Erin Friar is a Morning Editor for The Daily Beast’s Cheat Sheet. She is an avid gardener, and we at Scouted thought, in light of everything going on right now, gardening is a great hobby to pick up. It’s one that I’m interested in learning, but have been too intimidated to try. But as turns out, you can start a garden, even in a small, studio apartment with this helpful tool. Erin, an expert, was kind enough to discuss gardening with me, and offer some advice.
When did you start gardening?
My grandfather had a huge backyard vegetable garden when I was a kid. He would have 45 tomato plants at a time, and summers and falls were consumed with everyone sitting in a breezeway, snapping green and yellow beans. Every indoor surface—window sills, the pool table, counters, spare beds—was lined with ripening tomatoes and Mason jars. My grandmother would get really cranky for weeks from canning everything.
My grandmother died without leaving her tomato sauce recipe. When we moved into an old farmhouse a few years ago, I found the last owner had left a raised plant bed behind. I knew I needed a fresh tomato supply to try all kinds of combinations to try to parse together the recipe. But I didn’t really get serious about gardening until I was pregnant with my daughter and I was stereotypically drawn to eating pickles all of the time. I started Googling how to make my own cornichons when my over-the-counter habit started to get expensive. I found a good seed supplier, and then I kind of went nuts, realizing that I could actually do it myself. I’ve learned the hard way that my yard is full of insects that love to devour anything from the cabbage family, and that our groundhog neighbor is a foodie who comes for all of the cilantro plants every damn time (He can’t help it).
I began indoor gardening last year because it seemed like a good way to get through the dark winter months. As a morning editor for the Cheat Sheet, I start my day at about 4:45. So I come downstairs to the LED grow lights on the kitchen counter next to my coffee machine and check things out before I start looking at the miseries the news brings.
Now I’m kind of looking at it for other reasons, as all of our lives are changing by the day.
What products have you found useful?
Last Mother’s Day, my husband seriously bought me a hoe—to be fair, I asked for it—and a cultivator tool that I said might be good to have. But last Valentine’s Day, I gifted myself the Root Farm All-Purpose LED Grow Light Broad Spectrum Grow Lamp, because clearly no one ever really knows what to buy me. I bought it along with two Burpee 72-Cell Self-Watering Seed Starting Kits and mapped out my plan. It fits pretty well on my counter and the light faces down so it doesn’t light up the whole room. It is very bright though—if you tipped it up to the sky, I think there’s a chance the International Space Station crew could see it. It’s very efficient in helping sprouts get up for early spring and doubles as my light therapy in the winter.
What inspired you to buy Root Farm’s lights in the first place?
A few things. I loved Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Anyone really can create their own food supply with a bit of experimenting. Also, Calvin Trillin’s epic Gourmet piece about discovering and helping to eat a stash of the elusive Spanish Padrón peppers in my neighboring New Jersey town was always in the back of my head. I was amazed that he grew those delicacies himself, and wondered if they really were as good as he said. Through some friends, I managed to get a hold of some Pádron seeds and tried to plant them outdoors—and it didn’t work. I think I got four peppers in the end. My favorite pizza place—Liberty Hall in Lambertville, New Jersey—upped my interest in trying again when they started serving grilled shishito peppers, so I resolved to try and do it the right way for a change. I also have a never-ending need for shallots, so I skipped the pricier bulbs and found the tiny, poppy-like seeds. Then I really went to town.
How do you use the Root Farm Lights?
I came to realize I only need maybe six plants each of Pádron and shishitos. The Root Farm setup lets you start the lights very close to the seeds in the soil and then you gradually raise them up inch by inch as your fledglings grow and get strong enough to weather the outdoors. I was sort of too successful last year—I had way more than 1,000 peppers, which I struggled to find a home for. A few Daily Beast pals were happy to take some off my hands. After that, I was sometimes sneaking up and abandoning bags of them on the doorsteps of “friends.” I ended up having so many shallots that I sold a few boxes to restaurants.
But that was then. I’m off to a late start this year because of the firehose of coronavirus news and disruptions to our life because of it. The plan for now is to get some lettuces going indoors this week, and then when the weather improves we will see if we have some luck with milkweed (for Monarch butterflies) and Japanese maple seeds we hardened in the fridge all winter.
My kids can be really picky eaters but they seem to go for any kind of bean, and I’m doing my research on that.
I have a brown thumb, but I really want to start gardening, especially since I’ll have more time on my hands. What do you think I should know?
You need to really want to have a fresh supply of what you’re growing. Since you’ll be working from home now, growing herbs from seeds indoors seems pretty smart right now. That way, you can make sure you have the ingredients on hand to pep up the dry staples everyone rushed out to get, like rice and pasta. Lettuces will be nice to have, too. And as a newbie, even if you get it wrong the first time, the lights make things grow quickly. Just like with a pet or a baby, you eventually learn to “read” what your plants might need—more water? More fertilizer? A break? Less of everything? It’s also a good project to keep kids occupied. Mine received two baby Venus flytraps for Valentine’s Day and they’re using the setup to give them some extra, tropical light. I never saw that use coming.
Why would you recommend this to someone over another gardening product, like a standalone fluorescent grow light?
LEDs have really changed the game. This setup doesn’t get super hot to the touch and it won’t run up your electricity bill like a fluorescent grow light will. I tried for a while with empty egg cartons and plain old sunlight, but the boost you get from LEDs is worth the investment. I was reluctant to splurge but I’m glad I did. It’s also fairly compact at 24 inches long and 12 inches high, and adapts to let you hang the light part from a ceiling or fixture above your plants.
Root Farm All Purpose LED Grow Light
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