Life lessons from the farm

Top 5 lessons learnt in first month of balcony farming

It has been a month.

Killed four plants, met bugs, made lots of mistakes, and learnt a ton.

Current progress: 14 types of vegetables/herbs in 22 containers. (And still growing!)

Apr 3-28

To commemorate this one-month anniversary, and give myself a (small) pat on the back for still hanging in there, here are my top 5, most important and useful, lessons learnt in the past month. A lot of them might seem common-sense, but they weren’t to me a month ago. On the path of a reformed brown thumb!

Water plants deeply

Here is how I started out watering my plants: a quick pouring of water – leaves, soil, and all – just enough that the surface soil is wet. Then I learnt that I have been doing it wrong. It was 10pm, and I was reading my idol Gayla Trail’s book “Grow Great Grub: Organic Food for Small Spaces” (which is an amazing book by the way!). And I quote:

The best way to water is deeply – really giving your plants a good, long soak … It’s important to give the water time to penetrate down to the roots of your plant rather than shooting the hose all over the bed and leaves or lightly dusting everything but the soil like a sprinkler. Not only does wetting the leaves waste water, it also creates the perfect breeding ground for fungal diseases.

Cringe. Cringe. Cringe.

I wanted to run out to the balcony (in my pajamas) and water my dear plants the right way.  Luckily my rational self surfaced in the nick of time, and I waited until the next morning.

Now, I check the soil every morning for its moisture level, and if needed, I give those plants a good, long drink, until water overflows from the bottom of the pot.

I still wince when thinking about how I watered my dear plants during my first two weeks… but I’m quite fortunate that most of them have been quite forgiving. Which brings me to my next lesson learned…

Apr 6-08

Plants want to grow

I know it sounds given. But this discovery helped me cope better with being over-anxious about plants, especially in the beginning stages.

It was (and still can be) very overwhelming – pot size, soil composition, watering, fertilizing, how much sun, temperature… etc. And I can read, and read, and read, but I’d realize that there are guidelines, but no “right” answer.

So believing, really believing, that plants want to grow, makes me feel that I’m not in this alone. That I’m in a team with my plants, trying to best the situation and grow well.

Of course I have made (and will continue to make) mistakes, among them many silly ones. However, I’d feel better about the journey and know that I’m not in this alone.

Apr 6-14

Bugs and pests exists, but not every insect is bad

I previously wrote about coming across pests for the first time, and how for a while before then I was living in an ideal bubble, a utopia where bugs and insects do not exist.

Beginner meets pest: something is eating my bok choy

Since meeting green larvae babies of the notorious small cabbage white butterflies, I have started to notice the other insects that are fellow inhabitants in my tiny container balcony farm. I’m also ongoing the process to make peace that not every insect / unknown crawling bug is an enemy, and refrain from the instinct / fear to swat them off.

Baby steps.

Apr 4-04

Be creative and don’t be afraid to experiment 

This whole process started out a month ago as a challenge and experiment for myself, a bucket-list project to keep my brain cells active during these few months of break from work.

Keeping true to the initial purpose, I have been motivating myself to be creative and just have fun experimenting throughout this journey. Just to name a few:

  1. Regrowing food that’s not as commonly done (or typically advised against)
    Spinach from spinach roots
    Green garlic from green garlic heads
    Chinese white radish leaves from white radish head
  2. Experiment with making more plants from stem cuttings in soil and water
    – Laksa Leaves
    – Taiwanese Basil
  3. Making containers and seed-starters from everything around me. Reusing normal throwaways somehow in the farm.

Of course some would be more successful than others, but I’d never know until I try!

Apr 6-15


Patience and letting go of control

I’ve always thought of myself as a patient person. Despite going overachiever workaholic every once in a while, I find myself pretty patient. Learning so much about myself through farming, and I’m noticing that maybe I’m not as patient as I’d like to be.

There was the time where the Taiwanese Basil cuttings took much longer than expected to root, and the many times where I’d stare at soil with seeds buried underneath, wondering if anything was happening underground.

Taiwanese Basil Update: Water to soil (finally)

Moreover, there’s the acceptance that despite how much of a overachiever I might be, I have killed plants, and will most probably continue to kill plants along the way.

But hey, at least I am given the gift of learning, and someday, all this learning and experience will turn into knowledge.

And if that’s what I’ll get out of all these cringing, and wincing, and agonizing; I think it’s not such a bad deal after all.

Celebrating one happy month of balcony farming. 

Apr 4-14

The Vege Girl Project: Day 33


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