Top 5: Things to tell new gardeners.

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!

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11 Responses to Top 5: Things to tell new gardeners.

  1. Gardenglut says:

    What a great set of tips! I agree with them all, especially about the tomatoes.

    The other one I would suggest is, ‘dont expect your produce to look like the shop bought stuff’. Celebrate its wonkyness, its twists and spots, its petite size and most of all its taste. And feel proud that you are part of the solution.

  2. Bumblelush says:

    Great list, I agree with all of them! I have to remind myself of these often, even though I’m entering Year 3 of growing vegetables! I do like growing peppers too. I’ve had really good luck with them, almost better than tomatoes. It is very important to remember to have fun.

  3. All very true. Another fact is weeding is for life – don’t think that a weeded patch will stay weed free for long!

  4. Mike says:

    These are all excellent points and #4 really resinates with me as I have learned over time that what is written is not always reality. It certainey never hurts to try new things as that is indeed all part of …well, of #5…the fun of it all.:)

  5. Leanne says:

    I think the last tip is the best. Mine has got too much for me, the veggie bit. I keep growing things and then no one wants to eat them, well not at that time. I do like growing some stuff, so am thinking I might scale down a bit. Just grow a little and see what happens.

  6. Thank you for the tips, great timing before the season starts. Although I started my growing season this yea on January 6th (when I planted first tomato seeds), your list is coming in the right time. I am working on the soil and was thinking if I added too much organic matter to it. I guess, it should be good for the plants.

  7. Mark Willis says:

    Hi Liz; Thanks for the mention. I actually prefer your tips to mine. Totally sympathise with your views on tomatoes – a Love/Hate relationship if ever there was one. Tip 5 is the best though…

  8. Bee Girl says:

    Man! I wish I would’ve had this list a few years ago!!! Thanks for sharing your insights :-)

  9. leduesorelle says:

    Wonderful list and excellent advice for gardeners of all experience!

  10. I agree with all your comments, especially about tomatoes. Some years growing them can be daunting at our garden in Maine.

  11. Julie says:

    Nice list! I don’t think there’s anything I plan more than my garden.. what I’m going to plant, where, when… but yet things never seem to follow my schedule. Perhaps if I posted my garden calendar where the veggies can see they will cooperate better! I also understand the problems with tomatoes. They definitely don’t like it when it’s really hot and humid, which is most of the summer here!

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