I love gardening and I’m not shy about it. From late April until late October, you can be sure to find me out in our backyard at least once a day (but often twice) watering, weeding, and mostly just admiring the amazing transformation that happens in our 4 raised garden beds. I shamelessly post pictures and have given our garden it’s own hashtag (#CasaBuYARD). I mean, look how photogenic veggies are!
Perhaps it’s because of all of my doting and posting that people assume I’m an expert of sorts. Let me set the record straight, I’m not a master gardener! I’m a novice hobby gardener who has to google almost everything, and I learn so much every year. (Most recent garden google search: “How do I get stray cats to stop pooping in my garden beds?” The answer was lemon peels. Worked like a charm.)
Anyway, each spring, I get texts, emails, messages asking me for advice on how to start a garden. I always feel like a bit of a fake responding because I’m not a pro but I have learned a lot through trial and error since I started gardening in 2013, so I thought I’d dust off the old blog (like deep clean dust) to share what I have learned mostly to keep it all in once place. I think this might be easier than searching through my sent items each spring to find an old email or text to pass along. I’m hoping that this will be a place for more seasoned gardeners to leave their comments, as well, and that this will end up being a helpful collective effort post for newbie and seasoned green thumbs alike.
So, without further adieu, here are my novice gardening rambling thoughts:
1. Raised Beds vs In Ground
We inherited terrible soil in our backyard so that made our decision for us; we had to do raised beds. From what I understand, if you have good soil, plant in ground for optimum drainage and root depth. If you like the “look” of raised beds but have great soil and space for in-ground, you can always add barriers to give some structure to your in ground. We went with 8×3 raised beds because the 3 foot width is easy to navigate (I can reach and pick and prune whatever I need to without stomping all over plants) and because lumber often comes 8 feet long. We also did a brick weed barrier around the beds to A. keep away weeds (duh, I just said that) B. make it look prettier, and C. because we had them already in our yard – the previous tenants left us (and our lawn mower) the gift of “surprise random bricks everywhere in your yard” so this was a way to repurpose them.
If you aren’t planting in-ground, you get to fill the beds with your own soil. We started composting a few years ago and love how much waste that has eliminated. We have an indoor compost bin with charcoal filter that we keep on our kitchen countertop and when that fills, we do an outdoor compost run. Our compost bins are three cheap plastic garbage cans that Adam drilled a bunch of holes into. We are TERRIBLE at turning our compost and should have more of a system than we do. But even though we aren’t brilliant compost caretakers, we STILL get quite a bit of fabulous soil every year to add to our beds. We filled our beds originally with a combination of cheaper top soil and fertilized soil simply because of price. To fill 4 beds with all organic soil wasn’t in the budget. Each year, I remove the winter cover (Covering garden beds with hay or pine keeps the soil “warm” enough that it doesn’t deplete of nutrients over the winter), till the soil, and add compost and other soil if needed because the beds settle every winter and need some fresh dirt. And then I fertilize the soil before adding plants.
You get to decide if you want an organic garden or not. That goes for fertilizers and plant repellent. Organic gardening is not for the faint of heart. Especially when tomato hornworms hatch (I HATE handling those suckers so my pro tip: When you find them on your plants, cut them in half with gardening scissors. Then you don’t have to touch them and you send a message to the other hornworms. I know it’s gross, but don’t mess with my tomatoes. I’m a pacifist about everything but garden bugs and then I turn into Katniss Everdeen). Whichever direction you go, fertilizing before planting is a surefire way to get your soil ready. I like Jobe’s line but find something that works for you. There are directions on the back of the bag that tell you how far in advance you need to fertilize before planting so you don’t burn the seedlings. (Side note, I’ve learned more about science while gardening than I ever did in school).
4. Seeds vs Seedlings
This is where my novice starts showing. I don’t grow most of my plants from seed, I buy seedlings (little baby plants) from a local grower. My exception to the seed rule is that I do grow beans and radishes from seed. I don’t have the space or patience for grow lamps, and honestly, I adore my local grower, so I’m happy to let him start my seeds and then plant them in ground. But you get to decide what you want to do. I did get hooked on Baker Creek Seeds for my (failed) fall garden this year. They have gorgeous seeds and the catalogue has become my favorite coffee table book. Check it out and get hooked.
5. Planning (Now we’re to the super fun part)!
You get to decide what you want to grow, what grows well together, how much you can grow in a space, what grows well in your area, what season you’re growing for (spring, summer, fall…). When I started out knowing 0 things about gardening, I was really overwhelmed about where to start. Thankfully, I found some amazing resources that helped me feel more confident about what I was doing:
A. The Old Farmer’s Almanac tells you when to plan and harvest for your local region based on historical weather patterns. I didn’t consult this my first year and had bolted, sour lettuce, and crops that didn’t bear much fruit because they were planted at the wrong time. The harvest time helps you adjust expectations for how long you’ll have to wait to eat the fruits of your labor. Some veggies take time!
B. Square Foot Gardening tells you how many seedlings/seeds to plant per square foot. I would have never guessed that you could plant nine bean plants per square foot, but you can. This helps you maximize small spaces. I use an organic twine that I staple gun to our beds so that as the plants grow, I can remove it and let them roam free. Some people use more permanent structures and that works great for them, too.
C. Companion Planting tells you what plants works well together, which don’t, and what repels bugs and other vermin. #TGFM (Thank Goodness for Marigolds whose scent repels a multitude of critters). I had no idea when I started this journey that some plants take nutrients from others, and that some help other plants grow. Isn’t science amazing? This adds a challenge element to planning, but it’s absolutely worth it!
Every year, I map out my garden plan using these websites. (I also bust out the previous few years’ plans and rotate as much as I can so that the soil gets a reset.)
6. After the soil prep, the bed prep, and the planning comes the shopping. And then the planting. And then all of the fun begins because you get to watch things grow. My garden is a holy place for me. I hope yours brings you peace, joy, and hope, too!