Blog: Gardening Lessons

April 5, 2010

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This week, I was musing about how much I've learned about gardening in the past year. If you're a beginner, perhaps some of the little things I've learned along the way will help you! If you're well beyond the beginner stage, I hope that you'll share some of your biggest lessons—perhaps with amusement, now that you're in a different place!

It's only my second year of gardening. Last year, I started my first organic vegetable garden. It was just a 9x9 raised bed with seven common veggies.

This season, I wondered if I should "go bigger." (Why do we always feel the need to do more?) However, after reading the Almanac's Water-wise Garden article, I realized that my 9x9 bed easily met the needs of a family of two and wasted less water. The idea of staying "small" also makes gardening manageable—and fun. As the Almanac advises in its Beginner's Vegetable Garden article, "It's better to be proud of a small garden than to be frustrated by a big one!"

So far, it has been exciting to see the garden thrive a second year in a row. Perhaps it wasn't pure dumb luck last time?! Last week, I gave away 10 bags of lettuce to neighbors and colleagues.

I attribute any success to soil preparation. A couple of weeks before seeding, I mixed in high-quality compost (bought from a local farm) so that the plants get the "food" they need. The compost also helps the soil retain moisture and cuts back on the weeds. My raised bed (formerly a perennial bed) may make a difference, too; last year was terribly wet and rainy, but we came out fine.

Instead of going "bigger," I tried to apply some garden learnings from last year:

  • I continued to plant beets, lettuce, broccoli, beans, cabbage, and tomatoes. However, I eliminated regular tomatoes because so few turned red before the fall frost up here in New Hampshire. Instead I planted two cherry tomato plants. Next year, I may try starting tomatoes indoors to get an earlier start on the season.
  • For the carrots, I mixed sand into the trough with the compost. Last year, the carrots grew in big stumpy shapes because they couldn't reach down into the heavy soil. They tasted fine but were quite a sight! (I ended up puréeing many of the carrots into a wonderful soufflé!)
  • I so enjoyed the rhubarb growing near my compost that I planted some more, thanks to a colleague who divided her rhubarb.
  • I thinned the plants more aggressively this year, after seeing how much they were competing (and suffering) last year. Finally, I realized that I had to pull out some of the seedlings. No pain, no gain!
  • I staggered my lettuce plantings, hoping that they wouldn't all need to be harvested (and eaten!) at the same time. However, it seems as if they all caught up with each other! (OK, perhaps I planted too much lettuce.)
  • To prevent pests, my organic soap spray and slug pellets were ready and waiting this year. So far, there are some bugs but no major holes in the leaves.
  • The broccoli was just harvested BEFORE it flowered this year! As a beginner gardener, I was a little confused about flowers. They signal that beans and squash are coming but that broccoli is done!
  • For some reason, my son planted a pumpkin seed in our tiny garden last year. Not a good idea. This year, we planted some squashes and zucchinis in a separate area to give the plants room to grow.
  • I grew more bush beans. If you have dry conditions, bush varieties which grow low to the soil are a water-wise alternative to pole beans. They seem to be very productive in my garden.
  • I placed plants close together—much closer than the seed packets advise. For me, this has worked out well. Besides conserving water, I believe that this approach also reduced weed growth. It certainly hasn't hurt production!

Gardening is a never-ending education. In a sense, gardening has many life lessons. Cultivate the ground for healthy seedlings. Nourish your plants. Prepare for problems. Grow from mistakes. Learn from each other!

So, what have learned along the way? How is your garden growing this year? Please share your successes, failures, learnings, and advice.

(You can also join our Gardening Discussion Forum to share tips, ask questions, and just chat with like-minded souls!)

Happy gardening!

P.S. Oh! I almost forgot my best labor-saving tip—have your spouse help you! (See photo.)


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Comments

This is my second year

By sarah lara

This is my second year gardening using raised beds. Actually, I'm using a bunch of wine barrels from a local winery. Also, my husband made me a raised bed using some trees that fell this last winter for the sides. We put old screens in the bottom to keep gophers out. I decided to plant watermelons on the edges and tomatoes in the middle. (It's a fairly large box). The melons are cascading out of the box and so far I have 12 growing nicely.
The squash is absolutely yummy! I'm still waiting on beans, peas, and cucumbers. The tomatoes (I have about 8 variety) are all doing nicely...Oh get this...NO pests. Really! I gave each plant a marigold as a companion...all except the artichoke. The artichoke was the only plant that had pests on it. Using a good organic compost has helped in rationing water too. A commodity around here. Most of the veggies will come off the vines late this year, but with the long summers we have here on the west coast that should be ok. I just get to enjoy the task longer! My garden is where I visit with God. A place of peace, and he has blessed it. http://www.lawnz.org.uk/

