Every experienced gardener got their start somewhere and most of them, myself included, committed every cardinal sin in the big book of gardening that first go around. I sat down the other night to try and recall all the mistakes I made my first year. After a couple hours of jotting down notes, I decided to put together a short list of tips to help get you and your garden started and headed in the right direction.
When you catch the bug to start growing a garden, whether it be flowers, food, or a combination of both, it can get overwhelming in a quick hurry. That first year you are going to want to grow everything that pops off the pages of seed catalogs, or that catches your eye as you wander through the nursery. Refrain from taking this course of action. That first year of getting a garden started is by far the hardest thing you will have on your schedule. If you try to accomplish too much, you’ll get overwhelmed and quit before the first sprout breaks the surface and stretches its leaves towards the sun.
I recommend starting with a small handful of plants to begin with, no more than 5-6. Research everything there is to know about them, but do not go overboard here either; there’s a ton of good information out there, if it is viral content, then there’s a good chance it is valuable information that has already been tested by thousands of gardeners. Study how each variety of plant grows, which diseases and pests are most common for each plant type, as well as how to water and fertilize them for maximum efficiency and production. Continue this process each year, adding an additional 5-6 plants to the 5-6 already chosen and expand your garden and knowledge base at the same time.
GROW THINGS YOU WILL EAT:
Your garden should only contain foods that you enjoy eating, especially if you are only growing food for your family. The only purpose for cultivating crops that will not be eaten by you and your family is to have a surplus to sell for supplemental income, and if you follow my first tip, you won’t be capable of growing that much food for a few more years. If you grow foods you like to eat, you can stockpile the surplus and reduce your food bill for the entire year.
Your first year start with plants that will be easy to grow. If you research a plant variety and the information being shared contains language you do not understand completely, chances are you’re reading about a “problem crop.” I refer to them as such because they are temperamental and often require several years of failing before growing a successful crop. The last thing you want to do that first year is experience failure in the garden; you want to be successful so it will encourage you to return next year with a bigger list of crops to cultivate.
TEST THE SOIL:
Gardening, in all aspects, begins and ends with the condition of the soil. Soil is the single most important factor to success or failure. You will need to constantly and continuously improve the soil conditions for your garden if it is to produce crops each following year. A soil test will provide you with a list of nutrients currently present in your soil; this will make it easier to determine which, if any, soil supplements to introduce.
This is a mistake that almost all first-time gardeners make; they “look” at their soil, see grass, weeds, and other plants popping up all over the yard, and immediately assume that the ground is good enough to grow bumper crops on the first-time seeds are sewn. If you fail to have your soil tested, you will have absolutely no idea what to add when your plants start to have problems. For $20 you can schedule a soil test with a local co-op and save yourself months of hair pulling headaches.
FIND AN EXPERT FOR ADVICE:
Regardless of where you live, there is an expert gardener in your area who can provide you with all the information to make you successful. You can do research yourself and spend countless hours combing the internet, magazines and gardening books for relevant information, and you still will not obtain the advice you would receive from an expert. Look for and join local gardening groups, or find that friend who seems to be able to grow a garden simply by flinging seeds at the ground, they have a green thumb and are the gardening guru for your area. For the most part, gardeners enjoy sharing information with others, it helps keep a dying tradition alive.
Gardening can be a very enjoyable experience, or it can be a man-made disaster you cannot wait to escape from, it all depends on how you approach the hobby. I made these mistakes, and I hope I help you avoid them. It took me no less than 3 years to figure out I needed the help and advice of others if I was ever going to be able to pluck food from the vine and take it straight to the dinner table. One last piece of advice I would like to offer regarding getting started; always, always, always use heirloom seeds and learn how to harvest and store heirloom seeds from the plants you produce.