Lessons from a First Time Gardener

I always assumed that I was a gardener.  Ever since I was little I could identify a squash plant from 100 paces and knew that making a salad usually involves heading outside with a pair of sissors.

During my 10 years of renting house and apartments in Utah and Oregon I always had potted herbs and maybe a tomato plant or two so I assumed I was a gardener.

Then we bought a house, built raised beds, and planted our little hearts out.  And I realized that, up until that point, I was only a wanna-be-gardener.  Helping to harvest your parents garden does not a gardener make!  I realized that I knew a lot and there was a lot a didn’t know.  This year has been an awesome learning experience with many tasty lessons along the way.

Lessons from a First Time Gardener

1. No matter how pretty and lush your tomato plants look at the beginning of the summer, by August they will just look sad. What they lack in beauty they make up for in bounty!

2. Cucumbers taste most amazing when they are fresh from your own garden (just don’t let them get too big or they’ll be bitter instead of sweet!).

3. Strawberry plants spread like crazy!  The 8 plants we bought for $8 at the farmers market back in May have at least doubled already!  We may have to dig up the yard to give them more space by next year…

4. There’s nothing more satisfying to watch grow than peas! You could literally watch them grow, you know, if you didn’t have anything better to do…

5. Some herbs are great to grow from seed, like oregano.

6. Some herbs are better to buy as plants, like rosemary.  I started these seeds months ago!

7. Herb gardens are best grown within steps of the kitchen door.

Now if only I can figure out what to do with all that sage…

What lessons did your garden teach you this year?  Leave a comment and share your tips!



  1. This is my second year growing peas and it might be the last. So little return for the space involved. I love them and had hoped to have enough to freeze for future soups, but alas, the single pint container in the freezer is already empty.

    I will double or triple the okra next year. Okra pickles are the best and I might have enough for one jar. So sad.

    Edamame is the best – easy to grow and terrific yield. Black-eyed peas are a close second. I love a bean pod with ten seeds inside!

    I’m glad my tomato plants aren’t the only ugly ones! They’re really pitiful-looking, but I’ve picked 60+ pounds so far with more on the vines. Should have enough canned and frozen tomatoes and sauce to last until next year’s harvest.

    Yay for gardening!

    • I only plant sugar snap and while they are low yield I think the fresh sweetness is worth it.
      Okra was on my list this year but didn’t happen, I love the pickles too and hear it’s super prolific and easy to grow.
      Edamame will definitely be in the plans for next year, it’s so amazing fresh!
      We thought that we would be canning to our hearts content with two dozen tomato plants but in the end we did a little too well with the succession planting and haven’t had enough ready at one time!
      How many okra plants do you have?

      • I have about a dozen okra plants. And yes, I’ll keep planting sugar snaps, because they’re low work and pretty good yield. It’s those lovely English peas I won’t be planting again. At least that’s how I feel now, ask me again next March! Be patient with okra, it takes a long time to germinate but once it’s up it grows pretty quickly. Next time you’re in Summers Co. let me know, I can give you edamame seed if you dad doesn’t have extra.

  2. I’d love if you’d share some recipes that use fresh sage. I was given a window box herb garden and it has really taken off! The basil, rosemary, thyme, and parsley have all been put to good use, but the sage always seems more like a winter herb in my mind. I’d love to see how you use yours. Help!

  3. one HUGE lesson i learned this year: do NOT use chicken manure. we’ve been using it (we have our own chickens) and over time, it makes the soil too rich in nitrogen. so, some of our plants (mainly our peppers) produced beautiful leaves and grew so well, but have no fruit at all! after some research, we’re no longer going to do that 🙂 i think the same is happening to the brussel sprouts.. they are huge but i’ve yet to spot any “brussels” yet. other than that, everything else was so plentiful and i feel so blessed!
    this years “first” was spaghetti squash and watermelon, and i had a separate section for them because they spread out a lot. lessons learned every year 🙂 gardening is truly rewarding!

  4. I’ve learned:

    1) It’s better to correct and use the soil in my own backyard than to use pre-mixed potting or garden soil. None of my plants grown in premade soil thrived. They’re all dead or stunted now. All my plants I planted (from seed!!) in my corrected yard soil are thriving!

    2) Soaker hoses are lifesavers. In this exceptional drought, using a soaker hose instead of a regular garden sprinkler is the difference between a crunchy brown plot of soil and a garden.

