Successes and Failures of a Beginner Gardener
Gardening is a valuable skill, especially if you desire to save money in the grocery budget and aim to live a healthy lifestyle. You don't have to live on a large plot of land in order to grow your own produce either! Many people automatically think living in a house with a fenced in yard limits what they can grow. This is far from true. I wish I would have understood more about gardening when I lived in a suburban neighborhood. But I didn't, and because of that, our garden was a failure and I deemed it a waste of time.
Once we moved to Minnesota, my husband convinced me to give it another chance. I've been far more successful with this garden and each year it improves and yields more. Yes, the soil is better in Minnesota than it was in Colorado. Yes, we live on a few acres and can maintain a big garden. But no, these are not the sole reasons for its growth. Through trial and error my husband and I have learned some do's and don'ts in growing our own food. We've researched a few things, experimented a lot, and gotten advice from more experienced gardeners.
Here's what I've learned...
Know your produce's productivity
So you want to plant cucumbers? Before you get all excited and toss a bunch of seeds in the ground, learn how much one cucumber plant can potentially produce in a season. I did not do this. And my husband didn't warn me either. So I planted a forty foot row of cucumbers! I was all about making homemade pickles and having fresh cucumber salads. Little did I know, cucumbers (and other vine plants such as zucchini and squash) produce in the masses. And reproduce rapidly after picking the ripe ones. That forty foot row gave us more cucumbers than we knew what to do with. It would have given us enough to survive off of pickles alone for at least two years....okay, maybe I exaggerated a bit, but seriously. We had so many cucumbers! And the ones we didn't pick in time, grew to the size of firewood logs. That's not an exaggeration.
Knowing the sow to reap ratios of plants will help you estimate how many of a specific seed to plant. Some plants, such as cauliflower will grow one head and then it's done for the season. Broccoli, on the other hand, will grow a few big heads initially and then keep producing smaller heads throughout the rest of the season. Doing a little research before going out and buying your plants will save you time and money in the long run.
Learn what specific care your plants need
Some vegetables need very little attention apart from sunshine and water after being planted. Green beans are a prime example. These little vegetables live on hearty bushy plants that grow faster than the weeds around them. Onions, however, require consistent weeding because they grow at a slower rate and the weeds are quick to steal the much needed nutrients from the soil. If the onions can't get the nutrients they need, they'll only grow to the size of a golf ball and won't hold much flavor.
Other plants need to be pruned before they can grow large enough to hold their vegetables. This is a lesson I am just learning this year with my bell peppers. In past years, my peppers were smaller than average because the plants tended to drop them to the ground before they were full sized, and few peppers would grow back to replace the first ones. The plants themselves never grew very large either. Turns out, you're supposed to pinch off the buds of the first peppers on the plant. This triggers the plant to produce more buds while also giving it incentive to grow bigger. We found this out halfway through the season this year, so I'm excited to put this knowledge to use next year and see what difference it makes in my peppers!
Have a plan for preserving
I think having a general idea of what vegetables you want to preserve through canning, freezing, or dehydrating is a wise decision. Some vegetables are better fresh and preserving them can actually kill some of the nutrients our bodies need from them. Others preserve quite well and can help you stalk up on healthy options for the winter. Also, know what the best ways are for preserving each kind of veggie. Just like with their day to day care, each vegetable is unique. Canning is an excellent way to preserve green beans, while a vegetable such as broccoli is better off being frozen for future use.
Understanding the different styles of preserving and planning out which vegetables you want to put the work in to save will give you a solid battle plan for plotting out your garden. And if preserving isn't your thing, just plant a little of each of your favorite veggies and spend the summer and fall enjoying your own fresh produce!
Gardening doesn't have to be a chore. It can be a fun and relaxing. Make your garden a size manageable for you and only grow the things you enjoy. If you lack room in your yard for a bed garden, buy some pots and decorate here and there with various vegetable plants. The plants offer as much green and color as regular flowers, but these are edible! Let growing plants be a way to draw you outside during the warm weather months and to relieve the stress from a long day at work.
Spending time in nature is proven to reduce stress. Bringing a little nature into your backyard can do wonders for the soul.
Busy days and hectic schedules can be hard to keep up with. Here are some tips and lessons I've picked up along the way to make life a little more fun in the midst of crazy.