I’ve been trying to figure out how to grow my own food for about two years now, and it’s been quite a journey. I started off with a few herbs—rosemary, mint, and basil. I had done some light reading about the basic needs of each, and everything I read said how easy herbs were to care for.
Perfect. I can do this, I thought.
I watched my herbs grow, and I was delighted. I felt accomplished every time I added fresh basil to my pasta here or brewed a cup of mint tea there. My food tasted astronomically better, and it smelt nicer too. Everything was going well until—what seemed to happen overnight—my mint shriveled up and died.
What? There is no way.
Who kills mint? Is that even possible?
All of my research said it was nearly impossible to kill mint since it was ‘hardy’, ‘vigorous’, and ‘wild’. Yeah right. I was a plant person. It was difficult to reckon with the fact that I had killed an unkillable plant.
So I did more research.
I soon realized that the ‘basic needs’ of mint weren’t as plain as I thought. Apparently, they like their soil on the moister side. Apparently terra cotta dries out easily due to its porosity. My sad, dried up mint was in a terra cotta pot, and I wasn’t keeping the soil moist. A perfect storm.
I decided that it was time to buy a few books to help me on my journey. It’s nice to have the internet to look at forums and different posts on what to do or what not to do, but there’s nothing like having a book that you can hold and take out to the garden. One of the books I ordered was 101 Organic Gardening Hacks: Eco-friendly Solutions to Improve any Garden by Shawna Coronado.
I was skeptical at first because it seemed like one of those gimmicky gardening books with sexy floral and monstera patterns strewn across the pages. However, I was pleasantly surprised. It just so happened to be a happy medium of undeniably cute doodles and invaluable plant knowledge. I’ve used the book for tips and hacks to make my garden thrive ever since I got it.
Recently, I came across a section that I found to be rather intriguing: ‘Pet Tender Seedlings to Keep them Strong and Stocky: Put thigmotropism to work for you’
Hmm…thigmotropism. Where have I heard that? I thought. I couldn’t recall any association I had with the word, so I read on.
“Petting your seedlings can help them grow stockier, healthier stems. Thigmotropism or the thigmo-response is a fancy term that describes how a plant bends or turns in response to a particular touch stimulus.”
A-ha! I remembered where I’d heard it. My biology teacher in high school had spoken briefly about why pea plants exhibit that characteristic coiling with their tendrils. The plant reaches out for support, and then wraps itself around an object for stabilization.
The chapter continued on about how seedlings have the tendency to get leggy, or stretched-out, and how touching the tops of your seedlings can help them stay short and strong. Seedlings usually get leggy when they’re not in ideal light conditions, so the plants do their best and reach towards the strongest source they can find. I’ve included a picture below of what leggy basil seedlings look like. This response can be a problem in the long-run because it causes unnecessary stress to the plant, and essentially sets it up for a multitude of problems down the road.
This all made so much sense. Plants are constantly getting doses of touch stimulus, primarily from wind—and they’ve been doing that for millions of years. Now humans start seeds in plastic-slotted trays in their windows with not so much as a caress when their seedlings sprout.
Most mornings I wake up and tip-toe around my room when the air is still. I like to run my fingers along the leaves and soil of my plants—gingerly checking to see how everyone is doing and what they might need. I whisper words of encouragement and ask questions, all whilst watching the morning sun stream in through the windows.
As I was reflecting on the chapter about thigmo-response, I couldn’t help but think, Have I been a touch stimulus for all of these years—inadvertently signaling a response in my plants?
I do have a healthy collection of houseplants that are thriving, but who knows if touching them has actually made a significant difference in their health or growth. Even though the only way to truly know would be to run an experiment, I do believe that giving plants a soft caress is never a bad thing.
It’s funny to think that my first dead, dried out mint played a hand in why I am still on the journey to grow my own food today. Since then, I’ve tried (still trying) my hand at strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, chard, and more.
I’m reminded of a phenomena that is brought up frequently in one of my favorite books. In Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ Women Who Run With the Wolves, she talks about the nature of the Life/Death/Life cycle. It is the process when things in life transform into another state through death. It lives, then dies, and lives again. This cycle occurs in nature when the seasons change, and everything that is alive and beautiful dies only to become new once more. This cycle occurs with humans, when we let go of something we love to embrace the possibilities and newness of another.
It seems slightly overdramatic to say that I embraced the Life/Death/Life cycle when my first mint died, but I believe that I did. I could have just given up and said that gardening wasn’t for me and that if I couldn’t keep a little herb alive, then I would never be able to keep up with something as immaculate as a tomato.
Alas, I did not give up. Instead, I did a little research and learned from my mistake. I gave life to my quest in mastering the vegetable garden, and I’m better for it in more ways than one.
I just bought a new mint plant a few days ago. It’s still in a terra cotta pot, but I don’t think it’ll be dying anytime soon.