Saturday, May 21, 2011

Lessons in Gardening, Part 1

So this spring I had what I consider to be my first REAL garden. Technically I did plant a garden last spring but it was a colossal failure for several reasons.

1. I didn’t plant anything on time. I had the plot ready, I had the seeds… what I didn’t have was a P L A N. Yes, on certain things I’m a Planner of the Highest Magnitude. I love the details in planning. Oh, I planned the heck out of my garden but by the time I got done planning and actually planted something, it was far, far too late in the season.
2. I didn’t understand watering. It isn’t just giving plants some water, especially in S. Texas (this is something I’m still learning).
3. Don’t bury your seeds. I planted my seeds so safely, so securely, soooo deeply! The poor little guys couldn’t get enough growth to get their heads above ground. I’ve learned to just pat them into the ground.

I thought at the time, that’s ok, I’ll do better in the fall (fall is really be BEST of our three seasons down here). The only catch was that by the time fall planting rolled around, I was falling madly in love with this handsome man who by Christmas would be my husband. Needless to say my mind was not on gardening ;-)

So this spring, handsome sexy hubbie aside, I was DETERMINED to do a garden the right way. I still had to overcome my planning tendencies. Fortunately I was able to use a lot of the info I had put together from last year (again, the plan wasn’t so bad, just the timing). I actually got some seeds in the ground – on time! I actually made a garden map with dates. When some seeds didn’t do well, I replanted (and recorded the new date). If they still didn’t grow, I marked those seeds as junk (didn’t toss them though, someday I’ll do a wild haphazard plot and just toss all my junk seeds out and see what happens…that could have really cool results). I watered, I nurtured, I sang and talked to my plants, I even prayed over my little plot. How did it do?

Weeeeeell… from a harvest perspective… I’ll call it “ok” but really it’s been pretty dismal. My mustard and collard greens went crazy, and I got quite a few radishes out of the deal. Everything else? Well, let’s talk. Technically I have the 2nd “wave” in the spring garden still working but I’ll go over my mistakes and what I’ve learned most of this season.

No matter how much you think you will eat, plant more.
Very important lesson for several reasons. First of all, if something is really yummy, you will want more. Humans are funny about food in that way. Secondly, I remembered too late the old saying “One for the blackbird, one for the crow, and that will leave just one to grow”. Ok, so I’m not dealing with blackbirds or crows but I still had my share of hungry little bugs (who are still decimating my Cherokee Purples as I write this). Thirdly, not every seed you sow or plant you put into the ground will actually produce. More on this a little later. Lastly, you don’t realize until you’ve been there that one bean bush doesn’t give you a heck of a lot to work with. Most plants seem to need multiples to give you something to actually COOK (some exceptions – maters, eggplant, some greens like collards).

Water. And water a little more. But don’t waste water.
Most of this spring I was fortunate enough to use my two 55-gallon water barrels that were filled up this past January. Just 3 weeks ago I drained them dry (although a shore rain since has filled them back up about halfway). During that time I did pretty well with watering from the barrels, filling up my water bucket and doing what I call a “focused” watering – pouring a cupful of water around each plant. It was a little more work and tedious, but I liked knowing I was using God-given water and I also like knowing I wasn’t paying for it. However as the days got hotter and we had some exceptionally dry wind, I did come to realize that every few days the garden needed a really good soaking, and then I used the hose.

Another thing about watering… little plants and seeds don’t seem to need as much, but when you are transplanting potted plants into the earth, they need a LOT of water to get established. I planted two grapevines and three blackberry bushes into the ground directly and they were all suffering until I figured this out. Now they are established fairly well and don’t need that soaking quite as much.

Square Foot Gardening doesn’t work… aaargh!!!
My OCD side loved the idea of square foot gardening. It’s clean, it’s precise, it’s easy to maintain… and it doesn’t work. Part of the reason by the SFG Guru, Mel Bartholomew, is that you plant an exact amount of seeds rather than waste them by planting too many only to thin out later on. Yeah, ok that only works if ALL YOUR SEEDS SPROUT. This has never happened to me. Blame me, blame the seeds, doesn’t matter. Next comes spacing – Bartholomew is passionate about spacing. HIS SPACES DON’T WORK. One square foot for a full-grown tomato? Um, try 2 feet. Four heads of lettuce per foot? Not if you want baby greens, then you want a bunch of seeds in that foot of land (oh and other thing Mel, some seeds don’t do well “planted”…sometimes you gotta just sow a lot of them. Another thing I learned about lettuce).

Oh wait, Square Foot Gardening DOES work…whaaa?
Some aspects of Mel’s writing do help me out. It keeps me organized. It helps me find little nooks & crannies to plant things (for example, plant late harvest radishes under the branches of taller plants).

Don’t be afraid to experiment with new plants – but you might want to know what to do with them once harvested.
Kinda self-explanatory. Let’s just say I’ve had some interesting cooking experiences.

So those are a few things I’ve learned so far … but I’m sure not the last ;-)

This post is part of Weekend Gourmet - Hartke is Online


  1. I think it's half the fun with growing a productive garden - learning mostly what doesn't work! I am practising now before we move out to the country and hopefully will save some time learning from my current mistakes. I'm sure I will make more once I get lots of land to play with, hehe. But is also helps keep the dream alive!

  2. Yeah gardening is definitely a lesson in patience...I'm so driven to get IMMEDIATE results out of anything I put work into, it's difficult waiting. Probably similar to raising children ;-)

  3. Maybe one day I will actually finally garden. I really wanted to this year but I killed my tomato plant and my strawberries and my peppers. I pretty much am not a gardener...hahaha Patience. Eek I have none. That would be a good lesson! And the loaf of bread and few posts back?! YUM! That looks AMAZING!!!