Welcome to the Garden Savvy Interview Series, where we sit down with notable gardeners to discuss their technique and best practices in the garden! I recently had the opportunity to sit down with one of the premiere gardening influencers, Kevin Espiritu, Founder of Epic Gardening. In this interview, Kevin shares his experiences launching Epic Gardening, about engaging millennials, and most importantly, the effects of social media in the gardening sphere. Enjoy!
John: Thank you for joining us Kevin, can you tell everyone who you are, where they can find you, and about your plant hardiness zone?
Kevin: My name is Kevin Espiritu, I run a blog called Epic Gardening that has expanded to much more than just a blog these days. Anywhere on the Internet that you would watch or consume anything, I will be there. Epic Gardening can be found on Youtube, Instagram, and podcasts.
Kevin: I grow in zone 10b, that’s San Diego. It’s one of the more vaulted zones, aka one of the more desired zones to grow in, it’s really nice… which means I can grow year round!
John: Why did you start Epic Gardening? I noticed on your site your goal is to reach 10 million people. Why so ambitious?
Kevin: I think those types of goals always keep me going. The goal originally was a million, but even before that, of course it was much, much lower than that, and every time I’ve sort of “hit” my goal, I’ve decided to just keep upping the ante. For me, this is what I like to do, and I like creating content to around it. I get a lot of value and personal joy out of seeing how people use it and specifically people who really need the info. It’s nice to have someone reach out and say “I used your site and now I’ve got a raised bed in my house and I’m growing some kitchen herbs.” It’s even cooler in my opinion to see someone say “I’m in a third-world country and I’m using your two liter bottle garden to feed my family.” It’s just very cool to see that happening and I think that food security is probably going to be a one of the larger problems we’re going to run into in the future and to me it makes a lot of sense to try to get more people growing their own food.
John: That’s really a great point. I know a lot of people that started gardening because they strongly believe that they want to grow their own food because they’re really concerned about healthy living.
John: You mentioned that you live in San Diego, which is a major city. Do you have a lot of space for your garden? Or do you struggle growing in an urban environment?
Kevin: Yeah, I would say I’m doing 100% urban gardening. I have a 15 by 30 foot front yard that all my gardening is in, at least my soil based gardening is. The rest of my house is too shaded to grow anything significant besides leafy greens or simply there’s no light at all. So, I resort to a hydroponic system inside. I live in an interesting mix of urban and suburban. There’s always sirens and buses going by; and there’s a downtown center, which is maybe a mile South of me, but there’s also a couple of canyons and parks that are few blocks West of me. It’s an interesting and challenging growing environment for sure.
John: Hindsight is always 2020. Is there anything that you wish you did differently when you had started Epic Gardening?
Kevin: Just the raw level of focus that it takes to make anything succeed. It would’ve been nice if I focused more on let’s say… the blog, versus trying to do a lot of different things. In the beginning I was going through a lot of different business ideas and career paths. And then eventually I said to myself, “you know what? I’m just gonna go all in on this.” So, if I could go back, just knowing what I know now, I would’ve just gone all-in way sooner.
John: I noticed on your site that you mentioned that you started gardening back in 2011 utilizing hydroponics in an urban gardening setting. What was the like ignition moment for you? When did you decide, “Hey, I’m gonna actually start gardening?” Gardening is typically the type of hobby that someone introduces you to. So in essence, what is your origin story?
Kevin: It’s really interesting. It’s probably unlike most people… or who knows, maybe these days it’s very similar to some people. I came out of college and I was playing online poker to pay for school. And so I had already sort of known that I didn’t want a traditional job path, especially because I was coming out with an accounting degree and I was like, “I don’t want to be an accountant.” So unfortunately what that left me with after college was no direction on where to go if I had stopped playing poker. I had no idea what I wanted to do. And so the next best thing was to play video games because poker is a game and video games are also games. And so I was like, “I guess I’ll just play video games instead.”
