My Vegetable Garden at home

My Vegetable Garden at home

Family daily life

I’m extremely happy with my vegetable garden. I wouldn’t change anything about it — just its scale. Without any doubt, I’ll increase its size in the near future.

When I decided to grow vegetables at home, the decisive element that outweighed all others was my family. I wanted to teach my daughters how to grow vegetables, and for them to understand the benefits of this natural lifestyle (not to mention they got to eat authentically flavoured salads and meals).

saladaMy daughters understand now how much pleasure and passion goes into growing something as beautiful as strawberries — my first production. Because they were still little and loved the red-tinted sweet fruits, the choice came easy. It still makes me overwhelmingly happy to watch them pick the ripe fruits and quickly eat them. Over the years, they’ve learned that any fruit, when it’s freshly and timely picked, tastes better than a supermarket-bought fruit.

These experiences have contributed to their personal growth and have changed the way they interact with family, friends, and overall community. My vegetable patch grows, my daughters grow taller, and the domestic routine grows closer to the true routine of a community that shares fresh produce and gets together to prepare meals.

As a new and important element of the family, the vegetable garden plays an important role in our everyday life: ‘Mum, do you want a lemonade with fresh peppermint?’ ‘Dad, please teach me how to pick celery because mum wants to use it to season the rice.’

How my vegetable garden grew

As I began to understand Minigarden’s true potential, I became increasingly adventurous with the choice of plants and shapes of the potting system. At first the containers were assembled in a simple display to fence in our house’s garden from the common garden, but my wife soon asked me to change it to fit our supplying needs. The strawberries and ornamental plants gave way to vegetables (lettuce, spinach, cabadge, onions) and aromatic plants (parsley, coriander, and spring onions), all grown in the same initial 18 pots to which I added Minigarden Corner and the Drip Irrigation Kit in 2012.

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Today, I have a 70-plant urban vegetable garden (in less than 0,5m2 of paving). I always use the herbs in my cooking, especially in dinner parties with friends — many of whom have already given in to the pleasures of Minigarden and urban planting. As an absolute fan of the Mediterranean diet, I chose plants that fit my eating preferences but are also adapted to the local conditions. After 3 weeks, I started collecting the first aromatic plants, and by the fourth week the first lettuce leafs.

Tips to a greener vegetable garden

  • minigardenI have to start by mentioning one of the main advantages of Minigarden: simple maintanance when compared to the maintanance of the usual vegetable patch. Minigarden is the perfect tool for a healthy vegetable garden because it suppresses the need for pulling weeds.
  • The second great benefit of Minigarden is the amount of space it occupies — or lack thereof. As a vertical growing system, it allows the growth of more than 50 plants in just 0,5m2.
  • I also have to mention how easy it is to substitute plants within Minigarden, namely seasonal plants (lettuce, parsley, coriander), as well as the possibility of keeping everything tidy and organised. In my Minigarden system each horizontal line represents a different kind of plant.
  • At the moment, I’m growing seasonal plants (lettuce, coriander, parsley, and basil) which will be used and substitute at the end of their life cycle. However, there are a couple of techniques to extend their cycle like trimming off flowers.
  • The high standard of the watering and nutrition is essential to keep a healthy vegetable garden. I adjust the watering programme to match the weather conditions, and air humidity (i.e. on dry summer days with temperatures above 30º water your garden 2 – 3 times every day for 2 minutes; during spring when temperatures reach 15ºC – 24ºC do the watering 3 times per week for no more than 2 minutes).
  • I use Minigarden Grow Up Green after doing the planting to ensure vegetative growth, and after I apply Minigarden Grow Up Brown – Biological supplement, as a more common nutrition.
  • After a tiring day at work, I always check up on my vegetable garden. First, I place a finger in one of the pots, dig it in the substrate and check if it’s humid, dry or soaked. Then, I adjust the watering accordingly.
  • I also check for bugs (a good sign of future pests), dry leafs or spotted leafs, and remove them.
  • Finally, it is important to control the vertical growth of dwarf shrubs (basil, for example) through regular pruning.

Minigarden and indoor plants for a lovely home

Minigarden and indoor plants for a lovely home

A house decorated with plants is without a doubt more comforting and beautiful. After a long day outside, opening the front door and seeing a living being — even a non-thinking one — is heart-warming. Its gleaming flowers and leaves will surely bring joy to a grinding, grey day.

