Everyone loves a success story. It can be wonderfully inspiring and jumpstart you into action, into a world of wonder and excitement for your newfound passion of growing your own garden.
Or it can totally overwhelm you and cause you to doubt whether you will achieve success. After all, you cannot be as good as those real gardeners so why bother trying?
Because gardening to provide food for your family is one of the most important things you can do for you and your family. And I don’t say that lightly. Healthy for your mind, body and soul, edible gardening is also something you can engage the whole family in. It’s the real deal when it comes to self sufficiency as well.
Tip : start early. If you start trying to enthusiastically drag your teenager out to the garden, it doesn’t have the same joie de vie as a young child. For either of you (Mom of four young adults telling you real life horror stories here).
Having grown food with and for my family all my life, I have lots of experience and natural instinct when it comes to the garden. But every gardener is really just an amateur. Even Monty Don, one of the best gardeners in the world, calls himself an amateur!
So don’t be overwhelmed. Fall in love with all your little successes (hello, I can go on and on about the potatoes I grew last year) and and work hard to prevent failures in the future.
Failures are something every gardener knows about. I have yet to grow a blueberry bush without killing it. And let me tell you about the first few years of living on this cool island climate and tomatoes.
So here are my top five biggest mistakes I’ve made over the years when trying to prevent overwhelm, hopelessness, and garden disasters.
Mistake #1-Planting things we won’t eat
Why waste valuable energy, time and money on parsnips if no one like them? I LOVE parsnips so a few is just fine to eat roasted after that first frost and then cut, peel, and freeze for soups and stews in the winter.
But carrots ? We all love those so I do a huge bed of them, then succession plant throughout the summer to can, freeze and preserve.
If I grow radishes which no one likes, I have to sow them, weed them, harvest them and then deal with them-all wasted energy.
Mistake #2-Not staying on top of weeding
This has been a lesson in patience and discipline both which I will admit to not having much of when I was younger and had small children who needed it more than the garden.
So, first give yourself grace. Second, agree to do a little everyday. It prevents overwhelm. Third, improve on weed control a little more each year. Tarp sections off or learn more about the no dig method. Put a thick layer of bark chips between your rows. Or just do raised beds which have less weeds. You won’t be in this place forever and you can change your style later.
Mistake #3-Adding Amendments to my garden because someone thinks I should
Compost can always benefit a garden so I put that sh*t on everything (pun intended ), and I use lime every few years as our soil demands it.
So this isn’t really my mistake experience but my mother’s. Her partner added a huge load of peat moss dust to her garden after hearing it was a great amendment to gardens. What he didn’t take into account was her already acidic. So by adding such a large amount of peat moss dust it completely threw her PH levels off and nothing grew well for a few years. Only by tilling, adding lime and loads of compost over the last few years were we able to get things back to normal.
A soil test would have helped and to understand fully the composition of the amendment you are adding. (I won’t even mention the number of times my mother has cursed my stepdad out about this mishap. Poor bugger was only trying to help, ha ha)
Mistake #4-Trying to start all my own seedlings
Ahh February is the month when my seed orders come flooding in and starting all the seeds indoors seem to take the edge off winter. Now, my house is small, and I do not have a greenhouse. I use a UV set of grow lights and a bakers rack. So having hundreds of seedlings isn’t practical. Also I am a bit of a traditional gardener. I prefer in ground direct sowing for some seeds like beets, carrots, parsnips, turnips, beans, and peas. I focus on starting the seedlings which need a longer growing period I just can’t get here on this island. Tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, peppers, herbs and pumpkins mostly are what I start as we eat and preserve a lot of these.
Mistake #5-Trying to grow produce not suited for our climate or space
You can grow anything if you try hard enough. You really can. I am certainly not here to rain on your veggie parade. But for practicality sake, I don’t waste energy on what I call specialty items for our climate and space. Produce such as melons, corn, and broccoli. I simply buy these in bulk from a farmer in a warmer area about two hours away which can accommodate the days to maturity this produce needs and has the land to grow them properly (corn grows better in a square grid with plenty of room to avoid cross pollination).
I stopped myself from making this list longer. If you don’t make mistakes, then you really aren’t growing (pun intended ) as a gardener. So I make lots of mistakes because I do want to push myself to grow more food each year than the year before for my family. This year I tried to start beets from seeds inside on the advice of the founder of the NoDig method, Charles Dowding. It didn’t work for me so I can either persevere and try again or move on. I probably will do what I’ve always done with great success and sow my beet seed outside directly in April. It’s working and I want to focus on other things.
Find your sea legs in the garden, and celebrate your successes. My best advice based on learning from these mistakes is, and I can’t say this enough : YOU really have to decide what works for your time, skill level , and gardener, but never stop making mistakes. Now you’re growing.