From Self-Taught Gardener to Online Gardening Inspiration
Meet Epic Gardening Founder and Author, Kevin Espiritu
In summer 2010, Kevin Espiritu had just completed his degree in economics and accounting. But after about six months and a glimpse into what life as an accountant would look like, he knew that wasn't how he wanted to spend his time.
"I also didn't know what else I might want to do," Kevin says.
He retreated into video games and fell back on his skills in website building, and began gardening as a hobby. A budding fascination with hydroponics prompted him to document his experiences on a blog, which would grow into something much bigger.
Nine years and many gardens later, this self-taught gardener provides tips, encouragement, and resources for gardeners in more than 100 countries through his online education platform, epicgardening.com. Kevin's new book, Field Guide to Urban Gardening: How to Grow Plants, No Matter Where You Live, was published in May 2019.
"The more I garden, the deeper it gets for me, and it connects to everything else," says Kevin, who grows edibles in and around the front yard of his home in San Diego, California.
How did you get started with gardening?
Unlike most gardeners, I didn't grow up gardening at all. It was effectively because my younger brother came home from college and my mom asked me to do something active with him outdoors, so he wouldn't hole-up inside.
We tried different things, like surfing and skateboarding, but he really perked up at gardening, so we learned together. We bought some pots and soil — we didn't have a lot of space — and started with cucumbers. I kind of went in from the deep end and grew them hydroponically. They were not tasty! Then we produced giant basil bushes in pots, almost like a hedge.
Why do you garden?
I played online poker to pay for college, and when I started growing food it somehow scratched that same itch. I loved exploring how to control and change a plant's growth, and it satisfied my desire to want to improve at something.
There's a simple joy in growing things, deepening my practices, and expanding my craft. I get to keep learning more every single season.
I also want to share what I learn by gardening, so I used my experience in website building to create my business, Epic Gardening. It's a gardening education platform with a mission to help 10 million people all over the world learn how to grow plants.
What kinds of gardening do you enjoy?
I've always been limited by space so I'm best at small-space, edible gardening — raised beds, vertical gardening, and containers. I no longer do a lot of hydroponics because I want a lower-maintenance garden. I challenge myself to get an intensive yield out of the smallest space possible.
I'm definitely an intermediate, experimental gardener. I like to try new things — maybe too much. Maybe I could relax a bit and master something!
Describe your own garden.
My own, personal garden is a smorgasbord of random stuff. I don't think anyone would design it the way I have. Where I'm living now, I have a 15-by-30-foot yard — the most space I've ever had. There are 11 raised beds in the front yard, and an in-ground bed. (The luffa gourd arch that spans two of those raised beds doesn't make a lot of sense, but it's what I'm doing.)
I also have 15 to 20 pots, vertical systems, some really big self-watering containers, and a big standing raised bed in half-shade, in the side yard. Its self-watering capillary action is really nice for greens.
Right now there are a lot of potatoes. All of the containers and half of my garden are planted with three different types, because I have to make sure I can survive the Epic Gardening 2019 Apocalypse Grow challenge! During the month of June, challengers live off of only what they grow, forage, fish, or barter. I'll need to barter my potatoes for things like eggs, oil, and cheese. (You can follow #apocalypsegrow on Instagram to track my progress.)
After the challenge, I want to do all the classic summer crops as big as I can. I'm thinking melons, okra, maybe peanuts in containers, peppers, and tomatoes.
What do you consider your areas of gardening expertise?
I'm not trained in horticulture, I'm not a botanist, and I don't have any degrees in this. Nor do I have a lot of seasons under my belt — technically, I don't even have nine! In the world of gardening, I'll share what I'm doing and try to help people understand, but never claim that I'm an "expert."
I wouldn't say I'm world-class in any gardening technique, but I'd describe my interest as raised bed gardening with a permaculture twist. I'm very confident with most edibles and with hydroponics. For a while, I grew microgreens commercially and sold them to local restaurants.
What do you feel is the biggest benefit of gardening?
There's a personal enjoyment out of doing something with the earth. You get to eat what you grow, which is by far the healthiest food you can eat. You get to reconnect with the way we evolved as humans; we're pretty disconnected from the way we find food.
Gardening also impacts the way we interact because it builds more community. Just by having my front yard garden, now all my neighbors know me. I almost think those benefits of gardening are greater than the obvious one, of growing food.
What's your biggest gardening challenge?
For me, it's organization and keeping track of stuff. Figuring out what I'm putting where, when it needs to go in and out... the workflow aspect is the hardest part. I'm not the best at it and something will fall by the wayside.
I want to have constant production in my small space. San Diego has the most small farms per capita in the U.S. We can produce here all year long, but it's hard to succession sow in this climate. Also, we don't have frost, so it's hard to tell when the season starts and ends.
I don't want to hold in my head anything that doesn't need to be there, so I use spreadsheets and a tracking system. Beds have numbers and containers have groupings. I record what goes into each bed and when. But I don't remember the dates and maturity for everything, all the time.
What is your most memorable gardening triumph or disaster?
My most memorable success was when I randomly grew this massive cabbage — it's in my Instagram profile photo! I didn't really do anything... I just sort of watered it. When I harvested it I made sauerkraut, which was the first time I made a fermented preparation from what I grew.
I tried to make the best of the disaster that I call my "pathetic crop of peanuts," when I attempted to grow peanuts in the wrong soil and the wrong bed, without knowing the best way to care for them. I was supposed to harvest about 50 and I got about six. I cherished them, gently roasting them in a pan with some butter, and made a YouTube video. I think it would be fun to try them again. Eventually I'll grow a massive haul of peanuts, for sure!
How have your gardening practices changed through the years?
I've gone from what you would consider classic, conventional gardening to a regenerative agriculture approach to home gardening and restoring soil health. If I can help our local pollinators while increasing the biodiversity of the small space that I have, that helps the environment.
I don't use organic pesticides any more: I either let it be or figure out a more holistic approach. I prepare for dry conditions by planting drought-tolerant varieties, mulching heavily, and conserving water through smart irrigation practices, like ollas (clay ceramic water vessels).
This season, I'm also not experimenting as much because I want more production.
What is your favorite garden tool or product?
Right now I'm in love with the CedarLast Potting Bench with Sink because it speeds up my workflow considerably. All the mess goes into the sink and the water gets recycled. It's much easier to get jobs done so I'm out in the garden more.
For seed starting, the Grow-Ease Seed Starter Kit with the wicking bottom is killer. I've never had such successful seed starts as with those. I actually have a three-tier Bamboo LED Grow Light Garden in my bedroom, and it looks really nice.
Have any of your friends been bitten by the gardening bug?
My mom has about 50 or 60 little containers of succulents and flowers in her yard, but I'm still trying to get her to grow edibles. Most of my close family on my dad's side has gotten more into gardening. My cousin is actually joining me on the Apocalypse Grow challenge. He tends to the garden at his childhood home, growing sweet potatoes and tomatoes.
Why do you enjoy working with Gardener's Supply?
They're super friendly and helpful, a community versus a company. I think that's why they've been able to build the company that they have. Plus, their products are amazing.
Is there anything else you'd like to tell Gardener's Supply Company's readers?
I'm self-taught, and I'm no more or less skilled as a gardener than anyone else. I think what I'm doing is pretty cool, and anyone should be able to do what I'm doing. I want people to get over their wariness or trepidation about gardening and say, "Look. I can do this!"
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