Greetings from the HillTop!
My little sister started her first garden, like so many people, in the spring of 2020 during the pandemic. She had great success with it, so tried again this past year. In December, just weeks ago, I sent her images of seed catalogs. She told me she wanted to do a better job of gardening, but it is so overwhelming.
While it seems early to speak about this, for Zone 5b, where we are located, indoor planting is just a week or so away. I have been providing my sister information from my experience to help her in her planning and planting. Specifically a few things everyone should ask themselves at the start of their gardening adventure.
What do you eat?
While this seems like an obvious question, it is a legitimate question that needs to be answered. What items do you eat regularly that you could grow? By examining your diet, you can look at items to grow based off your intake. I always laugh at people who grow zucchini because it’s easy and prolific, but do not eat it. You want food in your garden that you are going to eat yourselves. Absolutely share your bounty, but make sure someone in your household will eat it!
Do not plant food that nobody in the house eats.
What worked for you?
Have you previously had a garden? If you have, examine what worked for you and what did not, and adjust. We have adjusted our garden based off yield and ease. For instance, I grow more peas now because they are easy, it takes multiple plants to provide enough for my family and legumes are great in your garden rotation. I have minimized how many eggplants I plant because while I eat them, I am mainly the only person in the family that does. Therefore, we only need one or two plants, not four to six of them.
Keep what works, remove what does not.
What is something new?
I personally recommend you aim for a new item each year. New has a lot of meanings in a garden. For instance, if you are already growing and enjoying tomatoes, then consider switching out one of your plants for a new variety, varying your size and color. (It always amazes me when people do not vary their garden vegatables. There are so many colors to consider!)
If you have only ever grown zucchinis, tomatoes and cucumbers, consider one or two less in your number of plants to add in beans (or whatever you want). Trying a new item (that you eat!) does not require you doing something harder. Not to mention, having a variation of plants allows for rotation within your garden. Rotation will help to assist keeping disease and pests down.
Varying your garden slightly will give you new experiences to learn from. It will also keep gardening interesting and bring new insight each year, helping you to look forward to it, not making it into a despised chore.
Look for a new item each year.
Why did you plant it there?
Location, location, location. You need to think about the pros and cons of your garden location. Does it require you to haul water? Do you have eyes on it daily? Is there enough sunlight on it? Does it retain pools of water when it rains? Questions like these are important. While some you may not be worried with, or you can deal with the work it may add for you, some could be a deal breaker.
My little sister is moving her garden this year. While she liked her location, she did not walk by it daily. It made it easy to forget about it for days on end. By forgetting it, it caused overgrowth and occasionally animals pillaging her items.
Pick a location, the best location, then reconsider the location.
Isn’t it a bit big?
When gardening, so many people believe the “go big or go home” line of thinking. Whatever you are planning, especially in your first few years, cut it down to a third of that.
I have mentioned this in other blogs, in the first few years of marriage, my husband and I would spend all Memorial Day weekend to create a ridiculously huge garden. However, come the 4th of July, we were done with it. It was too much to manage, it would be overgrown in no time. It was way too big for us.
Gardens need to be managed and cared for daily. You may not need to weed everyday, but you should walk through and see the growth, how it is changing and planning future needs (plants soon to be trelised, fertilizer boosting, or pruning). Start smaller than you think you should, you can always expand as you need. But, going too big, too soon will stop you from enjoying your garden.
Do not forget, gardens can be a small container garden. If you have just a deck or patio off an apartment, consider using containers. A garden does not soley have to be a large plot.
Plan your garden, cut it down to a third.
How can I make it easier?
Once you are in a gardening routine, start looking for things to make your life easier. A few years ago, we started using black fabric. That was a glorious help against weeds. Two years ago, we went to soaking hoses, that conserved water and kept disease down. Last year, we changed our trelising/wire support for the tomato plants to unify, ensure strength, and keep costs down.
Each year you should be looking for new options to enhance or smooth out your garden experience. A few years back I tried straw bale gardening. We had great success! One aspect that was my favorite, at the end of the year, it helped significantly by adding the remnants to the garden at the end of the year as fertilizer and compost.
Look around for ways to make your life easier. You want solutions to help you, easier gardening keeps you interested and engaged. Are droughts expected? Add a rain barrel at the beginning of season to help you through. Think ahead and plan how you can ease the work. Gardens take work, but if you can look for solutions on the front end, your enjoyment will be higher.
Look for viable solutions for ease.
Gardening has so many benefits that you can enjoy. As you begin to prepare for your garden this year, take a moment and revisit some of the areas discussed above. Know that ultimately, you know what you are able to handle, but these are guidelines to make you stop and think. It may help you to vary your garden this year and reignite your excitement about it.