The Joys of Gardening

By Jacob Conley

The past few years of my life have been quite an adventure, or at least as much of an adventure one can get living with their parents. In that time, I have taken up quite a few hobbies I really enjoy, and I am still looking to take up a few more within the next few years. Before I mention some of my hobbies, I would like to say a little bit about myself and my vast inexperience in this world thus far. I am a third-year college student who attends the University of Oklahoma (I’m sorry if this disappoints, but it is the better school- Boomer!), and I am majoring in Spanish. I will turn 22 years old this year, but I like to think of myself as rather knowledgeable, even I am the only one that thinks so out of my friends and family. Now, I don’t know very much about a lot of things, but there are a few topics which I have a good bit of knowledge I hope I can impart with everyone reading. These few areas of which I believe that I have good knowledge is small-scale gardening and composting. Due to living in Oklahoma and to the fact that it is an agricultural state, there are a lot of great resources to learn tips and tricks for gardening, such as friends or family members who are in the agricultural business or calling or looking up information online that comes from Oklahoma State University (which, I am told, is a good school for agriculture). Another good resource is to look up information elsewhere online or even searching for videos on YouTube, which is a great tool to look up informational videos. Also, I am going to share a few of my tips as well, but there is a catch.

As an Oklahoman, there are several crops I see being grow extensively in the state throughout the year; there is winter wheat, corn, cotton, alfalfa, and cow peas, to name a few. However, I have zero experience with most of those plants listed, and I do not actively grow any of them. I, instead, grow tropical plants. Currently, I have five pineapple plants, around 7 lemon tree saplings, an orange tree sapling, and a few coffee trees. The main exception to this list is the coffee tree due to the fact that I bought it at Lowe’s. However, I have around 7 lemons trees I germinated and sprouted from the seed which have been growing for close to 2 years, and I recently planted some others that are starting to break soil. My pineapple plants vary more wildly in age, the oldest being about 2 and a half years old since I started growing it and the youngest being just under half a year. Finally, my orange tree is about 6 months old or so, and it seems to be the faster growing species between the two types of citrus. This all started with my very first pineapple plant, around 2 and half years ago.

I cannot recall what had happened exactly, but I remember my girlfriend had told me that it was possible to grow a pineapple plant from the crown of a pineapple. So, we had gone to the store, bought the pineapple with the biggest crown we could find and went to my house to try it out. When it came time to remove the crown and plant it, we didn’t really know what to do, and I wasn’t easily able to find answers online or on YouTube.

What ended up working was cutting small pieces off, working towards the top of the crown until you saw what appears to be a bunch of seeds. Then, when you find those, stop cutting, and you start pulling leaves off the crown. I ended up pulling off four or five rows of leaves, but that isn’t recommended for pineapples with smaller crowns. I would say to remove about half of the leaves. Then, once that is all taken care of, you can place the new pineapple plant is any container and fill with a few inches of water, enough so that it covers the base of the crown. Afterwards, place in a sunny spot of your house or outside, provided it is warm enough, and change the water every few days. With all my plants, I placed them in a quart sized mason jars and filled them with water. Now, it will take anywhere from several weeks to several months for roots to start sprouting out of the base of the crown.

At this point, it would be helpful to know so more information to better care for your new plant. Pineapple plants originated from tropical regions in Central and South America. Given this, they prefer humidity and lots of water, however, this doesn’t necessarily mean watering their roots. From what I have read and from my experience, it seems best to spray or water the pineapple plant’s leaves with water because they soak up most of the water through the leaves, though I still occasionally water their roots. I mist them at least twice a day, once in the morning and again at night, and I water their roots at most once a week. Also, from my research, pineapple plants can tolerate temperatures down to freezing, but they shouldn’t be exposed to freezing temps for more than a few hours. Despite this, I have found out from personal experience that they can become damaged at temperatures around 45 degrees Fahrenheit. One of my plants had several leaves die after being out in temperatures between 40 and 45 degrees one night. During the summer and warmer months though, this shouldn’t be an issue. Also, I have read that pineapple plants can tolerate temperatures up to 105 degrees Fahrenheit, but, to combat this during hot days in the summer, you can place them in tree shade and that should help them not to get so hot. Personally, I also leave my plants in the shade, and they are doing well. Also, another tip would be to not leave them directly on the concrete on hot days because the concrete will bake them. Finally, it is important to know how big of pots the plants will need. Pineapple plants get big. I have read that, in optimal conditions, they can grow up to 3 or four feet wide and about as tall. To give them enough space, it is recommended you give them 10- to 15-gallon sized pots to plant. If they are planted in smaller pots, they won’t get as big, and the pineapple they produce will be smaller than normal as well. In the end, the important things are to keep the plant humid, spray its leaves to water, don’t expose it to temperatures lower than 45 degrees or hotter than 105 degrees, and plant them in 10- to 15-gallon sized pots.

