From Our Garden to Yours: 6 “Mistakes” We Made That You Can Avoid
“Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.” ~ May Sarton
It’s about that time again.
While winter hasn’t really felt like winter all that much this season, one thing is for sure: The gardening bug is starting to set in.
The days are getting longer, with the sun keeping me company on my drive home from work each day. Here and there early spring perennials seem to be fooled by the mild winter weather and popping up. The birds and squirrels are venturing out more and more.
If you’re a gardener, you know what the “bug” feels like. If not, no worries. But be forewarned: It can be VERY contagious when you learn what cozy-ing up with a patch of luscious soil and a few seeds can do for your entire being. For me, getting out and spending time in the garden is an antidote to a culture that saturates us with all things unnatural and fabricated. A culture that begs to keep our attention indoors instead of out. Growing some of our own food and flowers slows me down and makes me mindful of what it means to be reconnected with the natural rhythms of life.
The other great thing about gardening is that it’s a life-long learning process. There are no “mistakes” – and always something to try out or do differently. And that’s where my mistakes will hopefully benefit you this growing season. Here are some of my a-ha’s, tips and lessons learned from last year’s garden:
- Set Realistic Goals. We went all-out last year with our most ambitious growing plan to date in an attempt to maximize each square foot of our nine raised beds — companion and succession planting schemes, lots of trellises, and a boatload of seeds. Inevitably, our attention was needed for other things and we couldn’t deliver on our ambitions. Start small – whether a single pot, planter or raised bed – and be successful there first. Grow from there.
- Have a Plan. We keep a notebook to track each season’s efforts — what we planted, when, where, and any insights gleaned through the growing process. Now, you don’t need to have a landscape architect-esque drawings or a military-precision execution plan, but it does help to be a tad organized. Know when you should plant your seeds and where (inside or direct sow outside); make sure the tall stuff doesn’t block out too much of the sun for the smaller things in your garden; commit to watering before the sun is high and hot in the day to conserve water and protect your plants.
- You Can Never Do Enough for Healthy Soil. I’m a compost-a-holic and do everything I can to crank out as many batches of the “brown gold” as possible. Even then, I would skimp here and there for one reason or another. If you take care of your soil, it will take care of you in the form of beautiful and bountiful plants. While you can always buy compost and leaf mold, it’s way more fun to make it on your own (if you have the means). I try to have a rough 50/50 mix of soil and compost/leaf mold in all our beds, but any amount of that organic material is better than nothing.
- Plant What You Like to Eat — Especially If You Can Store It. Sounds obvious, but a lot of times you can get caught up in trying to have a cornucopia of plants growing in the garden. After a lot of trial and error, we’re adopting a three-fold approach of 1) Not planting anything that we can get a better product from a local farmer (i.e., corn, potatoes); 2) Planting more of what we use for a variety of meals and recipes (i.e., tomatoes, squashes, beans, peas, leafy greens); and 3) Planting foods that we can prepare for longer-term storage to keep the harvest going long after summer is gone (i.e., onions, garlic, cukes for pickles and relishes).
- Put the Time In to Nurture Perennial Crops. Three years ago we planted a small raspberry patch. While I’ve cut back the second-year growth after fruiting, I’ve let it spread in a way that is both unsightly and unproductive. This year, I’ll be setting up proper T-trellises to support the canes and make it easier to harvest the fruit. In a similar fashion, I got lazy and failed to over-winter our strawberries with straw two years ago. Last season, our yield paid the price. Now the patch is in rehab and I’m keeping my fingers crossed! The lesson here: Set aside time during and after the growing season to put some TLC (tender loving care) into your garden so that it will continue to give back to you.
- Don’t Start Your Seeds TOO Early. We went gung-ho last year when it came to starting as many plants from seeds. I made two mistakes that ended up compounding the problem: 1) I started seeds too early; and 2) I failed to transplant tender seedlings out of their peat starters and into larger pots containing my 50/50 soil/compost mix. The result: My tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and other things started indoors were small and weak when I attempted to transplant them outside. While they eventually took off it was late in the season and the fruits didn’t have adequate time to mature.
If this is going to be the year you take your first steps as a gardener (or are even thinking about it) — or even if you have a time-tested green thumb — I recommend checking out the A-to-Z tutorials over at Organic Gardening for some great know-how.
What have been some of your “mistakes” out in the garden? What is your favorite gardening/growing food resource or blog? Leave a comment and share with everyone. Thanks!
Thanks for reading. If you’ve enjoyed this post feel free to share it with your circle using the Facebook, Twitter and/or Google+ buttons below. Not a subscriber to The New Pursuit? Subscribe today. Many thanks. While you’re here, you might also enjoy these posts:
- A Family Guide to Vegetarian Eating
- Nature as Mentor: 6 Life Lessons Gardens Can Teach Our Children
- Rejuvenation: 5 Simple Steps for Feeling Lighter This Spring