10 Things Every Beginning Gardener Should Know (Tips All Gardeners Need to Know!)
One of my best gardening memories as a child is being able to pick a big, juicy tomato from our garden, sprinkle a bit of salt on it from the shaker my dad kept out there, and feel the juices running down my face. LOL. Those were some great times for me as a child. And the fact that I got to help with the planting made that simple experience SO much better.
I wanted this for my own family, as I grew into adulthood. However, we never had the kind of space for a huge garden like my Dad grew. I had to make due with gardening in our small backyards of the suburbs and container gardening at times, when there were restrictions about what could (or couldn't) be planted.
But still. Much of the time, I was able to walk outside my front or back door and grab an eggplant or two for our dinner. Our zucchini came in waves, and it was so fun preparing them in different ways. It was especially fun to give them away to appreciative friends!
There is something so empowering and incredible about growing your own food. I can't even explain how it makes me feel---proud, humble, nurturing, empowered...there are SO many more adjectives I could use.
I've tried gardening on patios, in backyards among shrubs, and also in larger garden plots meant specifically for a medium size garden. I have yet to try a LARGE garden, like my dad's. Hopefully soon. And greenhouse gardening is something else I would just love to experience someday.
When you start your gardening journey, there are some very important things to consider before you begin. Before you start those seeds (or buy seedlings) or put anything in the ground, take heed of these pieces of gardening advice for the first (or second or third) time gardener:
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Things Beginner Gardeners Need to Know:
This is probably not a comprehensive list, but it will definitely get you started thinking about some things you should do to prepare for your successful garden this year!
1) Start Small
Especially if you live in an area where you have enough land for a half-acre garden, if you haven't gardened much before, please start small. If you are living in an urban or suburban area (like I did for many years), you will probably be forced by land constraints to start small.
This is a GREAT thing!
Starting your gardening experiences in a smaller area will help you not get discouraged, allow you to see what will grow well without a lot of waste, possibly experiment with container gardening or square foot gardening, and give you a good feel for what works in your area and what doesn't.
Do you know what I did in our tiny suburban home yard? I planted my vegetables amongst the desert landscape we already had. In Las Vegas, where water restrictions are very prohibitive for potential gardeners, it pays to use land that is being watered already.
We had mesquite trees and lots of drought tolerant plants in our borders, and this is where I planted zucchini, tomatoes, eggplant, and lots more. They just grew right along with the desert plants we already had...and because these are warm-season veggies, they did just fine.
You can also consider vertical gardening and square foot gardening, where you grow upwards or plant more in an area. Companion planting is also very helpful if you have a small space to utilize, or just want to limit your first garden's size.
At any rate, choose a sunny area, lay it out and design it well, and choose just a few vegetable plants you know your family will enjoy....and just GO for it!
I love the seeds from White Harvest Seed Company! They are a small, family owned company, and their seeds are non-GMO, heirloom, and non-hybrid. You can find out about how to choose seeds in this article: What is a Seed Bank and Why You Need One?
2) Read a Few Books or Trusted Online Sources
There's a LOT of knowledge out there. Some of it is good, and some not so much. I think the trick is to find information that matches your own situation as much as possible. I already mentioned two of my favorite gardening sources above, but there are lots more.
Other favorite websites are Country Living in Caribou Valley, Little Sprouts Learning (geared especially for kids), Feathers in the Woods (look to the right for gardening articles), and Brown Thumb Mama!
Compile and search out websites that resonate with you and your needs, and you'll have some trusted resources to turn to.
3) Know Your Zone and Climate
This may sound obvious, but not all plants do well in all places. Sorry. It's just the way it is. You need to take into account the growing season, how long it is, the length of time it takes for a plant to germinate (if you are growing from seeds) and become mature, the temperature, and much more.
Many beginning gardeners make the mistake of not knowing their growing zone, also known as Hardiness Zone. They'll try to grow plants at the wrong time of the year for where they live or just the wrong type of plant.
