Good to Grow

Like painting or or singing, some people have an innate gift for gardening. Call it a natural talent that’s given at birth, I’ve seen sickly plants flourish under the right care. It seems even more magical to me, as someone who’s liable to turn that scenario on its head and drive supposedly indestructible vegetation right back into the ground. Described more favorably, you could say that I’m excellent at making compost.

This is the year that I’m changing all that. It’s no secret that I haven’t had the greatest luck with plants, laying to waste everything from succulents to bamboo, but that’s all in the past. Now, with a bit more experience and the right tools, I’m already the proud plant mama of some lush fresh herbs, thriving tomato vines, and even a few flowering pepper buds, ready to burst forth with fruit any day.

How is this possible, you may ask? As with most things in life, it comes down to dumb luck, hard work, and a few simple tricks.

Location, location, location! Make sure you start growing in a space that gets at least 8 hours of direct sun everyday to best suit most plants. You don’t need a ton of acreage or even a yard to start growing; any outdoor space can become a flourishing garden. Apartment dwellers would be wise to invest in a vertical planter to maximize limited balcony space. Lacking that, a window box planter can go anywhere, indoors or out.

Make it rain. Water religiously, even if mother nature does help out with a few showers. Make a habit of checking the soil everyday; if it seems dry, add more water. No need to go crazy, and you might not need to water everyday, depending on your climate. Set yourself a regular calendar reminder if you’re liable to get swept up in the daily madness and forget. Gardening apps like Planta and Flourish are brilliant for this and so much more, specific to your particular plants.

Feed me, Seymour. Like a pet, plants need good food to grow, too! About a month after the first sprouts emerge, add plant food to the soil. You can easily and cheaply make your own from Epsom salts and baking soda, an reapply roughly once a month. Just a little bit will do! Alternately, consider adding ground kelp or seaweed into the soil, which is a rich source of trace elements such as iron, zinc, barium, calcium, sulphur, and magnesium.

Don’t be a pest. Pull out weeds and other odd interlopers, of course, but don’t get sentimental over your own dying sprouts, either. If any of your plants are on their way out, remove them before they have time to rot, attract bugs, and potentially spread disease. If you suspect an infestation, don’t panic, and don’t pull out the toxic chemicals. Depending on the pests, there are many natural remedies you can make from household ingredients.

Slow and steady wins the race. Be patient, don’t overdo it, and celebrate the small victories. Especially if you’re starting from seed, it will be a while before you can reap the fruits of your labor, so buckle in and get comfortable for the long haul. Personally, the actual fruits and vegetables are a bonus at this point; just seeing greens living and thriving under my care, growing bigger and stronger by the day, is something to celebrate already.

Worst comes to worst, if your best efforts still end in barren earth, you’ll still end up ahead of the game. You’ve just enriched your soil for even better growing conditions next year! Your future plant babies will thank you for it.

Thrill of the Grill

Labor Day is right around the corner, signifying the dwindling days of summer while offering one last chance to celebrate. That means it’s time to gather up all your friends, neighbors, and coworkers, throw down an ice bucket packed with refreshing beverages, and uncloak that glorious grill in the heat of the midday sun. It’s your last best chance to fire that baby up, so make it count!

I’m probably the last person to ask about expert grilling practices, but I’d like to think that my novice status is actually my greatest asset here. I’m not about to pull some crazy, unreasonable, daredevil tricks when the metal grates get hot and the smoke starts blowing. While I can’t weigh in on the timeless debate of gas vs. charcoal, steering clear of debates over specific fuels or equipment, it shouldn’t be so complicated just to start a fire and get cooking outdoors. No matter what that means to you, even if the party gets rained out and you use a simple grill pan over the stove instead, it’s still important to start searing and making a mark!

Speaking of which, there are a few key principles to remember for emblazoning perfect stripes every time:

1. Start with a VERY hot grill. Give it at least 15 minutes, if not 25, to preheat before lubing up. If the food is par-cooked or semi-cooked (like meatless hotdogs or burgers, fruits or softer veggies,) aim for about 400 degrees.

2. Grease well to prevent sticking but do NOT use an aerosol non-stick spray over a hot grill! Trust me, you don’t want to light your backyard up like a torch here. Opt for an oil with a high smoke point, like rice bran oil, avocado oil, or peanut oil.

3. Don’t walk away, but don’t fuss with your feast either. Once you throw something on the hot grates, leave them there! Don’t start pushing them around, flipping again and again, repositioning them closer or farther apart. To leave a dark, solid mark, you need to allow full, uninterrupted contact. Yes, the food does still need to be turned over to even cooking, but just once, and only after a solid 5 minutes at minimum.

4. Use tongs. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve chased around ears of corn with a flat spatula because I was too stubborn to go back inside to get the right utensils. Seriously, save yourself the frustration, potential burns, and charred food. Just use the right tools for the job.

5. Go ahead and grill EVERYTHING! Once you’ve made the effort of dragging that beast out of storage, cleaning it up, and bringing it back to life, keep it busy from noon to night. Grill your tofu pups and corn on the cob, of course, but don’t stop there. Grill the buns! Grill the avocados! Grill pineapples and watermelon for a palate cleanser! Keep the party going and grill s’mores for dessert! Heck, if you’ve still got fire to burn and time to spare, grill any leftover veggies in the fridge to start meal prep for the coming week. After all, Labor Day is but a short respite from the daily grind… It’s right back to work tomorrow, ready or not.

Do you have any simple grilling secrets to share? I’m all ears, and not just with yellow kernels of corn. There’s a wide world of charbroiled delights to discover; I’m just getting started.

Many thanks to LightLife for simply providing meatless dogs to inspire this post. All content remains my own original creations, free of bias, and dedicated to an honest appreciation of cruelty-free food.