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