I have been a large scale gardener/small scale farmer for ten years now. Growing my own food is integral to my health, and is invaluable to every human on this planet. Having access to fresh, delicious and organic foods is the most important thing you can do to regain your health. But after saying that countless times, I invariably hear “yes but I have a black thumb.”
So what to do? The reason people struggle with learning to garden is just that, they haven’t learned YET. It is a series of steps to mastery, and it is the same as every other task or occupation that we must learn. We watch a baby learn to walk, and he or she falls. A LOT. Well the same can be true of gardening. The really cool thing about gardening is it doesn’t cost much to try and try again. So many people give up after one season because they worked for it and it didn’t turn out as planned. That is just the blueprint of life, right? So it will usually take several seasons to really understand the scope of your backyard garden, what will thrive and how to cultivate it properly. But there are definitely some tried and true pieces of advice that I can share with you to make it easier to grow beautiful plants and harvest some amazing vegetables!
Start with small transplants.
Seeds are cheaper. Large transplants are beautiful. BUT small, healthy transplants are the best bet for success. Sure that big, beautiful plant at the nursery is catching your eye. It may even have some small fruits already on it. But it is a very established plant. It is much harder to “uproot” when we have established ourselves. It is the same with plants. What you want to look for when you are just beginning to garden is a smaller specimen, but one that has a strong stem and an established root. That way when you plant it, it will take off in the ground and create a large network of roots which will uptake nutrition and thrive.
Some varieties of plants do really well when started from seed. I start everything from direct seed except for tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. BUT I am a seasoned, established gardener. It is best to start from a small transplant your first time out so that you know what the plant should look like and you can carefully monitor its growth habits. Then, when you plant from seed in a later season, you will know what to expect.
Avoid all chemical applications whenever possible.
This is where you must think I am absolutely crazy. Never, EVER prepare your garden area by spraying it with weed killer first. This either kills or changes the microbial content of your soil. The key component to a healthy garden belongs in the foundation– your soil. We know that having a healthy immune system is vital to our bodies. When you treat the soil with a chemical, you invite disease and weakness into your soil environment, giving the plant less ability to grow into a healthy specimen and produce the most nutritious food. Use a sod cutter, or a good old fashioned hoe or shovel to create your garden space. If and when problems start to arise, tending to them through organic and natural means will help educate you to your particular horticultural needs and it will also help you understand what happens when pests and weeds are part of your garden. Education of the entire natural environment is critical to your success as a gardener.
Crop rotation and fallowing is key.
Finally, don’t plant the same crops in the same space year after year. The soil needs time to recover its nutrients. Each type of plant has different needs and so planting the same plant in the same place for multiple seasons dilutes the available nutrients AND invites diseases for that particular variety. Biodiversity is key– so allowing the ground to rest and regrow its nutrient and microbial content is very important, along with growing a cover crop or a sympathetic crop to re-balance the soil. If this is sounding complicated to you, it isn’t! Just remember, give the space a rest and plant a different crop next time. Here’s an easy crop rotation guide for you to just take a quick look at. It will come with time, and remember that mistakes are inevitable. That’s how we GROW and GROW!!! So go out there and get to gardening!