Friday, October 16, 2009

Lessons from My First Garden

Guest writer Jaime included a garden on her her list of green resolutions this year. Determined to plant even though she couldn't swing a "proper" garden, she learned a few things from the butter beans and the squash.

This time last year, I was reading Organic Gardening magazine every spare second I had. I was googling “square-foot gardening” and bookmarking web sites that had planting calendars for my zone.

When spring arrived, I was overwhelmed by my scattered gardening notes and lists of companion plants. I was frustrated because my husband and I didn’t have the money to invest in raised beds, and we didn’t want to plow up half the yard because we weren’t positive we’d stay in our current house long-term.

I was also nervous because I didn’t know what I was doing, but — despite all the reasons I had not to do so — I downloaded the catalog from Seed Savers Exchange. I ordered my seeds and the gardening lessons began.

Lesson #1: It helps to have great helpers.

#2: Sometimes great helpers are not such great helpers. My little helper pulled up all of my tomatoes started from seed. Do not start tomatoes from seed if you do not have a good sunny window that is off-limits to children that like to play in the dirt.

#3: My other helper has been known to weed-eat wildflowers that would have attracted pollinators.

#4: Beans are easy, especially if you already have a fence for them to grow on. They are also rather pretty!

#5: If you have a weed-eating-happy helper, you should only plant beans that self-pollinate. My runner beans did not self-pollinate. I never got more than 5 beans at a time.

#6: It takes a LOT of bean plants to get enough beans to can. We ate rattlesnake beans and lima beans all summer, but I never had enough to can.

#7: Carrots are pretty easy, too. But it is hard to know when to dig up a root veggie. I pulled up several carrot slivers too early.

#8: Carrots can be mighty funny looking.

#9: If you decide to use your entire carrot crop in veggie soup, it will break your heart if you burn the soup. (Do not go throw the carrot tops in the compost pile and get sidetracked by weeding the tomatoes when you have soup on the stove.)

#10: Tomatoes are pretty easy, too. But good grief, how many plants do you need to get enough tomatoes to can them? I had six tomato plants and one cherry tomato plant — all given to me by a kind neighbor and wonderful grandparents who got carried away buying seedlings! I honestly expected to be canning all summer. I think I got more tomatoes from my one plant last year. I don’t know if I had the wrong varieties this year, if I should blame the crazy weather, or if the plants did not get enough sun. At any rate, they were delicious while they lasted, and I have quite a few frozen and ready for soups and chili this winter.

#11: It is awesome to walk into your backyard and eat a freshly picked, oh-so-sweet strawberry.
#12: It is heartbreaking to hand the only strawberry of the day to a toddler who will accidentally step on it after running around with it for 20 minutes trying to decided if he should taste it or not.

#13: Strawberry plants are rather pretty, too.

#14: If you go out of town for the weekend just before the blueberries ripen, the birds will feast well before you return.

#15: Sometimes you have to stop waiting for the fruits to get to the size described on the seed packet. Hence, you will pick apple-size watermelons in mid-October.

#16: Don’t count your zucchini before they ripen. They may wither away before you get to pick them. (I’ve heard squash are a little difficult to grow here in the high humidity?)
#17: Same goes for crooked-neck squash and cantaloupe.

#18: Herbs are easy. At least rosemary, oregano & basil are easy. And even if you haven’t mastered cooking down tomatoes for pasta sauce, it is so satisfying to add your own tomatoes and herbs to canned sauce, and think “Next year, I’ll plant the right kind of tomatoes for sauce!” (Green Bean tells me San Marzano and Roma are the best varieties for her sauce recipe.)

#19: You’ll never know unless you try. Just dig a few holes and plant some seeds or seedlings. See what comes up, see what bears veggies! I may not have had the most successful first garden but it really was that easy after I quit stressing about doing everything "right."

#20: The sooner you start, the sooner you will reap harvest. Even though we are not sure we’ll stay here long-term, I am so glad we got blueberry and strawberry plants because they will produce more each year.

Now to get a few apple trees…. Next up, lessons from my first orchard!

What did you learn from your garden this year?


Green Bean said...

I've had the same problems with beans. This year, I just let them all dry out and figure we'll eat them in the winter as dry beans.

I look at gardening as a big experiment. Each year, I learn a bit more about what works in my little corner of the world. Thanks for sharing your adventure.

Robbie @ Going Green Mama said...

I'm laughing so hard - this could have so easily been written by us! I'm glad I'm not alone!

Daisy said...

It was a bad year for tomatoes in many zones. Mine didn't do well (Wisconsin), and I'm not sure if it was a problem in the way I planted them or just the weather in general.

kale for sale said...

I loved this. Even on my back deck planting in pots I learn every year - the neighbor kids will pick all the cherry tomatoes but they won't touch the serrano peppers. There's something for all of us.

The Raven said...

What a great list! My gardening is all experiment as well and I enjoy it as much as you sound like you do. You might like growing peppers, sweet or hot, which are also lovely plants. I can't wait to try strawberries this coming year!

Robj98168 said...

LOL my whole garden is an experiment. I like to try different techniques. Often garden FAIL. But every nce in awhile SUCCESS! And boy those successes make it worth it!

Jaime said...

Thanks, guys! It is funny — each of you has offered me inspiration in the past: on your blogs, in the comments on my old blog (Green Resolutions), in comments here & at Burbanmom's Yahoo group. I really meant this to be inspiring for other people that might want to try gardening. If I can do it, anyone can :)

But let me take a minute to thank all of you that have inspired or offered advice for my first garden!! You guys are the best!

Levinson Axelrod said...

Great reading your gardening tips. Very good advice, thanks.


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