Summer 2020: Year of the Farmer

Written by: Ryaan Shaikh

After finishing up my Spring 2020 semester at UConn, I found myself at home during the beginning of a pandemic with not much to do. To add to that, it was the middle of Ramadan, the Muslim month for fasting, and I was suffering. The monotonous waking up at dawn, followed by a long hot day abstaining from food and drink, leading to the eventual gluttonous iftar meal after sunset –it was all eroding my spirits. I needed something to keep me busy, something to make the hours fly. I thought to myself: why don’t I revive the old garden? For years now, my father’s garden has been overrun with weeds. None of us had the energy to do anything about it. But now, stuck at home and in need of a passtime, my botanical journey began.

Source: Ryaan Shaikh

My beginnings were humble, but challenging. I had never planned a garden before. Dehydrated and food-deprived, I began by tilling the dormant soil and spreading aged-manure from our chicken coop onto the bed. My family requested I grew the classic crops my father used to cultivate: peppers, watermelons, squash, cantaloupe, and tomatoes. Although I tried to keep my plants socially distant, I still ended up packing them tightly in my small allotted space. In the picture above, the area covered was reserved for a very special plant I had planned for, the crown jewel of my land.

Source: Ryaan Shaikh
Source: Ryaan Shaikh

My new dream of recreating Cinderella’s pumpkin carriage was born. I received two giant pumpkin seedlings (one pictured above) and planted them. At this point, Ramadan was over and I could now fully tend to my land with vigor. I spent every day of lockdown caring for my herbaceous friends. The skin on my arms and neck grew darker as I picked squash, knocked on melons for ripeness, and hoisted weeds. Instead of keeping a journal to account my progress, I started an Instagram page for the purposes of documentation and providing premium gardening content.

(Source Ryaan Shaikh)

My mother’s peony bush had waned in years past and I added pruning and deadheading the flowers to my list of gardener duties. The soil at her skirts was infertile and her flowers often became too heavy for her stems to support. I fertilized the ground around her often and staked her arms in order to revive the bush. Although high maintenance, her photogenic blooms put me in good graces with my mother. 

Source Ryaan Shaikh

Watching the fruits of my labor flourish was incredibly rewarding. Waking up everyday to see if the peonies opened or the watermelons grew gave me something to look forward to. Although thanks to woodchucks and rabbits my pumpkins never grew larger than my fist and I definitely overcrowded my space, I would say my garden was a success. A farmer’s work taught me to be patient and to throw my love for bunnies away. It helped make a summer full of uncertainty and global anxiety slip by more calmly. I am eagerly looking forward to returning to the soil in a few months and trying my hand at a cut flower garden. If you’re interested in watching me grow zinnias, cosmos, sunflowers, cornflowers, marigolds, and more, follow @gardening_with_you for in-depth documentation of my farm. Will Ramadan’s return get the best of me or will I pull through? Tune in to find out.

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