A few weeks, or was it months – time seems to drift past at the moment – Mark, of Mark’s Veg Plot posted a list of tips for new gardeners. Here are mine:
1. Things don’t always go as planned. In fact I still have to tell myself this, regularly. Things die, pests eat your fruit, toddlers tip out your bean seedlings, blackbirds dig up your plants. You can’t control everything and there’s not always a solution for everything. Find me a method of controlling rodents which doesn’t involve cats or poison and works when traps fail and I suspect you’ll be doing well.
Sometimes you just have to accept that you will have some losses and that it’s all part of the learning curve. The trick is to focus on all that does go right and not the couple of failures you will inevitably have each season.
2. The growing medium is key. Other than climate, the quality of your soil is usually the biggest determining factor on the success or failure of your crops (provided you remember to water them and protect them from pests). All those books, gardening shows, blog posts etc are right. Look after your soil and it will look after your crops. Looking after your soil means incorporating lots and lots of organic matter into it. Things like well rotted down manure, straw and compost are fabulous for improving soil. The more the better in my experience. My most productive bed at the moment is one which had a potato crop in it. The potatoes were covered with about 20cm of pea straw and then the straw was covered with a thick layer (about 5cm) of manure (cow & chook). I harvested the potatoes, dug in the manure and straw and then planted again - the plants (lettuce, beet root, silverbeet & celery) are looking fabulous, and I’m putting it down to all the organic matter that went into that soil.
3. Tomatoes are both the best and worst plants to grow. If there is one plant that justifies its space in the garden it’s the tomato. They taste much better than ones you buy elsewhere (especially when just picked and warm from the sun). They can be used in a huge variety of dishes and it is far cheaper to grow them than buy them. Of course all this fabulousness doesn’t necessarily come in an easy to grow package. There are a lot of diseases that tomatoes can succumb too. They can be quite temperamental about climate, not too hot, not too cold. They are fussy about how much water they get and finally when they start to die back they look pretty unattractive in the garden. But in the end when you get to bite into a warm perfectly ripe Rouge de Marmande it makes it all worth it, just don’t expect getting there to be trouble free.
4. Read the seed packet but not too closely. Whenever you buy seeds they come with a handy set of instructions on the packet. Definitely read them but that doesn’t mean you should always follow them to the letter. Different things do well in different gardens, boundaries can be pushed and the climate is getting warmer after all. Experimenting in the garden can be a lot of fun. Try sowing the tomatoes early and the celery late – the worst thing that can happen is a few wasted seeds and the best is that you get an early or late crop of something you really like eating. The instructions are usually written to try and get the best out of that individual plant, not get the best out of your garden. For instance instructions on plant spacing will allow for the plant to reach maximum size and then some, but you might be quite happy for it to reach 3/4 size if it means you can also plant 3 other things with them in the bed.
5. Have fun. Gardening shouldn’t be a chore, and if its becoming one work out which aspects of it you resent and change them. If you hate watering get a drip system. If you get frustrated by slow germination times then buy seedlings. If you don’t enjoy eating Kohlrabi then don’t grow it. Its your garden, your time, enjoy it.
For a fabulous food related post: Top 5 Daggy Dinners head over to The New Goodlife, good fun!