As I read somewhere, flowers at home inspire the possibility of growth and prosperity — an encouraging thought. Adding one plant to an ensemble of home fixtures is already a step to domestic blissfulness however solitary. So allow yourself to be more creative, and provide some company to the aloof plant sitting in the corner.

Because the range of decorative options is quite wide, the most important thing is to choose one source of inspiration: a colour, a theme, one picture. Anything goes. Then, after choosing the plants that best suit the room, and with the help of Minigarden, play around with the disposition.

Flowers and colour: the easiest recipe

Let’s start with an easily appealing idea: colourful flowers. Plants can be an indoors source of light and colour. If you enjoy colour coordinating your life, create a single-toned patch by choosing different species with similar-hued flowers.

For a dramatic effect, make sure the plants bloom at about the same time. For example, African Violets have tiny purple flowers that match beautifully with Gloxinias, Oxalis, and Brazilian Fireworks. These ornamental plantas bear flowers all year long, except for the Brazilian Fireworks that only blossom from August to November. If you prefer fiery tones, go for Geraniums and Begonias.

Decoration using leaves

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Flowers are not the only show-stopping feature of plants. Many leaves are as interesting, if not more, as flowers, with their varied colours and shapes that turn a room into a green oasis. Ferns are essential for this collection: the Bird’s Nest Fern and Boston Fern are the most well-known of the group, and widely used as indoor plants. The Spider Plant has variegated green and white leaves, perfect for a more dynamic feel, and the Polka-Dot Plant is a great example of a non-green leave.

Succulents and cactuses: a sculptural space

Because of their interesting shapes, succulents and cactuses are essential elements to the construction of an elegant space. Not many people go for these two botanical groups. However, besides being an original option, these plants also ensure you’ll get a surprisingly beautiful final look.

Succulents and cactuses look almost like sculptures, and most of them are neutral-coloured, which is great if you want to be bolder in other decorative areas. The Mistletoe Cactus is an amazing plant with slender, narrow stems that grow into long, thin branchescorner-column — during spring, its green colour is accompanied by white flowers.

Another great addition to your succulent wall is Jade, a plant with oval leaves intricately arranged as if it was purposely sculptured by nature; during winter and spring it also gives birth to white flowers. Aloe hardly needs an introduction. It’s highly popular, but not always seen as a garden plant. However, Aloe’s greyish leaves bring a dynamic tone to this mainly green group of plants. Finally, add Echeveria — the queen of this selection — to your urban garden. Echeveria is the fairest of them all.

Decorating with Minigarden is a joy due to its modules flexibility. There are many brilliant examples of what to do with Minigarden Vertical, and Minigarden Corner to turn any room into a unique space: place a simple column in each of the corners of a living room using Minigarden Corner, or build a partition wall to create intimate living areas with the help of Minigarden Vertical.

Erase the border between outside and inside, and give in to the trend of ambiguous rooms. Have fun with Minigarden’s newly found creative freedom.

Manuel Rodrigues – the creator of Minigarden

Manuel Rodrigues – the creator of Minigarden

Manuel Rodrigues, born in Guilheiro — county of Trancoso, Portugal — is the creative mind responsible for bringing about Minigarden. Besides being a successful entrepreneur in many areas — industry, commerce, services, and agriculture — Manuel Rodrigues is a nature lover, a liking he assures to have existed since his birth. For him, being close to plants is as natural as having a curious spirit and a sharp mind. Luckily, he has been blessed with keen instincts, which have been useful from when he ploughed his family’s grounds as a kid until now.

Although he is the creator of Minigarden, Manuel doesn’t think of himself as an inventor, but a gadgeteer who travelled to Lisbon at the age of twelve to work and to study business. His professional life is marked by an almost obsessive appreciation for organisation, a characteristic that has set him apart from the competition, consequently, Manuel has been commended for his solutions to the efficiency in the workplace, and in industrial processes. His innate curiosity and nearly genetic love for nature were the boosters of a new project that started at the time of his retirement: Minigarden.

In a room at the official residence of Minigarden, surrounded by vertically potted plants, Manuel Rodrigues talked to me about his life, and futuristic ideas for the Urban Green Revolution that he’s began implementing around the world.

Ana Rosado: Can you tell us the story of Minigarden’s start?

