10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting My First Garden

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CC Image. Photo credit Maggie McCain via Flickr; available under Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license. Text added by Psychobbyist. Linkback at the end of the post.

This spring I added gardening to the extensive list of my hobbies. Oh how excited I was planting tiny seeds into the seed starter, watching them transform into fragile seedlings and then spending a Saturday morning transplanting those little guys in our small garden beds. Yes, you read it right. I dove in head first and started everything from seed instead of taking it slow and buying some plants in Walmart. Oh silly me. We planted the seeds late March so in a way this last cold May with freezing warnings was a blessing, so the seedlings actually had time to emerge. Then came cutworms, earwigs, slugs and rabbits, all ready for a feast. It was no longer my garden, it was their dinner table. Eventually I managed to regain control (for now) but some plants were inevitably lost, like the birdhouse gourds we had such high expectations for (moment of silence here please).

 

Seedlings in a row
Seedlings in a row (from pixabay.com)

Just in case you, my reader, are about to start the first garden of your own, please, please study this list. By no means am I an expert in gardening nor do I claim to be one. In fact, this list is mostly for me to reread next spring. However, I could have learned these things if I just did some research prior to the damage. Well, some people learn better on their own mistakes. I hope you are not one of them, because evidently I am. Here we go:

    1. Don’t start from seed if you can’t help it, at least in your first year. Watching plants grow from a tiny seed to a bushy monster is lots of fun, I get it. However, save yourself some heartache and buy grown plants for your first year. Seeing your seedlings cut off at ground level is a painful, painful thing. Grown plants can withstand a moderate bug infestation with better chances of survival while you figure out which one of 10 000 creepy crawly kinds is secretly munching at the leaves
    2. If you are brave enough to start your plants beforehand on your own, don’t drop 4 seeds per pod, like my husband did. Especially if those are peppers or tomatoes. So far we had 100% germination rate for peppers and about 90% for tomatoes. Only one cucumber came up and promptly got eaten by something, but that is a different story. We did not have any luck with squash at all. This might be just related to the microclimate in our “sunroom”. However, when you have 4 healthy peppers growing in very close proximity, thinning is mandatory. And let me tell you, clipping them off with shears is quite heartbreaking.
    3. Research your plants before you sow. The packets aren’t, ahem, always accurate or have exhaustive information on the conditions required for success. I still can’t figure out why my lettuce packet instructed to plant it in full sun when everybody is saying that half-shade is the way to go with leafy greens. My lettuce is doing ok but by the end of the day it is getting wilty. I don’t blame it, I get wilty too when it’s over 90. And beets, don’t even get me started about the beets. Why did I plant them in late spring if they are a cool weather plant? Live and learn. Also, research.
    4. Thin your row plants. Learn when it is appropriate to thin your plants. Better yet, sow properly in the beginning. That way you will not have to cry over throwing away 80% of your crop because you went crazy with the tiny lettuce seeds, like I did. If they need to be thinned to 3 inch distance between plant, plant a seed every inch or so. Thinning is still required, especially for beets, but it will not be as painful. Speaking of beets, i just learned that these babies store several seeds in a pod. That explains why my replanting after the crop got decimated by cutworms resulted in such an abundance of new seedlings. I totally didn’t drop 10 seeds per inch, I swear.
    5. Please do not fall into temptation to replant the thinned seedlings. From my experience, this is not worth the effort. Those plants never do very well and their growth seems to be permanently stunted. I thought I was being frugal when I gently pulled out extra sunflower seedlings and replanted them into vacant spots. Well, while my other sunflowers are at least a foot tall now, those two little orphans can’t get past 5 inches. In case you’re still not convinced, i had the same thing happen to a replanted tomato. It remained extremely stunted until my mother-in-law’s dog stepped on it and put it out of its misery.

      earwig on a leaf
      This is an earwig. This earwig is NOT my friend (CC image from pixabay.com)
    6. If you choose to use pesticide, be very careful not to overdo it. I’m not going to lie, I bought a bag of poison as a retaliation for the untimely death of my seedlings. They ate my babies so I nuke ‘m! I may or may not have used just a teensy bit too much. I may or may not have killed some beneficial bugs as well. So just be careful. As for me, I will try to avoid using pesticides for as long as possible, preferably until harvest time (yeah, aha, what a dreamer).
    7. Try some prevention methods. I’m not telling you to go completely pesticide free, this is your choice only. However, there are some options that let you cut down on the amount of nukes. For example, seedlings can be protected from cutworms with bottomless plastic cups dug 3 in deep into the ground. I also experimented with water bottles, it makes a great clear collar that doesn’t interfere with the sunlight. Earwigs love molasses, soy sauce and peanut butter, so a few containers strategically placed at ground level and filled with those ingredients plus oil will lure them in and kill them for good. Covering those traps with foil and poking holes in it is even more efficient. Earwigs crawl in searching for shelter and never come out. A cover also saves you from having to refill the trap after an unexpected rain.
    8. Till your soil in the fall! I learned that this step was crucial for pest control. We skipped it due to overwhelming issues with a newly-bought house (this is a subject for a separate post, nay, a novel). As a result, all those bug eggs and larvae had a great time spending the unusually warm winter in the undisturbed soil. Imagine their excitement at newly sprouted delicious seedlings! No wonder half of my beets didn’t stand a chance against cutworms and cucumbers got uprooted by swarms of hungry earwigs. So please do yourself a favor and till as deep as possible in late fall to expose all of those pests to wildlife and frost. The birds will thank you for it, so will your future garden.
    9. Get used to going out to your garden with a flashlight at night. That’s when you can see who is really wreaking havoc on your plants. Grab a saltshaker, chances are you will encounter a bunch of white slimy slugs, especially if you have sunflowers. Slugs love sunflowers, go figure.
    10. In fact, I think my sunflowers deserve a separate bullet point. They are the most
      Toad
      This is not Mister Toad. Mister Toad comes out only at night. However, this might be his distant cousin. CC image from Pixabay.com

      popular thing in the garden. Those poor things took quite a beating and survived only thanks to my persistence (3 replantings!) and mister Toad.Speaking of which, love your toads. And your spiders. And your ducks, if you have any. If you don’t, get one. If you can’t – well, you are stuck picking out the slugs and earwigs by hand. I know, yew. But I digress. The point of the story is, plant sunflowers somewhere near your garden so they can draw most of the pests to that area and then kill, kill, and kill!

So there you have it, a list of ten things that I would totally have done differently. What the heck, I will throw in an 11th one for free. Get used to the feeling that anything might happen to your garden overnight or while you are at work and you can do very little about. Today we h

ave a chance of hail and all my hard work can be destroyed in half an hour. But that’s ok. Because next year I will start again and make more mistakes. And that is also ok.

photo credit: P5172991.jpg via photopin (license) – image of a seedling,

text added by Psychobbyist

 

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