Tales of a Gardening Rookie

A real food lifestyle and at-home garden just go hand in hand.  So, I decided to give it a shot for the first time.  I most definitely didn’t inherit my mom’s green thumb, so I’m a bit nervous about what the ultimate harvest will be.

My husband tilled a 10′ x 12′ plot in our yard.  I purchased a few vegetable plants and my friend generously gave me some of hers.  The stars had aligned and I was ready for my first garden adventure.

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I have already learned so much just from preparation and planting and my appreciation for the entire food cycle process has tripled.  The amount of care and attention each type of plant needs is beyond what I ever thought it would be.  I honestly thought it was just three simple steps: 1.) stick the plant in a hole in the ground, 2.) water, 3.) harvest.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Some plants need to be watered once a week.  Some once a day.

Some plants should only be watered at the base of the plant – not the leaves.  What if it rains?!?

Some plants need organic food.  Some need mulch.  Some need a wooden stake to grow on.  Some a trellis.  Some need a lullaby at night (OK, I made that one up.)

Some bugs are good for the plants.  Others are bad.  Really bad.

My head is spinning.

Here are some things I’ve learned along the way that may help you:

  • Create cheat sheets for each vegetable that is in your garden.  Each card should contain bullet points of 3-6 of the most important care instructions for each.  This is a quick reference for you to use each time you make a trip to the garden to water, feed, or harvest.

Garden_Cheat Sheets

  • Invest in a guide to gardening for your specific area.  The key is buying one that will only include instructions for your geographical area.  Otherwise, the information becomes overwhelming.  The one pictured below is my main resource.  It has been quite a nice crutch during this process.  Yes, there are many resources available online, but having a book to hold in your hand and mark up is much more reliable.
My go-to gardening guide

My go-to gardening guide

  • Start small.  Perhaps just potted herbs or tomatoes to get into the swing of the gardening thing.
  • Try a mix of low-maintenance vegetables and a couple that require a little more attention.  This will give you less anxiety, but will also give you an accurate idea of what is involved with some of the more difficult varieties.
  • Do your research before deciding what to plant.  Consider how much space each plant will need (i.e. pumpkins are sprawling and have a tendency to take a lot of space).  Is your garden in a full sun spot or part shade?  That will determine what will do well.
  • Mark everything in the garden!  This seems obvious, but don’t assume you’ll remember what is what.  I purchased craft sticks the size of tongue depressors and wrote the following information on each: vegetable, date planted, days to maturity, sun/shade needed, approximate harvest date.
Jalapenos with homemade garden markers (made out of tongue depressors)

Jalapenos with homemade garden markers

  • Document the process along the way (type of feed, mulch, when you planted/harvested, etc.) so you can use everything you learned next year for an even more fruitful garden.
  • Have a plan for what you’d like to do with your crop once it’s ready.  Canning?  Make tomato sauce to freeze?  Give to friends?  Some produce won’t last long after it’s picked, so it’s best to have a game plan so that it doesn’t go to waste.
  • Don’t get discouraged!  I have already removed two of our romaine lettuce plants because aphids were destroying them.  I didn’t do advance research to know that companion planting with garlic or coriander would have stopped this from happening.  However, I learned from that mistake and have done much more research about the remaining plants to make sure nothing else goes to waste.

Here is a list of vegetables and herbs I planted this year:

  • Tomatoes.  Lots and lots of tomatoes.  If the harvest goes well, keep an eye out for a post about homemade sauce and/or canning in August/September!
  • Green beans.  It will be so fun to let the kids walk out to the garden to pluck a bunch of beans for dinner in a couple of months.
  • Broccoli.  This may be the first vegetable we get to harvest soon.  Can’t wait to roast it!
  • Jalapenos.  Pico de gallo on the deck, anyone?
  • Sweet potatoes.  One of our favorite side dishes that also happens to do really well in Midwest Summer heat.  Seems like the perfect fit for us.
  • Pumpkin.  Gonna be fun to use our crop for Halloween and use the the flesh for homemade pumpkin pie filling.
  • Green bell peppers.  Relatively low maintenance and a household fave.
  • Cucumbers.  Looking forward to making homemade pickles with the future crop!
  • Basil.  Caprese salad, tomato sauce, the options are endless.
  • Parsley.  Easy to grow and we use it on lots of savory dishes.
Pumpkins

Pumpkins (eventually)

Parsley

Parsley

Broccoli

Broccoli

I highly recommend some level of gardening.  Especially if you have kids.  Letting them see and be involved with the food cycle is something that will stay with them for a very long time.

Have fun with it and enjoy the fruits (and veggies) of your labor!

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