Manuel Rodrigues: When I built the house I live in now, I planned a retaining wall about seven metres tall. Every time I looked up at the wall, I wasn’t keen on the empty space that framed the house, as a result, I decided to think about a solution to change the bare facade. First, I wondered how I would decorate the wall, then, how I would take advantage of the design.
I thought about producing strawberries, because in the summer every grandfather likes to offer his grandchildren sweet strawberries. In the first year, I built a multi-story pyramid from the ground and up the wall, and I placed the strawberries on the vertical structure. The following year, I placed slanted boards — filled with soil and planted strawberries — on the towering wall. That year the strawberry production was a raging success, and I felt inspired to create a more practical setting of the same kind. Thus, Minigarden was born.

AR: When did you realise vertical farming could be more than a way of keeping an active lifestyle during retirement?

manuel-rodrigues-minigarden-3MR: I thought about doing vertical farming because I love plants, and I have always loved them. It’s funny, but I was probably conceived in a field, during a nap time. My parents were farmers and the grain threshing season is in August. Nine months after August comes May — the month I was born in. Almost all the people from my town are born around May.

AR: It’s an interesting theory.

MR: I was born, and almost immediately after I went to work on the fields, a pleasure I inherited from my parents. Because every one in my family loves plants, I too was influenced to appreciate them. One particular uncle of mine, a true inventor, was really important in the construction of my personality. He never threw away a crock with a broken handle, instead he would fill it with plants.

AR: However, when you built your first vertical farm — influenced by the creative spirit of your uncle — did you think right away it would have a great potential?

MR: Of course. Right at that moment I thought it would be essential to farming, and urban living because there was nothing of the same kind, or I didn’t know of anything else similar to Minigarden, which was proved to be inexistent when I applied for a patent.
My biggest wish was to provide a service, and to equip people with the best tools for this activity, thus contributing to its improvement. When I started Minigarden, I thought much about gardening conditions and how to inspire people to grow and to look after more plants.

AR: So far, what have been the best moments of this adventure?

MR: I have been blessed with many great moments. The first one was when we used Minigarden in a greenhouse because it looked like a laboratory experiment. I don’t know any greenhouses as clean and hygienic as ours. Another beautiful moment was when I picked a fruit that wasn’t touching anything — just hanging — from a Minigarden plantation. In regards to looks and growing conditions, this production resembles an apple tree. This was an exciting moment because fruits in close contact with the ground can become diseased.

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AR: You mentioned your parents, your family, and life in the country: how has your love for nature influenced your life?

MR: My family, neighbours, friends, as well as living in the countryside have been important to my life and personal growth. My dad always had flowers in his garden, which is not common in a rural area, and he grew many kinds of plants, some of which I didn’t like: in the beans season, I ate beans every day. Now I love beans.

AR: What was the most important lesson you’ve learned from your father?

MR: It doesn’t relate to plants but it’s a lesson that’s stuck to my mind. My dad always fed the animals first before he sat down to eat.

AR: Do you think of yourself as an inventor?

MR: No, I think I’m only a gadgeteer. When I went to work on the fields as a kid, if a part of the plough broke, I’d put together a makeshift alternative. I never returned home because of a broken tool. While I worked in the industry, I also developed industrial procedures to pack faster, with fewer labour, and in the 80s I already had a computerised factory that enabled me to know, by the end of the day, the amount of products in stock.

AR: Do you enjoy working with efficiency?

MR: I mainly like organisation. When I worked in commerce, I created my own code, which fifty years later I still use, to know at any moment who’s the seller of a product, or how much it costs. I had everything labelled and encoded. I still use cryptic labels at home on bottles of wine, and I know how much the bottles cost, and where they were bought.

AR: In what way has nature been present in your professional life since your first entrepreneurial venture?

manuel-rodrigues-minigarden-2MR: I’ve always managed to conjugate both areas — nature and career. For example, when I built the industrial parks, I was careful enough to garden them. To be honest, I think I was one of the first entreperneurials, more than twenty years ago, to grow gardens in industrial parks.

AR: How do you envision Minigarden’s future?

MR: Minigarden is growing every day, and there are many planned ideas, which will be executed as soon as there’s a chance. We hope to launch a Minigarden with its own irrigation system, and in different shapes.

AR: Do you believe Minigarden contributes to the sustainability of the planet?

MR: Of course I do. Each Minigarden can take up to three plants. In China alone, if we sell one to each person, it’s definitely advantageous to the wellbeing of the planet — Minigarden multiplies plantation.

AR: What is the ultimate Urban Green Revolution?

