Are you a rookie gardener looking for a few simple tips to get started? It’s not too late!
By April Swiger, Contributing Writer
As a rookie gardener myself, a few simple tips can go a long way. If you’re anything like me, taking care of plants is not an easy feat. Add in typical homemaking and mothering responsibilities and it’s even more challenging!
Three years ago, after starting an adoption process, I decided I was finally going to give vegetable gardening a try. My husband built me a raised bed for our teeny-tiny side yard at our first home in western Pennsylvania. We didn’t get much sunshine there, but regardless, I still was able to grow a great variety of veggies and learned much more than I could have imagined.
I’m in my third season of gardening, and although still very much a rookie, I think I finally have a few valuable tips to pass on to those other “black thumbs” who may be too intimidated to try. It’s still not too late in the season to start!
1) Start Small
The best thing I did for my first garden was to keep it simple and small. I read up about square foot gardening and found it very easy to understand and execute. One variety of vegetable per square made it simple for this indecisive girl to decide what to grow.
Even smaller than a square foot garden would be a simple potted herb garden. I’ve cared for potted herbs before, and they are perfect for small spaces and balcony gardens. If your herbs succeed it may just give you the confidence to go a little bigger next season.
2) Choose varieties specific to your region
I’ve had gardens in both western Pennsylvania (cold and not much sunshine) and now Connecticut (tons of sunshine, but a shorter growing season). For my first garden I chose a tomato variety that does really well in the Mediterranean, not gloomy western PA. Obviously, it didn’t go so well! Be sure to do a little research and choose plants that will thrive for your specific climate.
Last year I grew a ton of curly green kale and it lasted us from April through November! Kale is a great option for cooler climates, along with broccoli, and a number of herbs like oregano and rosemary. With a little knowledge about your climate your garden may yield you veggies for many months.
3) Don’t start seeds indoors
I was a bit overly ambitious my first season and attempted to start a few plants from seed inside my home. Without any heat lamps and hardly any natural light available to me, it didn’t work out so great. For your first time, I would advise only starting plants from seed that can be directly sown outside. I’ve had wonderful success with radishes, carrots, beets, and green beans.
The rest of my garden I fill up with plants from local farms (like tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, pumpkins, etc.). This ensures that particular variety will thrive in my region.
4) Sweat equity is a great investment
Gardening is dirty work. Every year my blood, sweat and tears are mixed in with the soil. We’re on a very tight budget, so I need to keep my garden as frugal as possible.
What I do have is a shovel, some muscles, and a few hours of my time broken up over a couple weeks. I dig up the dirt, weeds, rocks, and rake out a level bed in our backyard, leaving space to walk between for watering. When you do it this way, you can make it as small or large as you would like. Just be sure to choose a sunny spot and don’t forget to water regularly!
5) Just plant it
In previous years I was so hesitant to even begin my garden for fear of failure. The most freeing piece of advice I’ve received about gardening is “just plant it.” It’s not too late to try!
When I stopped reading all the gardening forums about soil pH, fertilizer, composting, etc. (those are good things by the way, but for a rookie isn’t necessary yet) I felt immense freedom to “just plant it” and see what happens! With lots of sun, and some water, let me assure you that good things will happen in your garden as well.
Do you have any simple tips to share with rookie gardeners? I would love to read them in the comments!
All images by April Swiger