Kevin: I was just really sinking a lot of my time and effort into effectively something that gives you nothing in return. You’re just consuming the video games for hours and hours and hours on end, which I think probably is more of an issue these days. And my brother would do the same thing. He comes home from college to do the same thing. And my mom was like, “hey, why don’t you get Brian out of the house and play some sports or go outside.” So I offered him a bunch of different suggestions, like surfing or fishing, whatever. And I threw gardening in there. Then his ears kind of perked up and he’s like, “oh, I could do that. I could try gardening.” And I was really surprised because it wasn’t on my radar but I was like, “okay, well let’s go ahead and do it.”
Kevin: We went down to the local nursery and bought plants like anyone else would as a beginner and just not really knowing what we were doing. From then on, I kind of got hooked because I started seeing this as sort of like playing a game with Mother Nature. It hooked me in, in the sense it brought me off of the computer. I brought me off of modern technology a little bit and back into the natural world which is how I grew up. And from there I just kind of never stopped. It’s waned and waxed a little bit, but I’ve never really stopped. And of course now… I’m in all the way!
John: You started gardening with hydroponics and that’s generally not something that a lot of people start gardening with. Most people stick something in the soil or they go out and buy a potted plant. So, why hydroponics? What do you think the advantages are to hydro and aquaponics in general, over soil gardening? Do you have any DIY guides on your site?
Kevin: I have much more on my site with hydro than I do aqua because my experience level with the former is much greater. And to answer your first question, it really was a necessity because I was living in a three story, very skinny style townhouse, which effectively had no natural light. Even in my gardening newbiness, I knew that wasn’t going to be a good situation to grow in. So I thought, “okay, I guess I have to go with the only way I know how, which is hydroponics because I have to provide my own light… because I just have none.” It forced me to learn a lot more about how plants grew; I think much earlier in my gardening life than most people would because I had to figure it out.
Kevin: With hydroponics, you’re controlling the whole environment. You absolutely have to know, how much light does this tomato need? How much water? What nutrients do I actually need to give it because you’re not relying on the soil? So in that sense, I would say hydroponics gives someone an advantage in their raw knowledge of plant growth. Aquaponics certainly even more so, but I would put aquaponics in the category of a highly, highly sustainable way to produce food because you know, you’re relying on fish to produce waste and you can of course eat the fish as well. You’ve got a lot going on there. As I’ve evolved as a gardener, I’ve gone more towards the soil because I appreciate the natural systems a lot more than I used to.
If you’re looking to get started with Aquaponics look at this great blog Kevin wrote on how to get started: Click Here
John: Do you have any tips that would really help out burgeoning gardeners?
Kevin: All of my tips are very generalized. You have to have an observational eye. Every time you notice something that you’re curious about, do the research, look it up. Ask yourself, why is this yellow? Or why is it this or that? But don’t just go to the first thing that you see in Google.
Kevin: What hydroponics helped me with was forcing me to troubleshoot more than most people because you just have to be very calibrated. Maybe I wasn’t at the start… so I had to go look and figure out. I would say the number one thing that new gardeners should do is start small so you’re not having to pay attention to a million different plants. And then anytime you see something out of the ordinary, really try to understand what’s beneath the problem. Not just, oh, it’s yellow, this equals nitrogen deficiency equals I dump nitrate fertilizer on my plants. Figure out what’s going on below the surface. It’s the whole “teach a man to fish” thing.
John: What do you think the rise of social media has done for gardeners? Do you think that it has helped gardeners and farmers or do you believe it’s more of a daily chore? What are the pros and cons?
Kevin: That’s a good question. I would say I would very much split this between gardeners and farmers because I think for farmers, it’s been one of the biggest benefits of their industry. The fact that a small farmer actually has access directly to consumers now and can show someone what life is like on the farm, how plants are grown, and how their produce is grown, it’s the differentiator between competitors, and that’s massive! And so as a farmer it is one of the best tools you have in my opinion, but that’s just being a good farmer.
Kevin: For gardeners, I find that it’s probably one of the friendlier corners of the Internet. And I would say, you know, these days it really feels like everything is quite polarizing. I will say that in the gardening world there’s information that’s an arm length away. You could hit up anyone on Instagram, Youtube, or wherever and say, “hey, I saw you were growing this plant and I’m doing the same thing. I’m kind of having a problem with this, are you able to help?” And then you’ll be able to collect data and answers from a bunch of people around the whole world, which you’ve never been able to do before.
