MCO 2.0 - Garden Talk

— 9 minute read

Friday. I've been going around my garden stalking the wildlife and taking videos. So far I've captured two different types of spiders (both equally majestic in their minute stature), an aggressive bright green praying mantis that charged at the camera, and a baby worm doing its own thing while I observed its digestive tract through its transparent body.

Our new bokashi compost is doing well, I counted more than 10 worms in it plus random other creatures. The half-baked other compost that we had, I divided it into parts and mixed them with old soil and I'm also happy to report that there's much activity. Lots of scuttling and wriggling when I run the gardening fork through. I know I shouldn't disturb the soil and its life, but worms make me happy. I still shudder at the thought of touching them, but the sight of slimy little ones eating their way through the organic matter gives me much satisfaction, like I'm doing something right.

For, I don't always do it right. This morning for instance I was transplanting some random herbs I had sown for fun, and accidentally overturned the seedling tray and the little plant babies smashed face down. I still transplanted them, but spent the rest of the day feeling panicky and guilty. Hence the poking around the compost to find worms for comfort.

Nature is alive and well. I didn't break anything.

I'm trying to create some sort of food jungle in my balconies. The idea is that I'll introduce as much biodiversity as I can, and try to get an ecosystem going, including all sorts of insects and birds. Given what I've learnt about microbes, the root systems of different plants have different microbe communities, and so they are able to complement each other (unless they inhibit each other, which also happens). So now I'm going for polyculture and companion planting, which makes things much more interesting really but is also a bit more challenging to plan, for a container garden.

The main plants that I'm interested in are tomatoes, radishes, beans (edamame and rainbow beans), and various herbs and flowers. Most are at their budding stage. I had actually started an army of tomato plants only to have them grow stunted. The radishes which I just harvested took almost twice the time it should have taken, and half of them didn't even develop good roots.

I'm assuming it's because of the lack of sun, so lesson learnt. Timing is crucial. I thought I'd be able to grow them in time for the sun to come, but looking at the state of most of them, scrawny and not generating new growth, I think I'll have to start over. BUT. One tomato plant has fruited. The only Micro Tom out of the batch that came through, and is currently bearing five micro toms of light jade green. It somehow makes it all worthwhile.

The sun is slowly coming into the balcony, spreading its rays in degree by degree, and I bought some steel brackets to extend the precious real estate on the outside of the railings, where there is already ample sun. I'm going to have sunflowers out there. I had bought some seeds before they went missing at the guardhouse - a sad sad day (yesterday) - and now I have to figure out whether to re-purchase all of the seeds or wait for the person who nicked it to give it back. I hope they're at least planting them if they don't return them. Then they'll end up with a garden that is me.

Because my garden does reflect me in a way. It took some time but I've mostly stopped planting things that I don't enjoy, just because I thought they'd be good to have. I mean, they'd still be good for biodiversity, but I have other considerations too, and my balcony space is limited.

For instance, for some reason I really like climbing plants. I bought a passionfruit live plant online, which arrived healthy, and I'm staring at its tendrils every day just to see when it will catch hold onto the trellis I built and hoist itself up. The rainbow beans that I like eating (they're red and white, sometimes sold in the wet market) are climbing beans (bonus!) that wrap their shoots around things, so I'm planting the seeds here and there where there are vertical structures so that they would be able to climb upwards. I'm looking forward to making some sort of green shelter when enough of climbers grow taller than me.

The other thing that I really like is fragrant plants. I've got a ginger lily growing, and the flowers give off a lovely scent in the living room balcony. The jasmine, which arrived basically dead but is now shooting new leaves (I was so happy when I saw it come back to life!). The good thing about fragrant plants is that they mask the scent of other crops so that pests get confused; some like marigolds are active pest repellents. But mostly I just like sticking my nose into flowers and rubbing fragrant leaves then smelling my fingers.

And of course it goes without saying that I plant what I like to eat. We keep an open box of cherry tomatoes on the kitchen counter so that the resident Tomato Monster (ahem) can matanga a couple here and there as she goes about her daily business. I've realised that I don't like harvesting leafy greens, so I may stay off them now. I don't actually know why, but they always stay way past their best before date, and then I harvest and eat them out of guilt.

But at the end of the day, there's always a wild card, because I like planting things that I'd never planted before. Enjoy my shiso leaves, seed thief.

I've been feeling a little disconnected. It happens time and again, and while it may be linked to the self-imposed isolation because of Covid, it's more the realisation of one's alone-ness in the world, even if you're surrounded by people that you love. There's no one person out there that can understand you completely, no matter how much they love you or you love them. The most you can hope for, is for them to understand that you're you and that's a good thing. I'm grateful to have that at least. Loved ones who let me be.

But time and again, there is this feeling of needing to reach out to someone or something that exists in a real way. Like, I'm alive, you're alive, we're both alive. Mutual existence five!

I believe that our addiction to our phones these days is due to this hunger for connection, and it's doubly sad because our communication environment is engineered to splinter our attention into a million pieces so that the one moment of undivided, pure connection is near impossible to achieve. What we have are hollow likes, polarising politics that divides us into pseudo tribes, and fabricated onscreen personas that are perfect and perfectly fake. Drowning in notifications about nothing in particular happening nowhere in particular that no one cares about.

It's popcorn. It's sugar, salt, fat, and 95% air. Popcorn is nice once in a while. Not every day and not when you're starving for some real food. And they keep nudging you that there's more popcorn available, with better flavours. You stuff your face, forlornly wondering why you are never satiated nowadays.

Or why you're never alive.

I've been keeping my phone off for long stretches, to try to combat the digital addiction and emptiness. If I'm going to be lonely, I should rather choose a better quality of loneliness. So I keep my phone off for most of the morning, sometimes until noon, until I check for messages. Usually there's nothing. Proof that it never had to be on in the first place.

But if the phone was on, I'd be checking it and getting sucked into the labyrinth of apps. Have you ever picked up your phone just to put some music on, and fifteen minutes later find yourself scrolling down Instagram and wondering why you had picked it up in the first place? No? You're a better person than I am.


Anyway, yeah, not having my phone is how I end up spending time in the garden staring at insects and poking at worms. Willing new shoots to come up with the power of the unwavering gaze. This morning I topped up some pots with a dressing of homemade compost and so I'm expecting some increased growth, so yay, more things to stare at!

This morning I saw a really cool spider that I had never seen before. It was brick orange and had twerking butt. Combined with the majestic brown one, the majestic black one, the itty bitty grey one, the itty bitty green one, and the metallic green one with a butt that reflects rainbows (I think it was hands down the coolest spider that I had ever seen), I have at least six spider types that I know of in the garden. I imagine this is how playing Pokemon Go feels like.

Today is the weekend and I'm already feeling a little pumped up at all the possibilities. Farsi class is in the afternoon and I'm going to do some revision, some little collection of words here and there and I'm going to build some little stories. I may also do some watercolours, and maybe sneak in a bit of work. Oh and I'm going to get a log from a neighbour to try and plant orchids. I think today will be a good day. I can feel it in my bones.