As the gardening season comes to a close here on Horticulture Burgdorf, I always like to take stock of the lessons I learned this season and what I can improve on for next year. I'm thrilled to welcome Tiffany from Don't Waste the Crumbs to the blog today to share some of her hard-earned lessons and tips with us!
Last Christmas, my stepmom gave me one of the best gifts I've ever received: four large buckets, a pair of gloves, a watering can and a gift certificate for dirt.
After paying off my debt, which had piled up into a small mortgage, my family decided to eat real food on a tiny budget (only $330 per month for a family of four). We want to eat more organic produce, but sometimes it doesn't fit into the budget between free-range eggs and organic chicken. To offset the cost, I wanted to start a garden.
Your gift was just the push I needed to start my own urban garden in my small backyard, and I immediately learned some ways to get the most out of a garden without spending a lot of money.
She gave me some advice, z. B. Which tomato variety works best in our cool climate and that if I had to choose between less sun or less wind, I should choose less wind. But now that I've been tending my urban garden for about three months, there are a few other little tidbits I wish someone had given me, too.
So, to all my fellow first-time gardeners, here are seven things you should know before you get your hands dirty.
7 Things Every First-Time Gardener Should Know
Plants need water and water isn't free.
That is, unless you have a well. If you are lucky enough to have your own well, then go ahead and go to Nr. 2 over. Otherwise, hear me out.
When you first start the garden, those tiny seeds and/or seedlings don't need a lot of water. A few cups every few days and they are good to go.
But remember, these plants will grow and keeping up with their water intake might be like trying to satiate a teenager. The point of growing a garden is to save money, and if you're not careful, the money you save on food will go to your water bill.
Before you go broke trying to water your garden, consider these tips on how to do it for free. Our garden is far from huge, but by faithfully applying a few of these ideas, we can keep our water bill to a manageable increase of $1 to $2 per month.
Plants need food.
Another seemingly obvious point, but think about it for a moment. Plants need three main nutrients to thrive: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Plants can absorb these nutrients through the planting soil and sometimes through neighboring plants, but once they are gone, they are gone!
Feed your plants by preparing the soil before you plant anything at all, and fertilize them throughout the season. This is especially important if the soil in your area is poor (or isn't even soil, like the sand in my garden). Fertilizer can also be expensive if you have a large garden and fertilize the soil/plants year round, so consider these 50 ways to fertilize your garden for free to keep costs down.
Gardens require almost daily attention and even a small garden can require 20-30 minutes each day for maintenance, pruning, feeding, watering, uprooting, troubleshooting, preventive maintenance, harvesting and general upkeep. (Add another 15-30 minutes if you are a blogger taking photos of your garden). Depending on your region, you can expect to work over 60 hours during the growing season.
Start small with a few different plants in a raised bed (for less than $15) or use super cheap containers you already have. When the season is over, you will be able to better estimate how much time your garden is up to take, and you can plant accordingly by planting more or fewer plants next season.
Your neighbor's garden will be better than yours.
"Don't worry, it's your first year!" This little pep talk was cute at first, but after dealing with gray-fleshed fruit flies in my tomatoes, ant-infested spinach, squash bugs, spider mites, powdery mildew and squash that won't grow no matter what I do, I'm over it. Yes, it's my first year, but I want my garden to be as beautiful and yield as theirs does!
Reality check: it won't. My neighbor's garden is better because it is NOT their first year. You've suffered through all the mildew, aphids and plant growths that don't thrive where you live. They learned these lessons in their first year and now have better gardens because of them.
You, my friend, who is a first-time gardener, will unfortunately have to learn these lessons the hard way. When that first year is over, you'll know where your garden struggled and where it thrived, and next year's garden will be much better for it.
Listen to the experienced gardeners.
As tempting as it may be to ignore the well-intentioned advice to bury 3/4 of your tomato plant and bury your potatoes in straw, listen to them. They are the ones who have done this before, right? They are the ones who have a beautiful garden and more zucchini than they can use, right? Exactly. Eat a piece of humble pie, listen to what they say and take their advice.
If they say a certain variety of tomato won't grow in your mild climate, don't try it at all. When they say give zucchini a yard of space, don't cram three plants into one pot! Think of those advice-giving friends and neighbors as garden mentors, not know-it-alls, and your garden will reap the rewards.
Consider starting with seedlings instead of seeds.
Starting a garden from scratch is very rewarding. Watching the seeds sprout and then grow more leaves is really a lot of fun! But then comes transplanting, a possible weather shock, and the fact that you should have planted those seeds six weeks earlier so you don't go into winter with green tomatoes and mini squash.
For the first year, I suggest starting with seedlings that have already been weatherproofed. If you plant them after the last frost, you have a greater chance of survival, which will boost your confidence as a first-time gardener. It will also help to ensure that your plants are just right when it is time for harvesting!
Learn from the problems
When the garden is beset by pests and disease, the temptation is to throw in the towel and give up completely. Instead, take this opportunity to find a solution to the problem and try it out. Yellow leaves could mean too little water… or it could mean too much… or it could mean the plant is diverting energy to the fruit… or it could be a sign of something more serious like spider mite infestation. It may be overwhelming, but it's these trials and errors that will help you make your garden look like your neighbor's next year!