I started a garden this past March with a very, very brown thumb. I was famous amongst my family and friends for my aptitude at killing houseplants. Nevertheless, I was determined to have a garden, and have a garden I did. Here are eight things I wish I had known when I was just starting out.
1. Get Creative with your Space
Do you have a beautiful lawn that gets full sun? Don’t be afraid to till it up and turn that gorgeous grass into a beautiful vegetable patch. Don’t have a yard? Vertical gardens are trending this year and I’ve seen several articles (like this one) with inspirational ideas that won’t take up any yard space. Container gardening is great for patios or balconies. If you don’t have any space of your own, look into community gardens, where you can share the fun with your neighbors.
2. Seed Catalogs Rock!
I didn’t know that seed catalogs were a thing when I started out. No clue. I went to the home improvement store, grabbed some generic seeds, and went about my business. But, as I was looking to fill up the last few spaces in the garden with something different, I stumbled upon what I now consider a gold mine. I found a unique peanut variety that a farmer had been growing and saving for decades, ever since he received them from a traveler as a young boy, on the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange website. Yes, please! A friend introduced me to Sow True Seed and I was amazed to discover that there were pages and pages of tomatoes to choose from. Who knew? The Seed Savers Exchange has an important mission and a big selection, and I’m proud to be a supporter.
3. Find a Trusted Resource
For me, that resource is The Old Farmer’s Almanac. It’s the United States’ best-selling periodical and for good reason. The website has a wealth of information. When I want an answer that I can trust to be accurate and honest, this is where I go. I also find their tone to be incredibly calm, something that’s important to this Type-A perfectionist who often gets a little anxious of gardening drama. Whether you use this resource or any of the other highly reputable sources, make sure you know where to turn when the unexpected happens — because it surely will.
4. Take Advantage of Social Media
Even with the best published information to reference, sometimes you’re going to want to talk through what you’re experiencing with real people. That’s where social media comes into play. I quickly found that gardening was more than just a hobby and an interest — it was a passion. I could talk about my garden all day and night if I had the audience, but I could tell my friends and family wanted a little break. Facebook is my social media of choice and I quickly joined a few groups on the platform to feed my addiction, share my successes, and ask my burning questions. Gardening for Beginners is my favorite. Plant Identification is a close second; I’ve received a correct answer to every “what is this” question I’ve posed within an hour.
5. Plant What You Like to Eat
I never enjoyed wasting food, even before I began gardening. But now that I’m growing my own food, it’s downright painful to even consider throwing a vegetable away. While it’s true that friends, family, and neighbors will be thankful to share in your bounty, you can’t count on them to eat it all. When you’re considering what to plant, think about what you and your family actually enjoy eating and plant more of it. Better yet, try several varieties of the same vegetable so you can learn about which ones produce the best for you and enjoy several different flavors.
6. Don’t Overdue It!
I planted way too much of the same exact things this year. I have twenty-six tomato plants in my backyard right now. Twenty-six! I planted several mounds of pumpkins when I could have easily gotten away with just one mound (they have outgrown the garden and are now taking over my lawn!).
I planted so much because I was certain, given my track record, that nothing would grow. I figured that if I planted twenty-five types of plants, I’d get at least one vegetable. Which brings me to my next point.
7. Plants are Resilient
Plants are resilient. Mother Nature only needs a bit of help to get the job done. Last weekend, my husband and I cut open the stems of our zucchini plants, dug out squash vine borers at knifepoint, and then covered the gaping wounds with wet dirt. The zucchini lived to tell the tale. One night, after a strong storm, we ran outside to find all of our three foot high corn plants were toppled over from the wind. They were almost lying on the ground! We straightened them up, mounded dirt around their bases, and hoped for the best. They were doing just fine by morning — and we ate over a dozen beautiful corns on the cob for the 4th of July. If you do your research, spend time with your plants, and treat them well, Mother Nature will do the rest.
8. But You Can’t Win Them All
With all that being said, you’re not going to knock it out of the park with every vegetable every time. Be prepared to learn some lessons. This year, eighty percent of our tomatoes that have ripened have blossom end rot. Our lettuce was so bitter, there was no amount of ranch dressing that could have saved that salad. The vine borers may have lost the battle on the zucchini, but I’m pretty sure they’re going to win the war on the pumpkins. Remember that there is no failure in gardening, only lessons learned.
What is your best piece of advice for the gardening beginner? Are you a newbie with a question — ask it in the comments!