leaf chart

Pineapples are just one of the several varieties of plants that I have. The other type of plant I grow extensively is lemons. They are a lot slower growing than the pineapples, but I believe it can be equally as rewarding. I started the lemon trees from the seeds of a lemon that I bought at Walmart. With this seed, you should make sure to plant them immediately after taking them out of the fruit. Also, like pineapples, lemons like humid environments and lots of watering (this time, watering the roots). However, lemons also need different care than pineapples because they are citrus trees. This means that they prefer soil that is more acidic, and this helps for healthy growing. I have also run into the problem of my lemons lacking one nutrient or the other, but there are easy ways to fix that, depending on what the problem is. The way to tell is to look at the leaves and compare them with the chart above. Now, I am not entirely sure, but I believe the lemons trees have had problems with getting enough potassium and nitrogen, but I started using a liquid fertilizer and the problems cleared up. They make specific fertilizers for citrus plants which are available on Amazon, but I used a rose bush fertilizer, and it helped my trees.

Lemons trees are also very tropical plants, so their care is very similar to a pineapple’s care. They are hardier, being able to tolerate temperatures down to 28 degrees but only for a few hours. Also, the upper end of heat tolerance is around 105 degrees, so these trees grow excellently in the shade of others trees as well. Lemons, like pineapples, prefer humidity and frequent watering. I water them once a day in the summer time, but only once or twice a week when they are inside for the winter, depending on how quickly the soil dries. As for pot size, lemon trees are trees, so they will require a larger pot. I have read that about a 20-gallon pot is a good size for the trees, and this is what I plan to work up to, however, they are about a year and a half old, and they are in about 1-gallon sized pots. Also, since they are trees, they can grow quite tall, but I plan on trimming them down to keep them short enough to be able to be brought inside during the winter.

I started the orange tree the exact same as the lemons, and I plan to care for the orange tree the same as I do for the lemons. As for the coffee trees, I still have more research to do to know how to care for them the best. Also, all of these plants will have to remain in pots because the winters in Oklahoma are too cold for them to survive outdoors.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Over this past winter, I started composting. This is hugely beneficial for all gardens and plants because it replenishes nutrients and minerals to the soil that can become depleted if your in-ground garden is planted in the same spot year after year. Also, composting is easy to start and maintain, and, if it done correctly, it doesn’t smell. How I started is by taking a trash bin and drilling holes all over it, the front, back, sides, and bottom. The holes provide drainage for the soil because, as the mix starts composting, there is waste liquid that is produced. Then, on the inside of my trash can, I put a good stack of leaves, filling up about a quarter or half of the trash can. These help to provide space at the bottom so it can drain. Then I just filled it with dirt from the yard until it was about half to three-quarters full. The dirt is going to weigh down the leaves, so you will need more dirt than you might think. After it was filled with dirt, then you throw in your compostable material. You can compost almost all kitchen scraps, such as potato peels, lemon peels, watermelon rinds, outsides of onions, etc. Next, twigs, leaves, and dead plants from around the yard can also go into the compost bin. The compost soil should only be slightly wet because it helps the bacteria do their job, but if the soil gets soaked from rain, don’t worry about it. That happened to my compost and it still turned out fine. Also, you will to turn the soil about once a week so that the bacteria on the inside of the soil can get oxygenated, which also helps them do their job. Plus, if you don’t turn it, it will eventually start to stink.

Based on my research, it is recommended to try to keep a good carbon to nitrogen ratio in your compost, but this is extremely hard to tell in practice. I just piled on material, mostly kitchen scraps and everything seemed to compost just fine; I had no problems with my compost. Then, a few weeks ago, I took the soil from the garbage bin and spread it around my garden before I tilled the ground. I did this so that the compost soil would become more evenly incorporated into the ground.

Gardening and composting are rewarding hobbies, and I highly recommend them. I have really enjoyed taking up these hobbies, and I think that you would enjoy them too. They help you take a break from a busy and hectic life. They started seemingly out of the blue for me, but it has been such a great adventure that I don’t think I’ll stop anytime soon.