I mean this quite literally. It’s easy to become entranced by those glossy catalogs sent to you by all the top garden companies. Shivering in your cold house, it’s tempting to order one of each plant or seed with summer in mind. But don’t. You’ll create a garden that is way to much work, and just like that New Year’s diet, you’ll end up fizzing out and quitting. The weeds of July and water requirements of August will leave you frustrated. Keep it simple and start out small. How about a 10-by-10 foot themed garden or just a few patio pots the first year? Besides, you can only eat so many vegetables. Sure, it’s nice to have some leftovers to share with family and friends, but when your zucchini baseball bats start getting rejected; you know you planted too much!
The first year you start a garden is not the time to try pumpkins, watermelons or corn. They’re complicated. A long growing season and pests make them tough for beginners. Try crops that easily grow with little fuss like tomatoes, radishes, zucchini, cucumbers and lettuce. In particular, radishes and lettuce grow super fast so you’ll reap results sooner. This is especially true if you have young kids which in themselves are a ton of work! Don’t overexert yourself or your spouse. Stick to what’s doable and will yield quick gratification. Just an herb bed and a few cherry tomatoes plants are fine your first year.
You’re officially a gardener. Now it’s time to buy those $250 rubber Hunter boots you’ve been craving. You got to have the right look. Can’t wear clogs! Those are so frumpy. Whip out that credit card because you’ll also want lots of high-end tools, fancy gloves, plant markers, sun hats; not to mention plants, dirt, exotic pots, fences and everything else under the sun. Gardening can be an expensive hobby. But lots of us garden because 1) We want to know where our food is sourced from 2) We’re hoping to eat better and 3) We like saving money by growing organic instead of purchasing. Buy only what you absolutely need. Try to buy used when you can or upcycle.
When you’re all gung-ho about your garden, it’s easy to commit to planting everything from seed. After all, you’re excited. But some crops, like tomatoes, just don’t yield themselves well started from seed. You have to have the lighting, timing and heating down to perfection or the seedlings die. Some plants like tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts and melons are easier bought as seedlings or small plants for timing reasons. On the flip side, don’t get lured into spending more on plants that you should. Peas, beans, squash, leafy greens and carrots all love to be sowed directly in the ground from seed. Just make sure the timing is right and the beds carefully prepared.
With tools, you get what you pay for. Buy one quality tool, not four cheapies. Cheap tools break and don’t work well. It also takes longer to get the job done with the wrong tool. Tools are a long-term investment that you should get many years use from. Lots of tools are fun, but in my garden it’s usually my shovel, hoe, hand trowel and rake that I constantly reach for. If you’re tackling the landscaping then good hand pruners and hedge shears are essential. When looking for a shovel, aim for one that is sharp and pointed, and tall enough so that you’re not hunched over when using. I like a hoe with a good point on the end but it’s all about personal preference. Both should be somewhat lightweight.
My brain always says tilling a ton is a good idea. Even many old-school gardeners think tilling is still the best practice. But the most recent research says this isn’t necessarily so. Can I get an amen? Less work sounds fantastic to me. Over-tilling to the point where the soil becomes powdery destroys the soil structure. It also drums up weeds and causes a manifestation of them to sprout. Skip this job altogether and plant in lumpy soil or hand-dig to till.
Many new gardeners plant tomatoes, melons and pumpkins way to close together not realizing how big they get. Conversely, herbs and lettuce get too much garden space. For some, planting in blocks and wide rows is better than planting in single rows with the standard foot path in between each row. If trying the block method, try planting peas, beans and lettuce in a 3 by 3 block. The first step when considering spacing is to carefully read the instructions on the seed packet or plant tag. Make sure you are fully aware of how big the plant will get by August and its spacial requirements.
The first time I saw bugs swarming around my broccoli plants and the large holes they left, I panicked! I went out and bought a few pesticides to try to rectify the problem. But those chemicals are bad. The truth is, it’s better to eat veggies with a few bug bites in them than consume pesticides. Preventative measures are best. Try encouraging beneficial pests like insects, toads, ladybugs, spiders and birds and blocking others like deer and rabbits with fences.
If you go too big, you’ll end up with a lot of manual watering work come those hot days of July and August. Is this really what you want to be doing every morning and night? Standing outside holding a hose? Boring. Some years, we get so little rain that watering almost everyday becomes essential. It’s tempting to install some sort of sprinkler system and flick a switch instead of manually watering by hand. But many plants prefer a more tailored approach to watering by receiving water directly and deeply at their base. How about striking a compromise between the sprinkler system and hand watering with a drip irrigation system? The base of the plant gets watered and you can still push the easy button.
No longer do we have a separate flower garden, veggie garden and herb bed. Mix and match I say! Not only will a few flowers make your garden more aesthetically pleasing, but some like marigolds may actually help deter pests. Besides, a vegetable garden can look too monotone, flowers and herbs will add both depth and taste. This past summer, I saw a garden that had some cherry tomatoes mixed in the perennial beds and the effect was quite pleasing. It’s called companion planting and works well.