Thursday, June 9, 2011

8 tips for the beginning gardener

My personal failures translated as 8 tips for the beginning gardener:
Each year starts ambitious with dreams of sugar beets dancing in my head. And each of the now three years I've had my own garden I've let it get away from me and did not properly plan.... Well not this year dammit! (ok. I kinda did it again this year with the whole 'not planning well' thing... but next year dammit!!!)
  • Make a plan. Not just the week before you buy plants/seeds, but months in advance. There were many seeds I could have started in April and missed the opportunity because I wasn't prepared. If you plant some crops earlier you can actually plant again in late summer/early fall.
    February is a good time to start looking at your garden. 
  • Keep a journal. I have no idea where I got my plants and seeds last year. I don't even recall what breed of tomatoes I tried, cherry maybe? I have no layout of where things were planted and what worked and what failed. These are all important learning tools for having a more successful garden the following year.
  • Water and weed. Sounds basic. Harder than you think. If you want a successful garden you will put in a lot of time. A garden over 5' is not something for someone faint of heart. You must want to garden and you must put the time into it even when it's hotter than hell and the a/c, an ice cream and t.v. sounds so much better. If you're leaving out of town for more than a day or two, have someone stop by for an hour to water it. The reward will pay off.
  • Have a preservation plan. Unfortunately one thing I do recall from our garden last year was that a lot of the harvest went to waste. It's amazing how many beans one plant can actually produce. If you're not regularly tending to the garden with a plan on preserving the access crop, it will go to waste and all of your hard work will also go to waste. I recommend learning how to use a canner, a hot water bath and getting a food dehydrator. Oh, and actually taking the time to use them!
  • Always plan for next year. What worked, what didn't, what type of compost/fertilizer you're going to use, crop rotation, companion planting... all things that need to be in your mind for a bigger success next year. 
  • Plant smart. Sure offering sweet corn from your own garden at your next BBQ sounds exciting. But corn takes a lot of room, a lot of water and a lot of fertilizer. Plant what you cannot readily get from a local farmers market or grocery store. For us, we eat a lot of green peppers and tomatoes, two things that are very hard to find organic at a reasonable price in our local grocery store. And nothing is the same as lettuce picked 5 minutes before you eat it. 
  • Look for  bugs. Really look hard, those suckers blend right into the leaves. One day you have a beautiful cabbage plant and 3 days later its more like a poorly sewn doily your grandma wants you to have filled with holes and wilting. A lot of organic gardening is accomplished by hand. Simply picking off bugs every other day will keep your garden healthy and within a reasonably sized garden won't take long.
  • Bond with your garden. Have a chair or bench near by that encourages you to spend time sitting and admiring your garden. Not only is this relaxing and meditating, it keeps you in tune with potential problems occurring and helps you keep track of what is ripe. Enjoy your garden. Spend an hour sitting by it instead of heading in early for that trashy sitcom you can't get enough of. 


Elizabeth said...

Love your posts! I've been an avid gardener and "self-sufficient farmer" for a while now, but your suggestions are very helpful, even as reminders. It's so easy to get excited, which leads to getting overwhelmed, which eventually ends up in disappointment when all that hard work gets wasted. I've gotten better about it through the years, but only through trial and (a lot of) error. I am a 'country transplant' from the suburbs of Chicago (living in Northern Indiana now) and I've never been happier. We have just expanded into raising chickens this year as well (we already raise cattle for beef), and just hanging out with them and watching them grow has been a blast. Can't wait to 'see' more of your progress!

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