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Benefits of being a plant-parent as a student: how to start and care for your own garden

At the age of five, I can remember visiting my grandparents in Cape Town during the December holidays and helping them in the garden. From watering plants to picking flowers, gardening is something that was instilled in me from a very young age. When my parents, younger sibling and I finally moved to Cape Town from Johannesburg, we finally had a house with a backyard big enough to start our own garden. Fast-forward to about sixteen years later, the beginning of a nation-wide lockdown due to an outbreak of the Corona Virus turned this once beloved childhood hobby into a vital part of my daily routine during one of the most difficult times in my life.

What exactly are the benefits of gardening?

I found that gardening was not only therapeutic but helped me get out of the house every day, gave me something to do on the days that I didn’t feel that great, and helped give me a sense of accomplishment once I saw my seedlings grow and flourish. But these aren’t the only benefits of gardening. In a blog post by Evergreen Lifestyle, there are a range of benefits that are listed, including the fact that gardening is an exercise due to its strenuous nature, requiring you to plant, dig and rake. Being outside during the day to tend to your plants also helps your body with Vitamin D exposure which combats a wide range of health issues. Gardening can also serve as a stress reliever as gardening aids the reduction of stress hormones in the brain and can also be a great tool for building self-esteem. Besides these physical and psychological benefits, gardening also yields some financial benefits; by growing your own produce, you are able to save a lot of money that would have gone towards buying them at a grocery store. In addition to this, by growing your own herbs, fruits, and vegetables, you are also able to reduce your carbon footprint since plants cleanse the air, absorb carbon dioxide and they create essential and complex ecosystems in the comfort of your own backyard!

So, how do you start your own mini-garden?

Firstly, you need to decide where about you would like your garden to be. Would you like it to be in your backyard? A section of your front porch? Or your balcony? It is important for you to decide on the area you would like your plants to grow and the amount of sun that the plants would be exposed to in that area. Do you want your plants to grow in containers? Or will they be in raised beds in your backyard? Once you have all of this information, it becomes a lot easier to choose plants for that environment.

When it comes to choosing your plants, you could either buy seeds or seedlings from your local nursery, or you could use what is in your kitchen. Yes, you read that correctly; the plants you would like to see in your new garden are most likely in your kitchen already! By using the pips and seeds that you find in peppers, tomatoes, squash and pumpkins, you don’t have to fork out any money to buy seeds from a nursery. All while keeping the area you have chosen in mind, keep reminding yourself to take plants that would grow in that environment.

Once you have your area and your seeds and seedlings ready, you would need to get compost, and basic gardening tools such as a watering can, spade, rake and a shovel spoon. Finding a kit online is relatively easy and should not be too expensive, especially when you are just starting out. Kits can start from about R199 and I’ve linked one for you here as well!

When you have your plants, compost and tools, you need to start planting your new plant babies, making sure they have enough compost and soil covering their roots, enough water and sunlight to aid their growth! It is important to remember that each plant has different requirements and by taking good care of them, you increase their quality and lifetime with you! This brings me to the next question:

How do I care for my new plants?

It is important for you to check on your plants when you tend to them, looking for any dead or discoloured leaves, pests or even plant diseases. For a new garden owner, this all may seem overwhelming, but fear not, there is an amazing app that I would suggest you download. Candide is a wonderful tool for anyone starting out with gardening; it helps you identify plants, pests and even wildlife you may see in your garden. In addition to this, it also helps people identify any plant diseases or infections and gives tips on how to help your plants reach their full potential.

When tending to your plants, it is also essential for you to give them the correct amount of water because overwatering can lead to a range of issues. In addition to watering, it is important for you to treat the soil that your plants are in as soil quality decreases over time. Treating your soil includes adding new soil to your containers or plant beds, and even making your own compost by putting your fruit peels such as banana peels and orange skins in the garden, which helps feed the soil that your plant babies are growing in!

Cleaning your tools regularly is imperative to the health of your plants, because when tools are not cleaned, your plants can become exposed to a range of problematic bacteria and germs. I don’t think anyone would be keen to eat produce from a plant that has been exposed to harmful bacteria.

Protecting your plants from unwanted attention from pets or other critters in your garden will also help increase the longevity and quality of your plants! This can be done by setting up a barrier around your plants, trying raised beds or even putting crop protection bags over produce to prevent them from being nibbled on.

Gardening can be quite a daunting task, especially if you have no experience in caring for plants or growing your own food, but it is such a rewarding experience when you start your gardening journey, just like Rupi Kaur said, “…think of those flowers you plant in the garden each year, they will teach you that people too must wilt, fall, root, rise in order to bloom”.

Hi there! My name is Chelsea-Blair and I am a Psychology major at UCT. A few things that I love include social and environmental activism, spending time with my cats and making homemade baked goods!
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