Gardener of the Month: September 2020
Edible Gardening Team Members
Meet Our September Gardener of the Month: @reshgala!
AT A GLANCE:
Where you live: Bridgewater, NJ (Zone 6B)
Day job: Kitchen Garden Coach
Favorite color: Yellow (I thought it was blue, but photos prove that I'm mostly in yellow)
Favorite holiday: Thanksgiving (family, cooking, decorating and then shopping - what's not to love?)
Favorite veggie: Sweet Potato (baked, fried, stuffed... and full of Vitamin A! Yum!)
Favorite activity (other than gardening): Working out (1 hour a day x 6 days a week)
Favorite movie: Roman Holiday (I love classics)
Describe your garden:
I garden in a very small space in my backyard. When I first started gardening, I only had 4 raised beds which were 2'x3' each (24 sq. ft. total growing space)! They say start small and don't get overwhelmed. As I'm a self-taught gardener, I slowly expanded my garden by adding several pots/containers. This year due to Covid-19, I experienced first-hand the anxiety of not having access to fresh food at the grocery store, when many things were in short supply or rationed. I decided to expand my garden and built beautiful raised beds in my garage - four 4'x4' beds and two 5'x2' beds! I now have 84 square feet of growing space - still small by many standards, but very productive indeed. The unique thing about my growing situation is that due to living in an urban area, my raised beds sit on top of actual gravel and don't have any contact with soil at the bottom! This is one of the main reasons why my beds are 18" deep - to give roots some room to grow! To make the most of growing in an urban setting, I also grow food in a few containers on my bedroom balcony!
What’s the hardest thing about gardening?
The hardest part about gardening is getting started. Many people get overwhelmed by all the choices we have online and at garden centers and really don't know where and how to begin. I love helping people plan a garden and grow food organically. I post how-to videos and gardening tips and tricks on my Instagram handle @reshgala.
If you could have one gardening superpower, what would it be?
To magically get rid of pests and diseases from my garden (and that lone chipmunk that somehow manages to sneak its way into my veggie patch every year)! That would make gardening so much more enjoyable! I always tell everyone that the first year I started gardening was the hardest ever - a wide variety of pests came to greet me - from spider mites to aphids to squash vine borers and flea beetles. But it's true, it gets easier and better with time and experience.
We noticed that you visited your family’s farm in India. Has gardening always been a part of your family? Are you able to implement anything learned there into your own garden now?
My family owns an epic 250-acre farm in India, complete with paddy fields, mango and coconut plantations, and every fathomable crop - from Taiwanese guavas to peanuts and strawberries. Is farming their main business? No, it's just a hobby. However, my ancestors were farmers, so you could say that gardening is in my blood. I started my gardening journey inspired by it. I have learnt organic pest control methods such as use of neem oil, garlic, Epsom salt etc. from my uncle who is the main caretaker of the farm. I've also learnt to not be afraid of experimenting and make it a point to grow something new every year!
As an urban gardener, do you think you need to do more planning or less planning than someone with a lot of land?
Both require meticulous planning in their own way. However, gardening in a small space is less forgiving, as you don't have room for errors. Variety selection, pest control, and timing are crucial in an urban garden.
Two of your passions seem to be working out and eating fresh. Do these go hand-in-hand? Have you always done both?
For me, working out, eating fresh, and gardening have always been more about mental health, well-being, and relaxation than anything else. I am extremely disciplined about working out at least an hour a day, 6 days a week and nourishing my body with fresh juices and grilled vegetables. It makes me feel my best and brings out the best in me!
What is an herb that you grow every year? Why?
Cilantro. It is an essential ingredient in my everyday cooking - from lentil soups to salsa and freshening up Indian curries. And if you've never tried cilantro chutney before, I highly recommend that you do - make a sandwich with cream cheese on one side and cilantro chutney spread on the other! You'll love it!
As a 2020 Gardener of the Year, you’ll receive 2 sample boxes of Burpee Home Gardens’ 2021 new varieties… one for you and one for a friend! Who are you giving your second sample box to and why?
Thank you, Burpee, for sending an additional sample box of plants. With the difficult situation of Covid-19 upon us, I decided to use the second sample box to grow food at Duke Farms Community Garden in order to donate the produce to various local food pantries and homeless shelters. This year, we all experienced the stress of standing in long lines at the grocery store, rationing of food and essentials, and scarcity of fresh food. I'm so grateful to be able to grow my own food and share it with others too.