10 Things I Learned With My First Vegetable Garden
A helpful resource for anyone starting their first vegetable garden: a list of all of the things I learned my first time around and the things I plan on doing differently next year!
- Gardening is a process: Planning, prepping, and taking care of a garden through it's season is not a one-time thing. Some weeks I would only "set aside" about an hour or so on the weekends to take care of the garden. By then the weeds had gone haywire and some of the produce was past ready to be picked, etc. I learned quickly that it worked out so much better if I put in just ten minutes every evening to weed, pick, water, and care for the garden. It is a process, not a one-time thing, and it takes time, care, and attention each and every day.
- Planning/preparation is KEY: I did what I thought was enough planning in the beginning, I rented a couple of gardening books from our local library, I mapped out the layout on scratch paper, and I scoured Pinterest for any helpful tips I could find. I don't necessarily think that I should have planned more, but I do think I could have been more efficient with my planning. I wish that I would have planned out the layout of our garden better and taken into account how big each plant might get. Also, I wish that I would have gotten ALL or as many of the supplies I needed beforehand in order to be more prepared. I didn't get any kind of tomato trellis in the beginning (although I did end up poking a few sticks in the ground and tying the stems around them) and my tomato plants suffered from it! I just kept putting it off thinking I didn't need them quite yet, and then it was too late. Be prepared from the beginning! Plan out your layout, what seeds you will purchase and from where, any tools you may need, weed control supplies, etc.
- The weeds will come: Man oh man, did the weeds come! It shouldn't have surprised me, but I was constantly overwhelmed by how many weeds came up from one day to the next. I did okay throughout the season pulling them and occasionally using our small rototiller to till in between rows. Towards the end of the summer though I had a couple of weeks (maybe even a month!) of not picking or pulling any weeds, and they almost took over! Next year I would like to research different natural ways to keep the weeds down, but honestly I think it just comes back to putting in the ten minutes every day pulling them. Also, starting with a better base! We have a very large, fenced space for our garden, and I only used about a quarter of it. The rest of the space still had the same weeds/grass that has been there for years. I think if I cleared the whole thing out, even if I won't be planting in that much space, it may help to control the extra plants that sprout. My husband's grandma has mentioned before that she lays down newspaper and then straw in between her rows in her garden. I may try that as well!
- Most plants need more space than you think: I have an uncle in Canada who is wonderful at gardening, and he gave me a few tips when he was here over the summer. One of the things he stressed was that each plant needs a lot of space, so make sure to not plant the seeds too close together. Well, even after hearing it from him I still planted some of our seeds too close together, especially the larger ones like the pumpkin, squash, and zucchini! They just spread out so much more than I thought and their vines almost took over the whole garden. Tomato plants can get quite large as well, especially if they are given the space to. All of the plants will appreciate some extra space to grow and thrive, so make sure to take that into account when planting seeds.
- Its best to only plant plants you and your family will EAT: When choosing seeds in the plan/prep stage I liked the 'idea' of having some of the vegetables but I didn't think about whether or not we would actually like them or eat them! For example, I planted a whole row of cilantro. Guess what? Cilantro is probably one of my LEAST favorite herbs. So silly of me! I still eat it sometimes and it was great to have to blend into homemade salsa or top some of our Mexican dishes. I could have definitely done without it though, or only had one or two plants of it. So much of it went to waste! We only ever use a tiny amount when cooking anyways. Also, I didn't plant any or hardly enough of some of the vegetables we eat on a daily basis! Caleb loves potatoes and we didn't have any. I use onions ALL the time and we only had two onion plants. So, next year I plan on being more thorough when planning what I will plant and making sure I am not planting anything just because I like the 'idea' of having it.
- Its important to research how much each plant will produce: Along the same lines, it is important to know how much each plant will produce and to calculate how much of it you will want/need. We had 4-5 pumpkin plants that produced so many pumpkins by the end of the season. It was SO FUN! But we definitely didn't need that many pumpkins for our little family and it would have been nice to have that space in the garden to plant other things we use/eat more. I think we will end up giving a lot of the pumpkins away as they are still coming in! It wasn't too big of a deal but I would like to do more research next year so that the garden is as efficient as it can be for us and nothing is going to waste.
- For the most part you can't really "over-water" the garden: There were so many nights where I accidentally left the hose on the garden for hours at a time! I thought for sure that I killed the plants by doing so or at least hindered them in some way. After a full day of sun though the ground would be dried out and they were ready to be watered again! At the same time there were a couple of days where I missed the watering and I could tell that the plants suffered from it. Even in the beginning when we started some of our seeds inside, Caleb kept telling me to water them more, but silly me I was thinking I was over-watering them! Sure enough we had a bunch of sprouts die because I didn't water them enough. More water is better than less water!
- If you plant them and water them, they will grow: I don't know why, but I had this big fear in the beginning that I would plant all of these seeds and absolutely nothing would grow. I guess I just thought I had to have some kind of magic touch! I'm sure its a ridiculous thought, but maybe others have felt this intimidation and fear when starting a garden? Well, nonsense I say! I was so amazed over the months as the little seeds turned into small sprouts that I thought for sure wouldn't last through the next rainstorm. Sure enough each one got bigger and stronger and healthier, turning into big, beautiful plants.
- Your harvest will taste so much better than the store: Honestly I was always surprised every time I sliced open a tomato or took a bite of my salads at lunch. The colors and flavors were so vibrant, and much stronger than any flavors of the produce I had purchased at the store. I am sure it all tastes better as well just knowing the hard work and effort that was put into growing it. The corn was sweet and juicy, and the lettuce crisp and fresh. All of it tasted homegrown and it will be hard to go back to buying anything from the store! I think I will look into finding local farmers/producers so we can continue to eat good all year long and find the veggies/fruits that we aren't able to grow.
- Embrace the imperfections: Homegrown vegetables look a lot different than produce that is purchased at the store. Some of our squash was almost two feet long. Our cucumbers were short and fat! The green peppers never got bigger than the size of my fist. Each one was unique, and that is the beauty of it! Along the same lines, my first vegetable garden was far from perfect in general, but it sure was delicious!. At times it was so full of weeds, and our white picket fence even blew over, but we stuck with it. All of the hard work that we put into it made me appreciate it so much more and I am thankful for all of the experiences, and especially thankful for all of the good food! What a feeling it is to be more self-sufficient and to know that we were producers for a season.
I am hopeful that the lessons I learned will help you or someone you know in their gardening adventures. It may be intimidating at first, but the quickest way to learn is to just go for it! I don't think I could have read or heard any of these tips and allowed them to sink in as much as they did from making the mistakes myself and learning the lessons through experience. Did you have a garden this year? What did you learn?
As always, thank you for stopping by!