I have an independent streak. Always have. I often have to learn something for myself before I’m fully willing to believe it to be true. I’m also incredibly stubborn. This combination of traits has occasionally led me down some unfortunate paths in my garden.
For example, I’ll think “I need to plant this today, even if I only have one small pot full of old potting soil” when said plant really doesn’t do well in pots and needs a lot of compost for success. So below are the top 10 lessons I’ve learned; maybe you’ll be smarter than me and not have to prove them all to yourself.
- Only plant food that you and your family will actually eat.
If your family hates radishes, you shouldn’t fill your garden with radishes. What on earth will you do with them? You may think “oh, we’ll eat them anyway,” and “I’ll get my family to like them.” You’re delusional. But if you insist, why not start with just one small row and see how it goes? Who knows, maybe you will be successful, but maybe you won’t.
- Grow quantities of food your family can actually eat.
I have made this mistake MANY times with lettuce. I over-planted and wound up pulling POUNDS of mixed greens, butter lettuce and romaine out of my garden. I had to give so much of it away, I literally would show up to work with gallon-sized bags full of lettuce asking people to take them. I also had to con the neighbors into eating it as well.In Seattle, the most common veggie to do this with is zucchini. Many an urban farmer has drowned in far too much zucchini. And I understand how it happens: you only want one plant, but the starts come in packs of 3 or 4. You couldn’t possibly throw them away, could you? Yes, you can. Pick the best one and toss (or give away) the rest.
- Weeding is an everyday chore.
Trust me on this one. Weeding will seem far less labor-intensive and anger-inducing if you just do a little bit every day. Also, don’t feel compelled to get every weed. Like the song says, let it go.
- Don’t overbuy at plant sales.
This is a really tough one for every gardener I know, but if you do you will end up with a very, very crowded garden where none of your plants do all that well. It’s hard, I know; I walk by the tomato starts, pick my 16 that I knew I wanted but then feel compelled to try a persimmon tomato plant, or a green zebra. ACK! My trick is to plan my garden before the sales, show up with a list of what to buy and only bring cash. My other trick is I always allow myself a 1 or 2 impulse plant buys, and I build that into my budget and planning.
- Have a gardening buddy.
It’s really fun to have friends that you can have great gardening discussions with, who live in your area and do similar gardening to you. My gardening buddy is a good friend who goes to the sales with me and occasionally shares starts. Everybody wins!
- Put the correct plant in the correct soil with the correct amount of watering.
This year I had an epic fail with my potatoes and it’s because I didn’t follow this rule. I planted them in burlap sacks using alternating layers of potting soil and compost (mostly potting soil) and then clearly didn’t water them enough, because I had it in my head that potatoes will rot if they get too wet. So I’m now harvesting them in June, instead of September, because they dried out. I also think I used too much compost in my containers and now I have containers that won’t dry out and the plants really are rotting. Grrrr……
- Learn how to thin your plants.
I am terrible about thinning! I can’t bring myself to take perfectly good plants out of the ground just for the benefit of the others, it feels wrong. But what’s wrong is me, plants need space to grow and if you’re growing from seed you can’t count on every seed producing a great healthy plant, thus we have thinning. If you don’t think you will have a sub-par harvest and it will make you sad and angry and annoyed all at the same time. Please just learn how to thin your plants!
- Stake your plants early.
Every single flippin’ year I tell myself I’m going to stake everything early when the plants are small… and I don’t, then I’m left with big, unwieldy plants that are falling over. Trust me on this, your life will be so much easier if you just stake your tomatoes, tomatillos, pepper and eggplants when they’re little babies.
- Keep records of the plants you grow.
I know that right after a plant sale I’m convinced I’ll remember all that I bought in a couple of days when I get around to writing it all down. I don’t. Every summer, as I’m harvesting tomatoes, I think “I love these, I should grow them again next year” or “These were a bit disappointing, better try something else next summer.” And you know what, if I don’t make a note of which ones I like or don’t like, I will buy the wrong ones the next season. This is like the Murphy’s law of gardening. Do yourself a favor, keep notes on it all.
- Use soaker hoses and water correctly.
Many plants, such as squash and tomatoes, shouldn’t get wet to help prevent mildew; almost all plants need deep, infrequent waterings instead of shallow, frequent ones. Shallow watering leads to shallow roots, which leads to crappy plants. Soaker hoses are a great way to get water into the ground without wasting a bunch of it. I know this and still every bloomin’ year I’ll convince myself that one of the beds doesn’t need a soaker hose, and I’m ALWAYS wrong. This year it was the broccoli.