This year, my husband and I started our first garden together as a married couple. It’s been fun, challenging, rewarding, and certainly a learning experience. Here, I hope to share our do’s and don’ts, our tips and tricks, our laughs and giggles, and our yummy results.
I’ve had an Organic Gardening book on the shelf for YEARS (since my single college days). I’ve always wanted to enjoy my own garden “when I grow up,” and the time finally came. We started by picking our plot of land (we’re fortunate to live at a place with lots of acreage where our “landlords” let us have some land to garden on) that would work best for us, was tucked out of the way, and received lots of sunlight. We also wanted our garden to be as organic as possible. So, no chemicals, pesticides, etc., and organic seeds.
Step 1: If you’re going to use any seeds that must be started indoors prior to planting outside (such as peppers or tomatoes), think ahead. Many seeds require growth indoors for about 8-10 weeks before transplanting outside. In other words, if you’re going to plant your garden mid-May, you’ll want to start your seedlings by mid-March.
Step 2: As suggested in Organic Gardening, we laid down a black tarp 2-3 weeks prior to planting. The idea is that the tarp will block all weeds and grass from the sunlight, killing it naturally so that chemicals don’t have to. It certainly worked well.
We chose to play it safe and small this year, since it’s our first. Next year, we’d like to expand a bit. The tarp covered an area 10′ x 12′
Step 3: We live in a very wooded area, and share the land with lots of deer, rabbits, raccoons, and ground hogs. So we ordered some fencing. We ended up purchasing a roll of poultry fencing (2×2) on Amazon for about $26. It’s 5 feet tall, and so far it’s done the trick of keeping our tall neighbors out. This is an important step to think ahead on, as it might take a week or two to arrive if you order it online (which, we found, is a fraction of the cost).
Step 4: We borrowed a rototiller to dig up that fresh ground! Well… we actually hand dug it first, because the tiller was broken, but once it was repaired, we put it to good use.
We also purchased some fence posts (I think ours might have been a step up from what I’ve linked here) and hammered those down before tilling. We wanted to make sure they were in nice, hard ground. They’re still standing! Once tilling is complete, it’s time to put up the fence! We pulled it taught and attached it to the posts with zip ties. I also purchased large garden staples and hammered those in every few feet around the base of the fence.
Step 5: I made a map. Actually, this happened way before step 1 because I was so excited to start our garden! But it really doesn’t need to happen until you’re ready to plant. My mind works best when looking at architectural floor plans, so the map worked great! I noted what would go where, how far apart to space the seeds, and how much sunlight certain plants would need (I didn’t want to put high-sun plans behind large bushy plants, etc.). All of that info, by the way, was found in my Organic Gardening book. Such a great resource!
Step 6: On a nice, cool, cloudy day (that turned into an awfully rainy day; therefore, we have no pictures), we planted our seeds. The map was great to have, and helped the process move along quickly and smoothly. (AND we knew (kind of) where we had planted the seeds when we would go back and water later.) I dug, and Paul dropped the seeds into the ground. This is also a good time to transplant any seedlings that have been growing indoors.
Step 7: Water well, and watch ’em grow!
Did I mention that while I was making the map, it was Paul’s idea to do a circular garden? I agreed that it would be super fun… why not?! So a circular garden it is! 🙂
The growing season is not quite over yet, so I’m sure I’ll have much more to add to these lists in the next several weeks. But for now, here are some do’s and don’ts…..
Research the types of seeds you’ve bought. Make sure you know how much sunlight they need, and how far apart you should space them.
Make plans and a map for how you would like your garden to look and to function.
Remove weeds as soon as you see them! Otherwise they’ll take over in a matter of a few short weeks.
Lay down mulch/grass clippings once your plants have begun growing. This would probably be good to do around the 1 month mark. We never did this, but I wish we had.
Take notes of what worked/didn’t work for next year.
Keep your map for next year… so you DON’T repeat exact placement. Crop rotating is good for your plants and the soil, and especially for organic gardening, as you won’t be using any harsh chemicals to kill any bugs or diseases target a specific type of plant.
Plant marigolds! First of all, they’re pretty and seem to be hearty. Secondly, they are good for your soil. They can actually reduce the population of lesion nematodes, “microscopic parasites that attack plant roots, stunting plants and causing leaves to turn yellow” (Organic Gardening, 2000). We didn’t get organic marigolds, but they are available. We planted ours from seed, and they’re springing up all over the garden, adding lots of color.
Try lots of different plants your first year to see what responds well to the soil and what doesn’t. For instance, next year we’ll definitely plant more yellow squash, but we might not plant cucumbers. Or we’ll need to get a different variety. They just didn’t do too well. Just pick fruits and veggies that you actually enjoy 🙂
Utilize your fence. Plant veggies that branch out and vine next to your fence so that they’ll grow UP and not OUT. This saves a lot of space.
Invest in tomato cages. Or invest time into tying them to stakes when they’re young, before the plant bases decide they want to grow horizontally instead of vertically.
Waste your time putting down a tarp several weeks in advance. Don’t get me wrong, this certainly worked to stop grass/weeds from growing where we would be planting. But it did not, by any means, change the fact that weeds still grow weeks down the road. That being said, if you DO have the time (that is, you think of it three weeks prior to planting), then have at it! But don’t delay the planting of your garden because you’re waiting for weeds to die. Just till, plant, and get those seeds watered!
Plant in a confusing pattern. Ahem… like a circular garden. If you have that idea, you’re not the first, so don’t try it. Although it is fun to walk through (and easy to water, as you simply walk in a big circle), it’s a little hard to tell what is growing where. Especially if your garden is in a weedy area, choosing straight lines for your planting might be a better option. I think next year I’ll make cute little labels for our very straight rows 🙂
Plant all the same variety of tomatoes. Because we were being frugal, we bought one container (with 4 plants) of the same variety of tomato. Although they sprung right up and have tons of fruit, they’re also getting blossom end rot. Because they’re all the same, it’s happening to a good handful of the fruit. It would have been better for us to spend more money and mix it up a bit with different varieties.
Lastly, don’t jump on the sides of the fence post to shove it into the ground. It will poke a hole through your shoe and your foot will bleed.
END OF SEASON UPDATE:
Well… I don’t know if we’ve saved much money YET. I think the garden materials will pay for themselves by next year. It seemed that, by the time August rolled around, everything in the garden kind of stunted. We had lots of winter squash that started to grow, but simply stopped and stayed the same size for a couple months (until I picked them – they’re now serving as fall decor, as they’re only a little bigger than your typical gourds). Same thing happened to the watermelon. Overall this summer, we did get tomatoes, yellow squash, and a handful of beans. Oh, and the marigolds did great! (at least our garden was pretty! 🙂 ) I’m going to do some further research on prepping in the fall. I don’t know about you, but all I want to do after a gardening season is over is spread some manure! (not.) We’ve got a donkey and a few goats here, so our supply should be ample. I’ll let you know how that goes. This year was rehearsal. Next year: all business.
I have full faith in next year. I’ve heard that sometimes it takes a couple years to really get things going. So come March, I’ll be planting indoors again to get those little suckers started!