Week Four: Meeting the Customer – Helen

On Monday I met with Helen Hasenfuss, who is a student here in UL:

Helen first started getting involved in gardening in Primary school. She mainly grew flowering plants and cacti. Both she and her sister got the cacti but her sister didn’t take to it, so Helen ended up taking care of them both. They were a bit more difficult to take care of than the flowering plants because they required specific soil and specific watering times. But after all these years, they are still with her.

Five years ago she got a strawberry plant from a grower in Newcastle West. This was her first attempt at growing a kitchen garden plant. She grew them outdoors. She kept getting offshoots, and not fruit, so it became a process of expansion and replanting. In the end she has ended up with a container garden with three square boxes and one round box or strawberry plants. Helen also has two cats and one dog, but they caused no problem to the strawberries.

Helen has a garden, but space is not an issue outdoors. Her dad is trying to start a poly tunnel but is running into difficulties.

With regards to her flowing plants, Helen has a major problem with pests. They got in through the drainage holes of the flower pots and ate the roots of the plants, causing them to become ill. Slug repellent required a lot of work that she felt wasn’t worth it in the end. While trying to remedy this problem, she exhausted the methods of pest control. Apart from the mainstream methods, her mother put beer in an ice cream tub to lure the slugs away from the plants. It worked for a time, but this required planning in advance, which eventually became too much. Helen said that she would have liked to know how to take care of her strawberries; with access to knowledge centred on strawberries, and not having to not sift through a lot of information to get to the strawberry section.

Helen’s mother grew tomato plants indoors, in pots. They needed a fairly warm environment, so she kept them inside, located in the sitting room near the window because they needed a lot of light. They grew very slowly, and they didn’t bear fruit for a very long time. They ended up taking over the whole window, which was about 2 meters high. They grew up over the window and it completely covered it. They didn’t have pest problems with it at first, but the plant gave off a very potent smell. When the pest problem started, it was mainly lice problems, so they had to introduce different insects to take care of them, and this lead to more issues along the way.

They only tried growing the tomatoes this way once because it was very high maintenance. Her mother had to cut them to encourage fruit growth, and the watering and maintenance was so taxing that it required the whole family to do correctly.

Helens main issues with growing plants were time constraints and lacking knowledge of when to cut, what to cut, what would encourage shoot growth, and what would encourage fruit growth. Because of this, she suggested that along with the physical product, there could be a software side to it, like having some kind of calendar that says when to, for example, undertake re-potting or when trimming is needed etc.

Because of all of the negative experiences she has had with gardening, she has grown indifferent to it. She still has plants, but she does not take care of them as much as she used it. The plants are green, but have no fruit. When she passes by, she occasionally waters them if they are dry. But now, her family has a mini greenhouse. However she’s definitely interested in growing things again. When she was working over the summer, the family that she lived with had a greenhouse, and grew cucumbers, tomatoes, and lettuce. They didn’t have a lot of space to do it either. At lunch times they’d bring in their own vegetables. Helen would consider growing produce again, but for what she has planned for her future, it would need to be easy to take care of, and wouldn’t try to grow some high maintenance plants.

Helen has no knowledge of modern methods such as hydroponics systems. Her knowledge is of traditional methods only.

Main Issues:

Pest Problems

Lack of Time to garden properly

Lack of Knowledge on how to do it correctly

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