I love to swap horror stories with other gardeners, and recently some of us got to talking about our first gardens. Luckily for us, these bad experiences did not keep us from trying again … and again until we got it right.
Pat was determined to feed her family of six from the garden. She had just read the book Five Acres and Independence and was feeling inspired so she had the whole backyard plowed up for her first garden.
Unfortunately it was roughly the size of a football field! To cope with the vastness of this project she said that she could never look at the whole thing at once. It was too overwhelming! The lesson? Start small.
Chris planted a huge amount of turnips. Turned out that nobody in the family liked turnips, so she had to hide them in stews and casseroles so they wouldn’t go to waste.
The lesson? Plant things you like to eat.
Eva said that since her garden was 200 feet long she planted long single crop rows. Two hundred feet of beans is an awful lot of beans!
They picked what they could, invited the neighbors over to pick, and still had beans left on the plants. To this day her kids hate beans! The lesson? Stagger your planting instead of sowing all at once. Lettuce is another perfect crop to stagger.
Cathy had a row of trees bordering the edge of her garden. She didn’t realize until they cut the trees down how much their roots were competing with the vegetables for nutrients. The lesson? Pick the right site.
Sharon planted a garden at her new house right where a towering oak shaded one end of it after it leafed out. The lesson? Locate your garden where it will get full sun all day.
Beth had a well that could barely support the needs of her household, let alone supply enough water for the garden. You shouldn’t have to choose between taking a shower and watering the tomatoes during a drought. She constructed all sorts of water gathering contraptions but found lugging buckets of water in hot weather wasn’t any fun!
The lesson? Have a reliable source of water close to the garden.
My story is trying to grow a garden over the leach field where the soil was all gravel.
I only planted there because I thought vegetable gardens belonged in the backyard. My side yard had beautiful, deep sandy loam which was perfect for growing so the next year I planted the garden there and had great success. The lesson? Know your soil.
They shared other words of advice as well:
- start simple,
- grow what grows in your climate,
- wait until you have a few seasons under your belt before trying anything exotic,
- don’t jump ahead of planting time for your area unless you are prepared to cover plants at night and during a cold spell,
- don’t use seedy hay for mulch, and
- start a compost pile.
The most important lesson we all have learned is not to let our mistakes stop us. Unlike brain surgery, gardening is something that you can learn by doing.