Food and Recipes, Health, Independence, Sustainability

My First Year of Gardening: What I’ve Learned

Gardening is flippin’ tough.

Yep I said it, all those “Do it yourself, 1-2-3, Just Plant a Seed and It’ll Grow” books that promise easy-peasy veggie gardening makes it seem a lot simpler than my stressed out / troubleshooting / internet searching / so-many-dead-plants experience so far.  If before I thought a car mechanic had a dictionary-sized knowledge in vocabulary and problem-solving, they’ve got nothing on a seasoned gardener!

gardening2That being said, even with all the throwing away of dead plants and buying more products than it would cost just to buy the vegetables at the store, I’m addicted. Why?

Because 1. It’s a great challenge where perseverance and patience pays off in reward. In fact, you need to  approach gardening in the same way an entrepreneur approaches a new opportunity: try -> fail -> learn from mistakes -> try again.

And 2.  Such a huge opportunity to learn! There’s really an infinite amount of knowledge to be found in books, classes, experience and groups (community gardens etc.). And it’s the only real skill you can learn where you can eat what you’ve created.

So here’s some tips that I’ve learned through trial and error so you can be that much further ahead if you start your own gardening adventures!

1. Sun, sun, sun…Here it Comes

Well we all know plants grow with sunlight. That being said though, if you look around our communities it seems as though we have become lost to the sun’s path. We put big windows on the north side of houses where the sun never shines, and face buildings towards whatever direction the street happens to be meandering. We see the same problem with gardens: we know plants need sun but we don’t put enough focus on the sun’s path over our property.

In fact, we didn’t even think of it once while building our beds in the backyard, and now we see how the morning sun is blocked by our fence, the midday sun by the large birch tree in the front yard and then it’s 9713351blocked by the house in the evening! And we are seeing the results of our no-so-great solar planning. Plants that receive more sun on the far side of the garden are growing much more quickly than the others. So watch the summer sun! Get familiar with it’s path. Go outside a few times throughout the day and take note of where the best sun exposure is or what might be blocking your precious vegetables from their tasty solar radiation.

Keep in mind that most vegetables want a full day of sun, and midday exposure is the most important.  And remember, for us Northern Hemisphere folk, the sun is angled from the south, so a south-facing backyard is a gardeners paradise!

2. It’s All About Compost

gardening3This is #2 on the gardening ‘most-important’ list. Rob with Verge Permaculture said: “If your soil is too dry- add compost. If your soil is low in nutrients- add compost. If your plants aren’t growing as well as you think they should- add compost….’ you get the idea. Everyone probably has a basic idea of what compost is, broken down biomass that’s rich in nutrients, carbon and nitrogen. I’ll write a whole blog post on making your own compost but for now I’ll just say that it is a gardener’s gold. Work it in to your soil as often as you can, and even dump it on top of your beds as mulch.

3. The Many Uses for Mulch

Mulch is a general term for ground up bio-material such as hay, straw, leaves, grass clippings, wood bark, or even newspaper. Mulch is extremely useful for your compost (again I’ll talk more about this later), and for covering your topsoil to protect the microbiology in the top layers of your soil. Just think of it as a blanket for your garden that not only keeps the heat in and your plant roots warm, the mulch itself breaks down and adds nutrients over time.

4. Connection to the Soil

I also learned this bit of info from Rob @ Verge Permaculture. Think of soil as a huge microbiological system comprised of your topsoil and the subsoils below. When left to its own devices, the soil system creates this huge bio-community (with the help from plants) of organisms and nutrients. That’s why when building your garden beds, try and keep all the soil connected; or in other words, avoid isolated box beds and pots that separate the plants from the diverse subsystem below. In fact, probably the most ideal garden bed is made by just cutting out your grass, adding some dirt to make a small mound and planting your seeds!

To keep you motivated I’ll share one of the most important things I was told was during my first gardening class “Growing Microgreens” with Dave from Leaf Ninjas. He said, “Don’t get discouraged if your plants die, I’ve killed more plants than you all have combined!” That was probably the best thing anyone could’ve told me, because it’s easy to proclaim yourself a “brown thumb” and give up right then and there, as if it’s part of your genetics to fail at gardening. But it’s far from that- I promise you it is possible!

I’ll post “What I’ve Learned from Gardening Part 2” next week with more stuff I’ve learned, so stay tuned!

Pic from here

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