Gardening is something I haven’t written much about on the blog, with good reason. Until this year, I didn’t have much confidence to tell anyone how to be successful at it. I know that sounds like a winning endorsement, now doesn’t it? Over the last 3 years (5 if you include my early tomato plants) I have been growing the garden, learning as I go and getting wonderful veggies that are fresher and tastier than any store or even my local farmer’s market. While I realize that it is late in the gardening season (at least here in Virginia), feel free to bookmark all this lovely information for next year.
So won’t you come in?
If you are a beginner like me, I know how overwhelming it seem when you are trying to google gardening. I have so been there! Today, I hope to show you how to break it down and get inspired to have a successful garden. It honestly isn’t hard (black thumbs don’t really exist, I promise).
A few things about my garden first:
- I do not have a fully organic garden only because I did not use certified organic soil when I started out. I didn’t even know that was a thing! I thought it’s dirt, how ” non-organic” can dirt really be? Anyways, I use no unnatural pesticides, fillers, or solvents in the garden. (I do use Epsom Salt, sluggo, and neem oil as a last resort but we will get to that later.)
- I don’t do start my seeds indoors at all. I buy about half of my plants from the local nursery and the other half are organic or heirloom varieties I purchased as seeds.
- This years crops: Cabbage, Zucchini, Yellow Crookneck Squash, Tomatoes (Roma, Cherry, and Slicing), Strawberries, Eggplant, Red Pepper, Yellow Pepper, Green Beans, Red Onion, Carrots, Butternut Squash, Sugar Pumpkin, Cantaloupe, Brussel Sprouts, Lettuce. I gave up on Broccoli and Cauliflower after 2 years of terrible yields. I also grew corn last year, but the necessary space pushed them out this year.
- Because I don’t use any real preventative measures, my plants are perfectly imperfect. The leaves have holes. My eggplants have flea beetles. Last year, we had a huge yield on yellow squash, but this year, it looks to be much slower growing. The only preventative measure I use is to cover seedlings at night until they get to be about 6 inches tall (I use large solo cups). Mice and slugs love those short plants.
- I have raised bed gardens because we have very poor drainage, rocky and red clay soil. I highly recommend doing raised beds for a beginner. We have a small fence (recycled wood!) that keeps the dogs out, who, in turn, keep the critters out of our yard. Bunnies, deer and squirrels won’t come near. The mulch around the outside was added this year because we realized that it was an impossible job to mow down the grass between the beds.
- I do freeze/can additional veggies like squash, tomatoes, and green beans. I am not a world class canner but I get the job done.
My current garden is pretty decent sized. I have 4 beds and a total area of about 200sq ft of planting beds and 20 different varieties of plants. But in 2014, we started with one 4 x 8 bed. I planted cucumber, zucchini, tomatoes, and cabbage I think. You don’t need a huge garden to feed the family with fresh veggies. If you are just starting out, pick 2-3 varieties of plants to grow. Many plants grow well in pots such as tomatoes, peppers, and herbs. Tomatoes are well known to be easy but other varieties that are great for a beginner include onions, zucchini, and pepper.
Get in there, figure it out later
The best way to learn is just to start! It can be overwhelming to google gardening but worrying about road blocks when you get to them is the best method. Every year I find myself googling topics such as “When to harvest X?”, “What kind of bug is this?”, and “When to plant X?”. There is no way I could have known what to do before I started gardening. If you start small with just a few varieties, you won’t be overwhelmed.
Garden 2015 (2014 was only one bed)
Consistency is Key
This is especially important as you learn. One of the biggest myths out there is that gardening is time-consuming. I can honestly tell you that it only takes about 15 minutes a day, but it does take every day. Even with my current large garden, I spend about 15 minutes a day at sunset. I weed, water, feed, (if needed) and check the plants for anything funky all in 15 minutes. And most of that time is made up since I don’t have to go to the grocery store as often. I think consistency is where a lot of beginners go wrong. My first year’s garden was a disaster. I was unable to check the plants every day and the garden suffered for it. I came home one day to skeletonized cabbage. I didn’t know about cabbage looper worms and they took out my plants within a week. Now I know to comb and check the cabbages every day. I simply pick them off as I find them with no problem. Gardening is trial and error but this scenario can be common if you don’t check the plants consistently for health issues.
The point is that you don’t need to know about every disease or bug that could possibly attack your precious plants. However, if you check them every day consistently, you will notice any health changes pretty quickly. One last note: sometimes leaves turn yellow for no apparent reason that I can figure out. I cannot tell you how many times I have thought my plants had a disease. I just watch them and treat as normal and vegetable plants are surprisingly resilient. Even this year, I was convinced I had killed my cucumbers when a late frost hit and all their leaves died. Well, it took a while to recover but 3 out of 4 vines are now growing well.
Keep a Garden Diary
A gardener’s best friend is a garden diary (along with the almighty google). I don’t use it daily, but marking events in the garden is extremely helpful. For instance, I have used my diary to figure out what to plant the next year because it worked well the year before. Here are some examples of information that I keep in mine:
- Full name and type of vegetable planted
- Date planted
- How many days to harvest (it usually says this on the tag with other vital information)
- Any problems discovered over the season (i.e. cucumbers suffered from a late frost and turned yellow)
- A layout of all your plants
This is the best tip I can give to anyone who wants to start a garden. For the first and second year, I did not test the soil at all before planting. Since I had a raised bed garden, I was kind of saved by the new soil. However, over time this will really affect the garden, its health, and your yields. Different vegetables need a different balance of nutrients. I like an inclusive nutrient soil test kit that tests for Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium, as well as PH.
Beginner gardening is all about consistency and I hope this takes out some of the intimidation that many people feel when it comes to having your own garden.
Wishing you high yields and happy gardening!