Fox Farms, please send me free stuff. Miracle Gro, suck it, you're the worst. But don't sue me, please.

WIN: Sustainability

Sustainability is like, my thing. It's my north star for this whole operation and I hope I can improve on it every year. I used 0 chemicals or artificial fertilizers and I only made one bag of garden trash...for the whole year. That trash was mostly the plastic bags that potting mix, manure, and worm castings come in as well as plastic pots/nursery containers too banged up to use again. If anyone has a way to repurpose potting mix bags, let me know! But for a whole year, I think that's pretty good. I still think people should be charged for how much trash they have picked up. Why should I pay the same amount as someone down the street who throws out 10x what I do every week? But I digress.

WIN: Animal Husbandry Badge

Gardening is a gateway drug to birds. Don't ask me why, but every gardener I have ever met either gets into elaborate one-sided relationships with feral birds or else they start bringing home domesticated ones. I do both. There are some neighborhood birds I watch with all the intensity of a telenovela. I also saved and raised 8 adorable bantam chickens and 1 turkey. I nursed the little cuties through pasty butt, which is a real thing. I used a tent as a brooder and built them a house and a run. Little did I know that I was building a frat house and not a hen house because most of my chickens turned out to be roosters. That is also another story.

Regardless, I introduced chimkins to my homestead and now have two bunnies as composting machines. When my daughter came to visit, I had a tent full of birds in the bunny room, the living room was glowing like an extraterrestrial vessel from all the grow lights, a rescue pup I was fostering was destroying everything in sight while my senior dog hid in the bathroom, and a feral kitten I brought home was doing Jimmy "Superfly" Snooka leaps from the couch to my jugular. I had to attach a pencil to the tiny kitten with a soft hair scrunchie so she didn't squeeze through the bun gate and chase the buns around.

"Mom, this is too much going on," my daughter said, taking me by the shoulders.

She was right, but as Scoutmaster of this one woman troop, I am awarding myself highest merits for chicken chasing and bunny wrangling. Sidenote: in the picture below, turkey is recuperating from getting knocked down and having her tail feathers yanked out by the foster pup. She was watching Lion King and she recovered quickly. The rescue pup is now getting trained by the VA to be a service dog for her combat veteran dad; she's living her best life!

WIN: The Grass is Always Greener

Except at my house. The grass is never greener at my house because I don't water it, I never fertilize it, and I barely cut it. The bottom line is mowing sucks so I just decided to not do it anymore. I mowed four times all year and I regret nothing. Yes, my place looked abandoned and I had to spot my dog from his tail sticking up in the high grass, but it really wasn't THAT big of a deal.

Did you know that almost 50% of water used residentially is for lawns? Stupid GRASS that you can't even eat? So this victory was more of a mental one, because "lawn" is a mentality and expectation, and those are much harder to break than habits. I just decided that I wasn't going to be stressed about it and put a plan into place to transition to 100% no-mow landscaping over the next 5 years.

The biggest win of the year was just sticking with it. If you need convincing that lawns are stupid, try reading The Lawn: A History of American Obsession. But if you like mowing after a nice long day at work or paying someone so that strangers will like you better, do your thing.

Next time, I will write about my top five fails of the gardening year and it will be tough to narrow it down, because, yikes, there were some doozies. For now, I'll rest on my (unmowed) laurels.


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