MR: I believe it’s growing plants without soil or water, which I feel confident will happen in the future: plants floating on air. It is also important to grow plants in garages and big subterranean spaces, which the Israelis are already doing.
On the other hand, as gas prices soar, I think proximity will become an important factor — the closer to home, the better. In this case, Minigarden is excellent because it enables the production of vegetables in your home.
I just can’t understand how some people don’t like plants, the oldest factories in the world.

How to have lettuce at the tip of your fingers

How to have lettuce at the tip of your fingers

My fridge would be barren without lettuce. Except for a few times, my weekly grocery shopping always includes some form of this pleasantly green vegetable: Romaine, Looseleaf, or Butterhead. As the main ingredient of a great salad, lettuce cannot be missing from the dinner table, especially during summer, when the suffocating heat imposes itself on our meal choices.

Luckily, growing lettuce at home isn’t the least bit difficult — no more than going out to buy some and certainly safer. If you have any kids around, get them to help you, as they will love being a part of the process, which may also be an incentive to eat more vegetables: lettuce is fun, so it can only be tasty.

Green: the colour of sustainability and health

There’s no way around it: the more colour on a plate, the healthier the meal, and green is a mandatory presence. Having lots of lettuce leaves in your fridge is a sure way to keep your health on track. Despite being a low calorie food, lettuce is high in nutrients and iron, and helps fighting insomnia. Hair and skin beauty also goes hand in hand with eating well, and it is thought that drinking lettuce juice, on a regular basis, stimulates hair growth.

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Also, keep in mind that the darker leaves of lettuce are more nutritious but they are all equally delicious. Albeit its scrumptiousness, if the roots of the lettuce are unknown, you’ll be in the dark about the kind of chemicals used in its production. In this case, not even lettuce with all its nutrients can be of any benefit. Knowledge is the key to ensure the safety of the foods you eat every day.

On the other hand, although it is possible to grow lettuce all year round, this vegetable still travels many miles to reach your home. By producing your own lettuce, you are contributing to a sustainable living on our limited planet. Besides, you are avoiding the enormous amount of waste that starts on the initial stages of mass production. Before reaching stores shelves, many vegetables have already been disposed of, and afterwards, their destiny isn’t any different. Grow lettuce because it’s better fresh, and stop buying vegetables bound to end up in the trash.

Get to work

Lettuce is one of the easiest vegetables to induce kids to eat — barely noticeable and absolutely delicious — and is a visually interesting plant that can be part of any decorative layout. More than just a fun, useful, easy project, growing lettuce is also easy. A great tip is to buy them as baby plants, as they are cheap and you get an immediate visual result.

alfaces There are many kinds of lettuce that mainly differ on the texture and shape of the leaves, not on the planting time. Lettuce can be planted at any time of the year but avoid frost and excessive heat because it brings bitter leaves. Spring is the best time to star a lettuce plantation.
If you like many kinds of lettuce, plant different varieties at the same time. For example, you should choose Iceberg lettuce for its brittle leaf and crispiness, and use it in sandwiches and with hamburgers. Wrap up your plantation with Romaine and Bibb lettuce.

The size of your plantation is dependant on the daily needs of your household and space available. One Minigarden Vertical can house up to nine plants — one in each container — but it’s possible to increase the number of receptacles by making different combinations with the help of Minigarden Corner, for example. A simpler option would be to plant two lettuces in a Minigarden Basic. Then, just sit back and watch the plants grow.

To ensure the quality of your production, choose a sunny spot to grow the plants but partial shade can also be of benefit during the hottest hours of the day.

Tips for a successful and fruitful lettuce production

minigarden-alface In the case of Romaine, and other species of lettuce of this kind, leaves can be picked as you need them, which is great for daily consumption and upholding of a cared, beautiful garden. Make sure you keep the soil damp because lettuce is a moist-loving plant.

The plants should be watered frequently — every day, or day in, day out — before the highest temperatures of the day, and the soil should never get too wet, or dry.

As the most present food during summer, it’s easy to come up with different culinary uses for lettuce. The only difficulty is to get out of the salad and sandwich rut. Once in a while, lettuce should be cooked. For example, lettuce soup is one of my favourite alternatives to the regular cold dishes. Just boil water with lettuce, potatoes and pepper, and puree the soup in a blender.

There’s nothing better than freshly picked lettuce leaves always at the tip of your fingers.