John: Which of the social media platforms have you personally had the greatest impact with?
Kevin: That’s hard to say because in my own personal life as a human, it would be Instagram because of the relationships I’ve been able to build with other growers and farmers. And that’s how I’ve met many people who are just actual friends now. I would say the blog has had the most raw impact on people because that’s the thing that really is the engine of Epic Gardening. That’s the thing that gets all the traffic. And that’s how I was able to launch the podcast, Youtube channel or anything else.
John: I feel like I might know this answer based on your last response; how do you think we could engage millennials via social media and get them interested in gardening?
Kevin: I’ve been thinking about this because I’m sure you know that houseplants are huge with millennials, right? Obviously I like houseplants and I have maybe 50 of them in my house, but the question I ask is “why are millennials so into houseplants?” Also, “why are they not into a traditional edible gardening?” I’ve been trying to crack that. I think the best way to engage millennials on anything is to use the platforms they’re using and not try to convince, but more just try to show why gardening is fun. What I’ve been doing is putting out my educational content for people who are already in the game and those attempting to be gardeners, but making it in a way that showcases you can live a normal life and have time for gardening. I like the way I live, and I prefer to convert people to gardening via showing versus convincing. That’s the best way I know how to do it.
John: When you’re not in the garden or producing content, what are the things that you like to do to unwind for fun?
Kevin: This season, that’s it mostly. I also like rock climbing. I have been going fishing a lot cause I’m doing this survival challenge where I’m trying to live off my garden and the ocean for a month. So I’ve been trying to learn how to fish a little bit better. I also enjoy spending time with family and friends, it’s pretty simple stuff. I think we don’t need a whole lot to be happy. So I try to keep it pretty simple.
John: You mentioned that you try to live off the land. What particular vegetables are you growing right now?
Kevin: To do the challenge, I have to grow calories. I have to grow as many calories as possible. The only thing I can grow in a short time frame that’s actually calorically dense is going to be potatoes. So I have quite a few potatoes in my garden right now.
Kevin: I’m also growing tons of leafy Greens because I want to solve the nutritional density side of my diet. I’m growing a lot of beans and peas as well. As Summer kind of comes along I’ve timed it so the potatoes come out right as my challenge starts. Then what’s going to end up going in the ground is the tomatoes, peppers, eggplants. Hopefully I’ll have enough potatoes and other vegetables that I’m not just eating potatoes and fish and eggs for a month.
John: Do you grow any herbs and spices too?
Kevin: I have a bed that I just dedicate 100% to herbs. I have been growing, harvesting and then dehydrating the spices and grinding them. I can use my dried basil or dried garlic powder and I can spice up my produce that way too.
John: I think to wrap everything up, tell everyone where they can find you.
Kevin: Everything is on EpicGardening.com. The blog is 400-500 plus blogs of in-depth gardening and how-to tutorials. The podcast is the Epic Gardening podcasts daily, they are maybe 5 to 15 minutes each day. It’s either me riffing on just one particular gardening topic or it’s a week worth of episodes with a guest. On the Youtube channel maybe one or two videos a week. Then on Instagram, I try to post once-ish a day, I would say. And it’s either a photo or a video, like a little tutorial type of thing. And besides that, I have a book that’s out now, so it’s called Field Guide to Urban Gardening, which as you might imagine is just a kind of a beginner basics guide to gardening in smaller spaces. The book can be found on Amazon.com.
It truly was a privilege to sit down with Kevin. While we were speaking it was abundantly clear why he has found so much success in the gardening world, he is articulate, knows his audience, and above all… a master gardener.
If you’re looking to indulge in creative content around gardening, please checkout Epic Gardening and all of Kevin’s social media channels. Also, please consider supporting him by checking out his book here.
Find Kevin Espiritu at Epic Gardening or the following links:
Are you interested in other great interviews? Check out our interview with Barry Glick, of Sunshine Farm & Gardens!
If you have any questions about this interview or have a suggestion on who we should interview next, email us at email@example.com