All around the country, gardening can be tough, depending where you are. I've heard all about clay soils, cold climates, rocky soils, the bugs that eat your plants in warmer areas....and it goes on and on.
My own special set of gardening problems include living in a cold climate (we are in a so-called Zone 8-9 area BUT we live in the high desert in the mountains, so really, I have to garden more like a Zone 6a, I would guesstimate), rocky hard sandy soil that is on the alkaline side, and NO precipitation. Seriously. Nevada is the driest state in the nation, and we get very little water from above.
One time, many years ago, I tried to grow St. John's Wort in Las Vegas, Nevada, in my backyard, not realizing this herb does best in cooler climates. Luckily I had planted it in the shade of one of our decorative landscape plants, and it did start taking off....but it struggled mightily that summer.
When we moved to the nearby mountains---still in the same zone, but in an area that acted more like a much colder zone. My St. John's Wort thrives up here where it's cooler!
So, besides looking at your actual growing zone, you really need to take into account your special area.
Are you in some kind of micro-climate that acts more like descriptions of other zones? Think about this as you figure out what plants will do well where you live. It's a good idea to familiarize yourself somewhat with the hardiness zones so you can determine what kind of area you live in!
Here is a Hardiness Zone Map for you to take a look at. Just remember what I said about taking into account your specific area: Even if you are in one zone, your micro-climate may behave like a completely different one.
4) Plants Need Food and Water, Too!
I know this sounds obvious, but every single year, I am reminded how much water my garden needs. If you are in an area with water restrictions, then a small garden will probably be a must, as water may be cost prohibitive. If you are in a hot, dry area, plan on using quite a bit of water for your plants. If you are fortunate to live in an area that gets a good amount of rainfall, then you are blessed!
Tiny little seedlings don't require a lot of water at first. But then....they grow and mature. Your cute little zucchini is going to grow into a monster that will drink up water like no tomorrow. So plant for this.
As a beginning gardener, read about the various vegetables you want to start out with and be aware that you may be having to water a lot. Your water bill may be affected somewhat by your garden, and this is something you'll be learning about as you go.
Yep. Plants need food, too. Specifically, they need nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous. Your soil most likely has a quantity of these minerals, but your growing plants will use them up!
Start your garden off right by making sure the soil is pre-fertilized. This is very important, especially if you live in an area (like I do) that is like the moon: sandy and rocky. Here is how I amended the worst soil in the world, if you want to know some specific steps I took to fix our soil problem.
If you are purchasing commercial fertilizer, the cost can really add up. Besides, you may be feeding your plants a bunch of chemicals. The best fertilizer you can use is from your own composting OR manure from an organic grass- or hay-fed livestock animal, like a horse, goat, rabbit, or cow.
Since we live in an area with wild horse herds everywhere, I like to go out and gather the wild horse manure. I fill up a 5 gallon bucket about half way, add water, and let it sit for about a week. Then, it goes on the garden. This is the perfect fertilizer, and it's free.
I'm sure if you do some sleuthing, you'll be able to find a nearby horse owner who wouldn't mind you taking some of their manure off their hands! Otherwise, plan on having to obtain fertilizer from somewhere to feed your plants.
5) Find a Garden Mentor
This is one of my favorite tips for the beginning gardener. Where ever you live, there is bound to be a person nearby who loves to garden and has tons of experience. You will find that gardeners are fairly passionate about what they do and most folks love to share their knowledge.
If you know of a neighbor or someone in the community who has a fabulous garden, don't hesitate to reach out! Another option is the cooperative extension in your area. They'll usually have Master Gardeners for your area who can give you some great advice.
My garden mentor where we live now is one of our neighbors who every summer manages to have an incredible garden, even in this harsh place. He willingly shares knowledge, seeds, seedlings, and advice with anyone who needs it. He is a blessing.
Another of my most important gardening mentors is my dad, who was able to grow just about everything in the middle of the Las Vegas desert. People would stop and stare in amazement at the sea of green that was his garden when I was a child. He is an old-fashioned gardener, who uses an irrigation system he designed in rows---but oftentimes, the old ways are the best ways.
