Nanda's story is one of an "accidental gardener". What began as a simple 'backyard clean up' turned into a thing of beauty and a bountiful garden harvest that her household and her neighbors' households are enjoying today. Follow along to learn about how her journey from pulling weeds to becoming a fledgling gardener to becoming a successful gardener unfolded and expanded with each new step she took, taking on a life of its own. Her story is amazing and so inspiring! It's too good to not share. It's a story about having the courage to turn a vision into a reality...to take the first step and then to see it through. To me, it's equivalent to a writer taking a blank page and turning it into a novel in less than a year; not the easiest thing to do!
I first met Nanda 13 years ago in California at the local community college where I was working and where she was a student. We hit it off right away and I could tell that she was a rising star. Her love-of-learning and her desire to do things well are two tremendous qualities that I knew would serve her well in her life and in her career and they have!
Over the course of time, Nanda moved out of California and eventually found herself in Wisconsin. For the first time in her life she had a home with a yard big enough to develop--to shape--into something beautiful. She and her husband set off on that creative journey in the spring of 2020, wrapping up just before the snowy season took hold a few months later. What they ended up building together is just amazing and the harvest she's enjoying from her garden this summer (her first harvest) is incredible.
This is how their backyard looks today. Isn't it beautiful?
Here is my interview with Nanda that goes over the 'what, when, and how' of her story, told in her own words. After the interview, you'll find a few photos of her journey that adds to the story of where she started (the 'before') and where she ended up (the 'after').
1. When did you first envision the garden you have now? Have you always loved gardening? Where did you get your love for gardening and growing your own flowers, fruits, and vegetables?
"Until recently, I would not have described myself as having a “green thumb” at all. I used to kill everything I tried to grow, even cacti. I never had a yard or even an outdoor space to grow anything until we bought the house and it happened to come with a messy backyard that we both were unsatisfied with. Without any experience, I didn’t know what I wanted exactly in my garden. I just knew we needed to clear all the old, ugly bushes. Everything always starts from a small step. First clearing the yard and then putting up the pergola because Nathan wanted to have one. The next thing I knew, we had built the entire garden consisting of a rock garden with a fountain, a rose garden, a shade-plant island, a day-lily garden, a row of arborvitaes and a big vegetable garden. Ideas seemed to flow in as we were digging our hands in the dirt. The mindset is always about how I can make it better. Gardening has become my new hobby, and I enjoy every minute I spend building it."
2. What resources did you use to learn what to do first...such as how to get started?
"I’ve watched a lot of YouTube videos and read a ton of articles I found on the internet. I bought a couple books about gardening, but I feel like the internet gives more focused knowledge than books. It’s also faster to find an answer about a specific plant that I’m interested in. I have followed a few YouTubers: MIgardener, Garden Answer, Epic Gardening, The Gardening Channel with James Prigioni and a few other youtubers from Thailand because I grow a lot of Thai vegetables."
3. What was your method for starting your plants from seedlings indoors last winter? What worked and what didn't work? What would you change about that method the next time around (or would you?)
"I have learned from experience that there are five elements to succeed in indoor gardening: light, humidity, temperature, water, and soil. It’s important to get a good grow light that has full-spectrum suitable for all stages of plant growth. Humidity helps the plant grow faster, especially those heat-loving plants. I use a humidifier to help increase humidity in my grow room in the basement. Temperature is crucial for germination speed. Some plants like cooler temperatures, and some like hotter air. This information can be found on the seed package. For water, overwatering is the main problem. It can cause root rot. Indoor gardens require less water than outdoor gardens. I like the “soaking method” when you deeply water them and don’t water again until it’s almost dry. Bottom-watering is also great, especially when the plants are small. Lastly but most importantly, the soil should be sterilized. You don’t want any insects or pests that come with the soil to fly around your house. I microwave my potting soil after every harvest. Next year I will focus on planting vegetables that did well last year. I won’t bring any outdoor plants from the summer indoors because I don’t want to fight with fruit flies again."
4. When it came time to build and prepare your garden beds for seedling/young plant transfer, what did you do about soil preparation?
"I mixed a few inches of compost into my garden soil, added some organic fertilizer, and left it about a week or so before transplanting young plants. While waiting for the soil to be amended, I hardened the young plants by taking them outside for a few hours every day until the garden bed was ready for the transplant. There are so many ways to garden, and some can work well for you but not for others. I would suggest that you do your own experiment and see what works best for you."
5. At what point did you feed your plants and what do you use for that?
"Different plants need different ratios of nutrients. I’m still in the learning process for this. So far, I have learned that leafy plants love Nitrogen-rich fertilizer, so the fish fertilizer works well. Root plants like carrots and radishes don’t need much nitrogen but a good amount of potassium and phosphorus, so bone meal is best for them. Plants that bear fruit like tomatoes and chili peppers need everything, so a good balanced organic fertilizer will work fine. Regardless of the type of fertilizer, make sure to follow the directions because too much fertilizer will kill the plants."
6. Now that your plants are growing larger, which plants would you plant in a different way? Container vs bed? Spaced out further or arranged differently, etc.?
"I have made a lot of mistakes this year that I will try to avoid next year. First, make sure which plant is bush-type and which is climbing so you can put them in the right spot. Second, identify which is sun-loving plant and which is partial-shade-loving, so you don’t kill your plant as the summer gets hotter. Third, overcrowded planting will make the plants weak and susceptible to disease. Make sure you space them right (following the recommended spacing on the package) and give them good airflow. Most plants grow better in a raised bed vs container. If you have to grow in a container, make sure to get a bigger pot and water more often because they dry out quicker than in the garden bed."
