Trial and error is a necessary and inevitable part of the learning curve for all gardeners.There are so many variables it’s impossible to always have 100% success, no matter the experience. Even when you think you have something figured out, you usually find you could have improved on your method, or Mother Nature throws your theory out the window.
Luckily the internet with its blogs, scientific studies and You Tube provide a wealth of information. This can also get overwhelming and even provide misinformation, so read between the lines, keep it simple and my best advice: look to nature. Perhaps it’s unfortunate I didn’t have the luxury of the internet in my rookie years and even when things came online, we didn’t even get service for a couple decades. In the beginning I had one resource – “The Encyclopedia of Country Living”. A thick hippie homesteading bible from the 70’s, complete with anecdotes, recipes and preserving methods. Maybe it was a blessing as it forced me to experiment more, simplify, improvise and get my cues intuitively. One thing for sure is I made a lot of mistakes and learned from them. Improvements to techniques are constant, and mis-steps still occur. I try not to make the same blunders twice. I have compiled a list of common lessons I’ve learned, often the hard way.
Biting off more than you can chew can end up being overwhelming. Planting seeds is the least labour intensive part, so it’s easy to get carried away. Don’t buy too many packages, there’s often hundreds of seeds in each. After all, it’s supposed to be fun even amid failures. If it’s no longer enjoyable, scale down or find another hobby.
GROW WHAT YOU LIKE.
If you don’t like Brussel sprouts, do you really want to tend them until Thanksgiving just to give them away and lie about how good they are? If you like something grow an abundance and learn how to perfect it and preserve it.
PLANT FOR YOUR ZONE.
Why bother growing something that will struggle and/or require extra protection. Ask your neighbours what does or doesn’t work, figure out your microclimate before you push the boundaries. If you notice that no one in your area grows a particular type of something its probably because someone else tried and failed or it’s just too difficult.
SEEDING TOO EARLY.
It’s easy to get excited and impatient in the late winter. There is an optimum sowing window and it varies depending on the plant. Problems can arise such as outgrowing their cell and needing up potting, weak leggy plants needing more light and nutrients, susceptibility to pests and diseases, over and under watering, and of course unnecessary labour. Sometimes you’re better off waiting and direct seeding. avoiding all those issues. Some seed packages will dictate what period to plant, listing the days before last frost or growing days required to harvest. This is still variable depending on your location, so again, ask your neighbours their schedule.
PLANTING TOO LATE.
Conversely getting things out late may result in a poor harvest. If you’ve “put the cart before the horse” by not having your beds prepared when your seedlings are at their prime for transplanting, this will affect the health and wellbeing of the plant’s whole cycle. There is also a transplant shock, and hot dry summer weather that can set things back to consider. Protecting your plants from various elements may be needed and change seasonally. Timing and knowing the growing season depending on the plant comes with experience. Expect some failures.
ADJUST YOUR SCHEDULE FOR THE WEATHER.
Planting in hot, sunny , dry or windy weather is not recommended. Nor is spreading soil in the rain, tilling mud or dust, mulching before it rains or pruning while flowering or when the sap is running. Some biodynamic farmers take things further and adjust for solar and moon cycles. Watching the weather is common sense for all gardeners.
LIMIT WHAT YOU GROW.
It’s best to do a few good things well than struggle with too many things going on. Plant what you can manage, and use efficiently. Succession planting can ensure a continuous crop of quick growing veggies such as greens or radishes as opposed to a huge patch of bolting lettuces and then nothing. Don’t forget the biggest and most common rookie mistake – planting too many Zucchinis!
AVOID COMPROMISED PLANTS AND SEEDS.
Plants have a life cycle and seeds have a shelf life. If a plant is sick and hasn’t been tended properly you will inherit all their problems and perhaps create more. If seeds are outdated or haven’t been stored properly you will be at a disadvantage from the get go. A good compassionate gardener can often nurse back a sick plant, but why take the risk and hassle as a beginner.
BUILD YOUR SOIL.
Everything your plants need, except for light, is in your soil. It is the foundation of every successful natural garden. Investigate nutrients, micro organisms, amendments, mulches and cultivation methods. It’s endless what you can learn and the more you do the better off your garden will be.
RESIST UNNATURAL QUICK FIXES.
By this I mean the use of pesticides and herbicides. Figure out the root causes, and find organic solutions. There are usually a multitude of natural alternatives. It often takes some time to regain a natural balance and eliminate the issue. Be patient.
In gardening there is usually a short window to most optimally do a necessary task. The longer you wait the more difficult and time consuming most of the following steps become. If you have the opportunity, just do it right away.
It’s easy to spend many times the value of your crop on exotic varieties, greenhouses, shiny tools and fancy gadgets. Your plants couldn’t care less. They just need the loving care of the gardener and that’s something you can’t buy. Buy used equipment, recycle and improvise. That’s what all the old timer gardeners do.
Remember all it takes is a single spore or a mating couple of pests to exponentially turn into an infestation. Avoid bringing outdoor soil indoors, sterilize your growing area, disinfect your tools and wash all your recycled containers. It’s all extra work but well worth the prevention of potentially big problems.