Ah-ha! Betty, maybe it was

By Janice Stillman

Ah-ha! Betty, maybe it was bunnies that clean-cut the branches of my blueberry bushes...?? They come at them at night, apparently, biting off (?) one or two at a time. Of the three bushes, one is gone.
If not bunnies, maybe deer. One morning, it seemed as though something had lifted the toile ("bridal veil," as my neighbors call it) that I draped over the plants and nipped at the middle bush.
Anybody got any suggestions for keeping them out?? Fence is more than I want to do. Thanks for any help.
 

I found out some special

By Betty Braswell

I found out some special today . Rabbits love blueberries and actually climb the bushes to get them. The bird netting slowed their retreat enough that I finally saw them. Guess its time to use fence in the orchard as well as the garden. I just was amazed that rabbits could climb trees and baby rabbits at that. These little guys would slip right through chicken wire might have to try hardware cloth type fencing

We've had a really dry hot

By dmathews

We've had a really dry hot season here in West Plains, MO. This is my second year gardening and I tried some new things this year which seem to be working. I made a platform (3' tall) for 2 foot diameter tubs to get them off the ground. This keeps pesky varmints and neighborhood dogs out of the garden. However, I do have to water daily. I also have 4 raised beds (3' by 6') which need to be bigger I learned last year. In these I have my watermelon and cantaloupe. I made a wooden arbor for these melons to grow up. I am supporting the melons with pantyhose which seems to be working good so far. It stretches as the melons grow. This also keeps the melons off the ground. My pole beans however, aren't seeming to do well. I don't know if it is the heat or the type of bean. I planted 12 plants and have only had enough to eat, not enough to can. Will probably try to plant more or plant a bush bean next year. Any suggestions would be appreciated. The rest of the garden is doing well, as long as I water, unless someone would want to send us some rain...

We've had a very hot summer

By tfree

We've had a very hot summer so far here in northeastern North Carolina. My organic garden consists of three rows with wide walkways in between so there's room for my roll-around bench and a cart I use to throw weeds in. This year I put down plastic mulch in the walkways with pinestraw on top, and it's greatly reduced weeds. I still think raised beds is the way to go, so I'm determined to get some built for next year. I've been harvesting Big Boy and Roma tomatoes, green and jalapeno peppers, and Japanese eggplant. I'm waiting for yellow and red bells and habaneros to turn their pretty colors, and my late planting of yellow squash is growing well, with tiny fruit beginning. I have an awful time with squash vine borers, so this year, I sprinkled diatomaceous earth around the stalks when the vines were small, and made sure the soil was built up well. So far, fingers crossed, no squash vine borers. I have lots of squash bugs though, and I either squish them between my (gloved) fingers or put them in a container of soapy water. Since I have so many bees on the blossoms, I'm careful to cover the soapy water, so those hardworking, beneficial bees don't drown themselves.

I live in the mountains

By auntiena@msn.com

I live in the mountains surrounded by forest. With our short growing season, starting seeds indoors is a must. But my biggest challenge is those cute little squirrels, chipmunks, Blue Jays, etc. who share this beautiful area. This year I built hoop houses over my raised beds. I covered them in garden cloth. Inside, I draped bird netting over the hoops for the peas and cukes to climb. To my delight, the critters have not even tried to get inside. Maybe the gentle movement of the cloth deters them. My plants love the extra moisture (this is a DRY climate), and I only water a few times a week.

READER COMMENTS Comment from

By Almanac Staff

READER COMMENTS
Comment from Stevie Pierce on July 12, 2009
This season I didn't have time or money to build raised beds for my already established garden, so I merely dug out two foot paths. These seem to be weeds fun spots to grow. I haven't done what I had hoped to do, which is use corrugated cases as path overlays. Other than that my garden has done very well. My sugar peas are about played out at this July 7 th date @ 5'8" tall.

