One of the most frequent questions I get from readers is about starting a garden.
I love and fear these inquiries.
I love that people are wanting to take an active role in their food production.
Maybe fear is too strong a word, but I often find myself in pause, fingers hovering above the keyboard, without knowing how to respond.
As I set out to sow my garden last year I was surprised to realize how little knowledge I had about gardening. I have lots of experience but not a lot of knowledge. I grew up in the dirt. Summers were full of tomato harvesting and corn shucking and I vividly remember trailing behind my papa, dropping little seeds into the earth as he troweled the ditch.
Those first 18 years spent among the potato beetles and sugar snap peas provided me with surprisingly little knowledge about how to plan, sow, nurture, and even harvest. Thank goodness for Google! 😉 No, really, reading and research has helped, as has talking to seasoned gardeners, but I’ve found that the way I learn best is to, literally, get my hands dirty.
I am coming into my second season as a self-proclaimed full-fledged gardener. Here are a few gardening (life?) lessons I’ve picked up along the way.
Grow what you love to eat.
The rewards will be so much sweeter if you are really excited about eating your harvest. I don’t grow turnips or lemon cucumbers because they aren’t something I really love to eat.
Or Learn to Love What You Grow
Chives and thyme are two herbs I threw in without giving it a lot of thought. I didn’t eat either of them regularly but it seemed like they should be included in the herb bed. And now they are going nuts. So I eat them. Thyme has gone into cocktails, salt, more salt, and stuffing. Chive blossoms have been sprinkled on salads and pickled. An overly prolific plant can lead to some very tasty kitchen creativity!
Release Expectations and Take Notes
The above puny little arugula plants were sown months ago, in a raised bed with good light and decent soil.
The above thriving (and bolting) arugula was planted at the same time under a black walnut tree in a bed of clay riddled with sour-grass. Go figure.
Itty, Bitty Seeds Grow Up to Be Nice Big Plants
I tend to overcrowd when I sow seeds directly. It’s hard to imagine that those tiny little pen-tip seeds will grow so big! They will, as long as you give them some breathing room. There is definitely a sweet spot between planted too sparse and too dense. So far my method to achieve this is too over sow then thin (pull up the little shots) but I end up wasting a lot of seeds. It helps if you wait to thin until the seedlings are big enough to eat (microgreens!) but it still requires some experience to find that balance.
The big kale (Red Russian) was planted last fall (October?). It remained tiny throughout the winter, I picked maybe two handfuls from the dozens of plants I have. Just as I was about to pull it out this Spring to make way for new greens it started to go nuts.
The little kale (Lacinato) was planted according to my local sowing guide (March? April? I don’t remember exactly). It popped up quickly (germinated in garden-speak) and then totally stalled out until the last week. Once again, I was about to pull it when it hit a major growth spurt.
I was seduced by the unseasonable heat back in April and put in a few cucumber plants. The promptly froze. Then I put in a few more. They were eaten. A few more seeds went into the ground. They seem to be doing okay but just in case I’m going to do a few more, in a different location, with some critter protection. I want garden cucumbers, dammit! (The above were from last years garden, so good….)
Trust Your Gut
My research told me that my garlic would be ready next month. My gut told me it’s ready now.
I dug it up this morning and it looks good to me!
Another lesson here is that gardening both requires and inspires confidence. You must be confident that you can trust your instincts and grow and nurture a living thing. With each growing success your confidence builds. A total win-win. 😉
For more posts on gardening, check out I Grow.