Nickesha Guscott-Roach: THE GARDENING CHEFSunday, April 18, 2021
“Cooking and gardening involve so many disciplines: Maths, chemistry, reading, history.” — David Chang
For the most unlikely gardeners, cooking might come easier than the keep and care of the garden, more specifically, the indoor garden.
Well versed in culinary arts and an experienced grower herself, Kingston's gardening chef Nickesha Guscott-Roach can quickly confirm or deny this possibly most presumptuous assertion made by a gardener who herself does not often frequent the fireside.
An active member of The Rock's online gardening society, Nickesha goes by the Instagram moniker @yewgrowgirl.
“I call on all grand mothers everywhere on the planet to rise and take your place in the leadership of the world…” – Alice Walker, Calling All Grand Mothers
Active and instrumental in the lives of more grandchildren than you can count, it is undeniable that the all-seeing, all-knowing matriarchs of society are the true keepers of life's best recipes. Their anthologies and formulas range from the culinary to the spiritual, from the emotional to the agricultural, and also to those which can be liberally considered as being for life's general application.
Nickesha's paternal grandmother Delisa Guscott was a grandmother who shared invaluable teachings, all of which still hold relevance today. Grandma Guscott's wisdom and influence have culminated in Nickesha's life's work as a chef, and are reflected in her passion projects such as gardening.
Nickesha shares,“My Grammy grew everything. I don't think I have to exaggerate…two ackee trees, one tamarind, one plum which had a seat and a swing in the trunk, one guinep, one pomegranate, one East Indian [mango], one lime, one guava, one otaheite, one avocado, two orange, many bananas; [she planted] dasheen, plantain and peas…I could keep going and that's just crops… there were plants covering the front of the yard… this was no more than 5,000 square feet of land… you couldn't see the verandah. I was front and centre looking after them. Who wouldn't fall in love?”
The Gardening Chef has evolved in her plant pursuits. “I grow my plants for many reasons: To please my eye or to please my soul, to challenge the elements or to challenge my patience, for novelty or for nostalgia of seeing them grow,” she says.
Recounting the stages of her horticultural growth, the chef confides, “I went from being a six-year-old master banana and hybrid croton grower at my Grammy's house in Spanish Town, to killing orchids in the concrete jungle of Kingston, completely giving up on my plant dreams. Twenty years later, I now have 80 plants indoors and also those growing in my tiny little planter box garden.”
Like many at-home cooks and occasionally the professional chef who may accidentally burn or unevenly cook the most beautiful cut of prime rib, the garden, to include potted plants, is no stranger to human error and its potential for irreversible damage. Like overseasoning, once you overfertilise or overwater there may be no coming back.
“I find that the way we mostly kill plants is through overwatering. Get a moisture and light meter if you want to be successful. Since almost all my plants are indoors, every day I check for pests. Every week or more I go around and check who needs watering. Aside from the plants near windows, they get watered every day or two, I don't use hard water. I have drums that catch rain water for use. Every month, I fertilise and shine their leaves. It's hectic but needed since they aren't outside for the rain to do that job.” She has a deep affection for the Philodendron Congo Rojo, the ZZ and the Philodendron Birkin which she jokes is the only Birkin that she can afford.
The power of cinnamon
It goes without saying that the Gardening Chef grows her own herbs and spices which she uses as flavour boosts in her culinary treats. “Cinnamon as a rooting agent is as useful as willow water or hormone rooting powder,” she informs. “A single application to the stem when you plant the cutting will stimulate root growth in almost every plant variety.”
Cinnamon is also excellent for fungicide control. Damping off disease is a fungus-based problem that hits small seedlings just as they begin to grow. Cinnamon will help prevent this problem by killing the fungus. It also works on other fungal problems exhibited on older plants, such as slime mould and with deterring mushrooms in planters.
A burning passion
They say that you cook differently once you become a gardener. They also say that passion is no good unless it's burning, “hot like 10 fireside”, like wood smouldering beneath your grandma's beloved coal stove cornmeal puddin' pan.
With all the chaos in the world and all of the inexplicably daunting goings on, it's refreshing to have learned and shared the passion-filled garden story of Nickesha Guscott-Roach. A story which was ignited by her grandma and will hopefully be written and chronicled by the next generation. You grow, girl!
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