Comment from John Skow on July 7, 2009
I live near Byron, IL and for the most part my garden has never looked better. Mother nature has provided an excellent growing season. I watered the garden this morning (the 7th) for the very first time all year! My sweet corn began tasseling on the 4th of July, the tomatoes are doing great and are right on schedule, and I harvested my first green beans yesterday (the 6th). I began harvesting romaine lettuce several weeks ago by cutting it rather than pulling it and a second crop from that cutting is well on it's way as well. This is my first attempt at growing broccoli and so far, so good as they have baseball size heads at this time and look great. My peas are a disaster, however, as the rabbits destroyed them early on. I have always used an electric fence to prevent the pesky raccoons from destroying the corn and in the past it has also worked to keep the smaller critters out of the garden. After I lost the peas and a couple pepper plants early on I quickly put up some fencing. So far, so good!

Comment from Connie Kellely on July 7, 2009
I am amaized at the growth my deck garden has taken on. My tomato plants are doing very well, as are my zuchinni and pepper plants. Because they are not in the ground persay, but are in containers on my deck, I have to water almost every day. I got 2 cuttings from my spinach plants and one from my lettuce. I also had a cutting from my basil plants and they are growing again. How many cuttings can you get from spinach? IS it true that for better tomatoes you strip off most of the leaves? I would like some response if possible.

Comment from Pete Whitney on July 7, 2009
If I had wanted to do aquaponics gardening, this would have been the year! Rain, rain and more rain plus seasonal lows. Yuck!
Have blossoms on the tomato plants, celery is going good, cucumbers are trailing and blossoming, and green peppers are blossoming. So far, all blossoms but no veggies.
It was so wet that my peony plant's blooms rotted before they could bloom thanks to the "lovely" New England summer.

Comment from Linda Edwards on July 7, 2009
For 2 years in a row I joined the community garden, having my own plot. Oh how disappointing. I decided to garden in my tiny back yard. Every one told me it would not work. That I needed raised beds, special soil conditions etc.... I grew up on a farm and figured I could do the job and learn on the way. I have Tomatoes,Broccoli,Potatoes,Parsley, Basil,Lettus,Peas,Green Peppers and Carrots planted in my back yard. They are all thriving and producing. I make my own compost and added it to my soil. This gave me Cherry tomatoes again from last year. I did not plant Chery tomatoes this year. But I have at least 6 extra plants so I can share with family and friends. I love my garden. It does not talk back and it give me lots of great gifts.

Comment from Shirley Nicks on July 7, 2009
This is my second year gardening using raised beds. Actually, I'm using a bunch of wine barrels from a local winery. Also, my husband made me a raised bed using some trees that fell this last winter for the sides. We put old screens in the bottom to keep gophers out. I decided to plant watermelons on the edges and tomatoes in the middle. (It's a fairly large box). The melons are cascading out of the box and so far I have 12 growing nicely.
The squash is absolutely yummy! I'm still waiting on beans, peas, and cucumbers. The tomatoes (I have about 8 variety) are all doing nicely...Oh get this...NO pests. Really! I gave each plant a marigold as a companion...all except the artichoke. The artichoke was the only plant that had pests on it. Using a good organic compost has helped in rationing water too. A commodity around here. Most of the veggies will come off the vines late this year, but with the long summers we have here on the west coast that should be ok. I just get to enjoy the task longer! My garden is where I visit with God. A place of peace, and he has blessed it.

Comment from Sonia Bendorf on July 9, 2009
Gardening in Albuquerque, NM, is an adventure: I never know what I am going to harvest. The tomato plants and cucumbers are tall, with lots of flowers but that is all- I can see a few tomatoes and but not even one cucumber. Every morning I kill squash bugs, hoping the zucchini plants will last to produce enough to share. Slugs attacked the baby egg plants. However, as always, I have great basil, sage, rosemary, oregano, chives, thyme, mint, fennel, parsley, and lavender. The pears are fine but a sudden frost, followed by an unusual heat spell, killed the beautiful apricot flowers. Since soil and plants are organic, I am still hoping to be nicely surprised by the end of this gardening season.

Comment from Ernestine Herman on July 15, 2009
Here in Mid Missouri, It has been rain rain rain A few good days . Weather is crazy. Spring started out with early blight on the tomatoes. I though I saved them, now more rain and blight is back. The tomato plants are near 5 ft tall. I bought only heirlooms this year. The cauliflower is overtaken with the cabbage butterfly's caterpillars. It looks like I have holes in the leaves all over the garden. Squash has been destroyed. Beens have blooms but few beens. This will be a bad year for the garden again.Plums were in bloom, but no fruit. What is there is inedible. Lettuces and cukes are gowning. We may have one cantaloupe. I wonder if I should even try to plant for a fall harvest.
 

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