7. What are you doing to keep your plants protected from pests and disease?
"Just keep in mind that if you grow things organically, chances are you will see pests…lots of them. That’s a good thing because if it’s safe for them to eat, it’s good for us as well. I haven’t sprayed any plants at all. My tricks are selecting the plants that are less susceptible to pest/diseases, building a dome and covering my raised garden beds with a garden net (this helps keep away both bugs and those clitters), and practicing crop rotation—not planting the same kind of plant over and over in the same bed."
8. What do you do with the excess harvest? (I'm looking for just a couple of ideas that might help others who run into this same 'problem' come harvest time). It's a great problem to have!
"Keeping up with harvest is a great challenge! That’s why you should plant in succession. Don’t plant too much of the same thing; plant more varieties. This year I planted too many Thai holy basil because I wasn’t sure if any of them will survive this zone 5a climate. It’s like a miracle that they all survived and are growing vigorously. This type of basil can’t be frozen without cooking first, so that’s what I have been doing every week. Some vegetables like green beans and Thai chili peppers I can freeze from afresh. Others like lettuce, zucchini and cucumber can’t be kept for long so I just give them to my friends and neighbors."
9. What are some cost-saving measures you've taken that worked out very well in the end? What was a great use of funds (not sorry; no buyers’ remorse).
"The first year of gardening can be quite costly. The initial cost of lumber for a raised garden bed, soil to fill the bed and all the gardening tools and seeds can be huge. I’m lucky that the city where I live provides free compost and mulch, and they seem to have an unlimited supply. I built all my raised beds in the fall when all the garden stores had an end-of-season sale with 50% off or more. Another benefit was that I could start growing vegetables right away when the spring came. Also, I would rather buy seeds instead of young plants because seeds are so cheap, and you can use them for years. I spent $3 on bok choi seeds, and I have bok choi to eat all year round."
10. Approximately how much time (hours per day), should one set aside for the various stages of this journey from seedling to harvest? Do you have a routine (time management tip) that works well?
"I have spent a few hours a day after work in my garden. I like to check on all my plants every day to detect any problems early on. If there is anything that requires more time, I usually wait till the weekend to do it. Watering the plants can be time-consuming so I created an irrigation system to help decrease the time spent on watering. I also use a “soaking method” so that I don’t have to water every day unless it’s been extremely hot or dry. I would suggest that you keep a journal on your garden, so you can keep track of when to water, fertilize, or how to start a new seed. Gardening is a lot of work, but it’s work that I enjoy every minute of. 😊"
This was the not-so-blank canvas that Nanda and Nathan had to work with; weeds and dead branches everywhere.
Nanda and Nathan spent weeks on yard clean up. Tiring but rewarding!
Then came the fun stuff: building the trellis, putting in the rock garden, creating the flower beds, and building the raised garden beds. This was hard work as well but this was when their vision started becoming a reality.
The raised garden beds were built while the seedlings were growing and getting ready to transplant. The young plants had a place to go once they were ready. So smart! Timing is everything.
The trellis and watering system is installed; the soil amended and prepared. Nathan did a beautiful job on these...on everything, really.
Meanwhile, inside the house, the paper towel germination method was used to help some of Nanda's seeds germinate and sprout.
These seeds were initially planted in soil and placed under full spectrum grow lights.
Even indoors, there are times when plants need protection from bugs and pests.
The covers of these seed trays ensure greater warmth and a higher level of humidity--both keys to success.
Once the plants reach a certain level of maturity, the covers can come off.
Beautiful little baby sprouts. For brand new gardeners, this is so encouraging to see.
Holy Basil in the 'toddler' stage of growth. Doing great!
The young plants are doing well! These are ready for the transplant process which includes gradually getting them used to living in the great outdoors.
Some of Nanda's indoor plants grew very quickly and were ready for harvesting within 2 weeks after planting.
The transplant / outdoor planting process has begun. These raised garden beds are located where they get plenty of sun during the day (another key to success for sun-loving plants).
The soil is properly amended
Success! The plants are happy in their new homes. Note the cucumber plants have taken hold of the vegetable trellis.
The tomato variety matters! If you're not careful, you'll end up with very tall, vining bushes vs. shorter shrubs.
A colorful variety of lettuce and greens--ready to pick and eat! The less time between picking and eating, the more nutritious the food.
Nanda's Herb Garden. Herbs are one of the most nutrient-rich foods out there.
Nanda's flowers have done great as well. Some she started from bulbs and seeds and others started off as young plants from the nursery. To better control the condition of the soil and the amount of watering, she planted these rose bushes in raised planter boxes.
Everything you see here is newly built and added just this past year by Nathan and Nanda. It's been fun watching their backyard take shape--their vision brought to life. So beautiful! It never occurred to me before just how suitable and lovely large elephant ears are as a potted plant (seen here in large planters by the arbor). Excellent choice!
Harvest time! I see happiness and satisfaction written all over Nanda's face; as it should be. Well done, Nanda.
This summer, Nanda and Nathan are enjoying delicious, homecooked, Farm-to-Table meals. I'd call that a substantial reward for their labors. Nanda is not only a gifted gardener but a great cook as well.
Chinese Hot Pot made with Bok Choi
Stir Friend Bok Choi (Pak Choi)
Grilled zucchini / Zucchini and other fresh vegetables ready to stir fry.
And there you have it. A gardener is born! Thank you, Nanda, for sharing your story and for providing us with so much inspiration.
Written by Carolyn, founder of eSproutz. All photos were taken by Nanda and Nathan.
Published on 7/17/21
For additional gardening inspiration and gardening supplies visit eSproutz. If you have an inspiring gardening story to share and would like to have it featured here, please contact Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.