Finding a mentor is one of the best things you can do for yourself as a gardening beginner.
6) Don't Compare Your New Garden to Someone Who's Been Gardening for Awhile. Seriously. Just Don't.
You know what? Your garden is not going to be as good as someone else's. Even the best gardeners out there never actually have the BEST garden because people excel at different things. It's just the way it is.
Especially if you are new to growing a garden, you will probably have some fails, while a neighbor seems to breeze through any problems you struggle with.
Do your best and go with it. Learn.
The first year I tried to garden up here in the mountains, after being used to gardening down in Las Vegas, I was SORELY disappointed in my little garden. It just wouldn't work! And I had some experience under my belt!
Well, I had to re-learn some things I thought I knew because we were living in a different climate. I had to deal with very poor soil, bugs I had never seen, adjusting water usage, getting a compost system going..... While watching my next door neighbor's garden spring up like magic.
Well, she told me, "The first year is the hardest. Next year will be better. And the years after that will be even better each time!"
She was right. As the soil became richer, I learned more about this area (what worked and what didn't), and how to utilize natural sources of fertilizer, as well as different kinds of worms....My garden improved each and every year.
7) Seeds or Seedlings?
If you are just starting out, I recommend you start with already established seedlings (for plants that do well this way) and transplant them carefully. You can get these from a quality garden center or perhaps a neighbor.
Because growing plants from seeds presents its own special challenges. You need the right kind of lighting, a perfectly humidified environment, and the right amount of water and food to keep those little babies from becoming spindly, leggy, and weak.
Even if you do decide to start your own plants inside, just be aware that you may be taking a trip to the nearest nursery to purchase seedlings later on. I still have to do this, even after years of starting seeds. It happens.
Some plants do best directly sowed into ground, and I am not talking about these. But for plants you can purchase already on their way---it may make your life easier to choose these.
And here is a great seed company: White Harvest Seeds. I've recently switched over, and I love them!
8) Problems are Opportunities to Learn!
Got bugs? Got mildew? Tried a variety of vegetable that just won't work no matter what?
Well, I promise you that your experienced gardening neighbor has already been through all that. It's just your turn to learn from these problems---and you WILL learn.
Every area is different. Every type of vegetable is different. Even varieties within species are different. You will learn all of this. You will learn how the compost acts on your garden, and how to mulch. You will find out how to use worms to best advantage.
So, when you experience a gardening problem, try not to be frustrated or sad (it's hard, I know), and instead learn from the problem as you either solve it or start again.
9) It Takes Time
Your first year of gardening is like learning to walk as a baby. Then your second year you may be able to garden at a much better clip. Finally, you'll be running with it!
Just know that for every season that goes by, for every plant you plant, for every success or fail, you will be on your journey to becoming the gardener you dream of being.
Please don't quit. Keep trying every single season and year. Give yourself the chance to learn this very important skill of growing your own food.
10) Have Fun!
Finally....have fun with your garden. It's hard work. It's something you need to keep up with daily. You'll have to commit to getting out there and working in the dirt, checking your plants, and watching them grow.
This is FUN work, my friends. There's something really incredible about watching a seed sprout out of the ground you prepared, then growing into a beautiful productive plant.
Final Thoughts on Tips for the Gardening Newbie
You know what? Even after years of gardening, I still consider myself "new." There is always more to learn. There's always a new problem that comes along I haven't experienced before.
This is a good thing! This is one of the ways you grow as a person. So whether you are brand-spanking new and have never planted anything, ever; or whether you are fairly seasoned like I am at my age and years doing this, I guarantee you will learn and grow with your garden.
This is the perfect time to read, learn, research, and prepare! Do these things now, and you'll have a wonderful gardening experience, whether it's your first time or not.
Do you garden? I'd love to know if you have other tips I didn't think about for new gardeners! Please leave comments!
Hugs & Self-Reliance & Natural Healthy Life,
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