    3) Don’t be afraid to start from seed…outdoors. All my previous attempts at seeding outdoors failed due to the wind and head of early spring in West Texas. All my attempts at starting seeds indoors left me with spindly plantlings that couldn’t survive a full afternoon in the sun. This year I decided to start a fall garden to take advantage of the lack of wind in late summer/fall and the super-long growing season. I’m thrilled with my progress so far! I just blogged about it last night! 😉

  5. Brooke

    Hi Faith,
    This is my first time leaving a comment, but I have been meaning to for a while now. I am glad you posted about your garden because that is what I wanted to ask you about. My husband built some beautiful raised beds for me this year and we were following all the steps in the book Square Foot Gardening. We did everything exactly like he said, and my plants looked great. The tomatoes are huge and everything is growing beautifully. The problem is that they produce flowers and then dry out and never produce fruit. This happened with my tomatoes, green beans, and cantaloupe. My lettuce was a little strange too. It just grew up and never really had a big head. I got some from it, but not much. The peppers really didn’t do much either. I live in Alexandria, VA and we had a crazy hot summer, but I don’t think that was the problem. I seem to not be having any luck with this. Do you have any tips?

  6. Ah sage If you cut it and bundle it tight you can make wonderful aromatic drawer smellees, or smudge sticks. It works equally well to just dry the leaves and put them in a small ceramic container and burn a few to smudge or gently inhale as sage smoke is actually good for the lungs and bronchials in small doses.
    Sage hair rinse will brighten darker hair, sage mouthwash, sage tea with more succuluent tasting herbs perhaps, sage will dry up a mother’s milk supply(sometimes desirable) and of course use it in Stuffing.

  7. about the chicken manure-rookie mistake to think very green plants will obviously do well and go on to produce fruit- add phosphates like bone meal to the chicken manure and it will be good to go. Peppers are especially tricky in the nitrogen balance They prefer to be starved for it and will produce many peppers with few foilage

  8. I learned that I need more than 2 basil plants. I love basil and two didn’t begin to cover my needs. I learned that mint will take over wherever it is planted and that’s ok cuz I gave it room to roam. I learned that I want to branch out (pardon the pun even though it was intended) and plant even more varieties next year.

  9. Mary

    Glad you brought up the sage thing. I found it grows great, but I just don’t really know what to do with it. I am looking forward to everyone’s ideas!

  10. Isn’t growing stuff to eat so much fun?! I learned that one family really only needs one or two kale plants. Not six! If you lived close I would be leaving kale on your doorstep! I also learned that slugs like turnips as much as I do…, and beets don’t like moles intruding on their space. (I recently did a blog/virtual tour of my garden if you want to take a look at ours.:))

  11. I learned how to make a delicious pasta with sage and white beans from a friend’s mom – basically, just saute up a whole heck of a lot of garlic with some olive oil, add in white beans, add in a whole bunch of chopped up sage, and mix with little pasta (I think they used ditalini, but any very small pasta/orzo/grain would probably be good. or to keep it even more simple you could forego the pasta/grain/starch altogether). Season additionally with salt and pepper to taste, if desired.

  12. Sumer

    Love your lessons learned. Lots to learn here, for I just started my own tropical garden. I am excited to see what I can and can’t grow depending on the season (we have six of them, two big ones: wet and dry). I thought I would start small at first with some herbs and peppers in pots. Wish I was harvesting like you all, but I got a late start. Everything is coming up well and I even found some nice, dark dirt the the previous owner of the house left me underneath the weeds, instead of the hard red dirt we have everywhere. Can’t wait to dig that up a bit and plant some wet season veggies.

  13. Glad to see that your tomato plants look like mine!! Scary, aren’t they?

    I’ve learned over the course of my raised-bed gardening these past few years, that I need to stick with the tomato varieties that I know grow well for me. This year I had TWO different tomatoes that NEVER produced a usable fruit for me. Beautiful plants, lots of blossoms, but NADA. So sad. However, I had great luck with all of my other 8 plants. So, stick with what works.

    I’m getting ready to plant for fall this weekend… hellooooo kale! 🙂


    • yeah! I learned that, surprisingly, I don’t love all varieties of tomatoes! They have always been one of my favorite foods but some of them are amazing and some are a little sour and boring. I need to start keeping track!

  14. Heya. I have been following your blog for a while but never commented before. Just saw your question on what to do with all your sage and I thought I would share a couple of ideas:

    Use it with Pasta – a very traditional dish is pasta in Italy is pasta (especially the filled kind) with a simple sauce of butter/olive oil with friend sage leaves. The sage definitely tastes a little bitter (at least to me) but I know plenty of people who love that.

    The other option is to dry the sage leaves in the oven on a low setting and use it for homemade herbal tea. I am not sure about the detail on this but sage has some anti-inflammatory properties if I remember correctly and is a common ingredient in sore throar lozenges/herbal mixes against throat ache etc. And this way, you can be sure you are not using any nasty ingredients when making your tea!

    Good luck with your garden.


    • gracefulfitness

      Thanks Sophia, I keep hearing about fried sage leaves so I definitely need to give it a try! My dad made a homemade gnocchi with sage butter once that was outta this world so I am already sold on that combo!

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