Esther O'Moore Donohoe: 'My foray into GIY has reminded me life carries on, regardless'

Esther O'Moore Donohoe describes herself as a Podcaster, Writer and Rhythm Dancer. This week she tries (miniature) farming 


During a business studies class in secondary school, I remember one lesson (and only one lesson) where the teacher went through a list of food items. We had to tell him if they were necessities or luxuries. ‘Water?’ Ne-ce-ssi-ty we droned back. Sweets? ‘Luuuuxurrrry’ we replied, teetering on the edge of catatonic boredom. ‘Frozen chips?’ ‘Luxxxxurrrrryyy’ answered every single girl in the class with the exception of one lone and strident voice. My best friend, ladies and gentlewomen. Her confident ‘NECESSITY’ stopped the teacher in his tracks and caused every other girl in the classroom to swivel and stare.

For the record, I would like to let it be known that my BFF later went on to obtain two first class degrees. She is a smart cookie, no doubt. It just hadn’t occurred to her that a potato was simply an unchopped chip and those chips could be chopped at home. On reflection, it is actually to be admired that she had already established a lifestyle where brand name chips were deemed as a necessity. We should have supported her. Hindsight is 20/20.

Could I add ‘Farmer’ to my CV?

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When lockdown started, people naturally had concerns about having enough food, both luxuries and necessities. The bread shortage that came with Storm Freya was still fresh in our collective memory. We went out and bought yeast and flour just in case. The phrase ‘food supply chain’ became part of daily office chat.

When the peas and lettuce first popped their heads up after a week or so, I whooped with delight.

When Eamon Ryan urged us to paint our back walls and grow some Baby Gem on our window sills, I laughed but also, an idea started to form. Could I add ‘Farmer’ to my CV? Once again, with blind faith in myself, I decided I could. So I did what a true farmer would do, I grabbed my laptop and ordered some seeds online.

When my seed babies arrived I made sure I was prepared by watching a single YouTube video. I carefully plopped them into little plastic cots and gave them a cosy cling film blanket. Thankfully, I was blessed with great sleepers but still checked on them approximately every 23 minutes for signs of life.

Every morning I’d head downstairs to see what, if any, progress they had made overnight. It was like having a living advent calendar. When the peas and lettuce first popped their heads up after a week or so, I whooped with delight. Lockdown had lowered my threshold for excitement significantly, yes, but farming life was giving me joy.

Working mother to tiny plants

It wasn’t all plain sailing. The tomatoes played it cooler and I was concerned that perhaps my newly green fingers had shoved them in the soil the wrong way. I needn’t have worried. They were just going at their own tomato-y pace. One morning though, as I lifted off their cling film blankets for inspection, I was greeted with a teensy smidge of green just above the soil. I exclaimed to no one but them and the kettle ‘I KNEW you could do it!’ My toms were finally growing up.

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Suddenly I was a working mother to dozens of tiny plants. Where was I going to put them all? I told myself I’d work it out; that’s what a mother does. Luckily for me, the seedlings were very self-sufficient, only relying on me for their daily water spritz. They were having a ball simply by standing still and doing nothing. It was like looking in a mirror. This week however, something changed.

three days later, they’re still alive and kicking. Best not to let them know that I’ll be blitzing them into a hot soup

As much as I’ve loved having all my veg live inside with me, the peas were rapidly outgrowing their quarters. I knew I had to let them move on in order for them to thrive. They were the Megan Markle of my seed children. I took them out to the land (concrete yard) and gently evicted them from their plastic cells. I worked steadily at setting them up in their new starter pots, adding bamboo sticks for them to cling to. They were thrilled and three days later, they’re still alive and kicking. Best not to let them know that I’ll be blitzing them into a hot soup as soon as they’re fully grown though.

It would only ruin their fun. When I look back through photos taken just five weeks ago, my vegetable children all look so small. It’s almost hard to believe they’re the same...eh, seeds. Not only will I be able to make delicious things with them soon, but every millimeter they stretch is also a reminder that life carries on regardless, no matter how hard things get. Before we know it, this strange moment in history will be a distant memory for us all. Hopefully then, we will have grown ourselves and will emerge with a different understanding of what luxury is. That would be real growth.

Esther O'Moore Donohoe is a writer and broadcaster. On her podcast The 80%, she interviews guests whose success she is 80% happy for.


Read more: 'Let that little, organised voice evaporate. You’re doing great sweetie'

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