“There are no gardening mistakes only experiments” – Janet Kilburn Phillips
Last week I realize I sent you out to buy seeds and told you to start planting. What we didn’t talk about is where you plan to plant your garden. Ironically gardening is just like real estate. The key to a successful garden is location location location.
When I first started my garden I had big plans and big dreams. I dug up some old rose bushes and carved out a great 16ft x 8ft space. I was going to grow everything and be a master gardener. Every day I was able to look over at my neighbors yard and marvel at what he was doing. On the first day we met our neighbors my husband told him “Oh Lord, she’s going to want a garden”. He was absolutely right and the first summer in our new home I finally got to play in the dirt.
First let me say that digging up rose bushes is insane. We got stuck and poked, and there was blood and tears. That was on the first day. After I got beat up the first day I decided to call in my sons friends. These were seniors in high school and I figured they had energy and strength. Yea, they had neither. My oldest son was more strength than accuracy and had rose thorns all over the yard. His best friend showed up to help and actually guided us on the proper way to dig up a yard and what tools we needed. What we didn’t know was the bushes had been there for years and the roots were insane. Digging them up required a pick ax and various tools that I didn’t have in my arsenal . Home Depot and Lowes began to know me by name. They got all my money the first year.
After some hard work we got the garden dug out and framed. I wish I could tell you it looked fantastic and was some of the best craftsmanship on earth. It was not. Far from it. But it was the start of me figuring out how not to garden. Yes I said it. My first year was a disaster which is why I’m going to try and stop you from going through what I went through.
First mistake: placing my garden about 50 feet from my house. That doesn’t sound like a lot but hauling water back and forth in the heat of August made me realize that was a horrible idea. My advice to you is to first figure out where you plan to place your garden. Don’t figure it out by imagining how fantastic it will be to grow veggies. Figure it out thinking about the sun beaming down on your back. Think about how far you are willing to walk hauling jugs of water, or dragging the water hose back and forth.
Second mistake: not thinking about how I planned to water this garden. After I framed it out I realized running a sprinkler system was not going to work. I had enclosed the garden eliminating this option. I thought the water hose we had would work and then realized it was not long enough. Back to the store I went. After the hose came a watering wand. My husband actually purchased this because I looked pathetic trying to water my sad garden. I also noticed that I had picked a location that was uphill so each time I watered the garden I created a small pond in our yard. My garden was now ruining our grass and since my husband mowed the yard he was not happy. This was not looking too good.
Third mistake: I didn’t test the soil. Our soil was basically clay and rock. Why I thought I could simply grow in this I will never know, but I planted green beans and lettuce anyway. The lettuce didn’t stand a chance. There was no way they could root through rock. They tried, but didn’t amount to much of anything. The green beans thrived though and I was elated. Green beans were the only thing I grew that year and because I was so excited I grew a lot. Those green beans became the best thing I had ever tasted. Had I not got those beans that first year I would have never have tried gardening again. I caught the bug and was just excited that I had accomplished something. I had grown something out of nothing. You can avoid my mistakes but yet still feel my joy.
Pick the place that you plan to garden. I would advice you to pick a back up place as well. Don’t pick a spot near trees or anything covered with shade. You need full sun. Remember dirt, sun, and water are key for this to be successful. As soon as ground is soft enough to be worked you need to head out to the yard and dig up a good chunk of dirt. You don’t need to dig up the entire yard but I would advice you to dig up a 1ft x 1ft sections. I would also dig one foot deep as well. If you plan to grow carrots, onions, or potatoes you will need to know how soft your soil is, and if those plants will make it. If you are super fancy you can have your soil tested. You can send samples of your soil away and scientist can tell you the exact PH which will help you figure out what to grow. I did none of this, I just planted stuff and saw what worked. Honestly that is part of the fun, the experiments. Not much worked that first year so coming up with a Plan B was how I fixed the problem.
If you have hard soil one option is to bring in top soil. My neighbor does this every year. He has a company bring in enough top soil to fill all of his beds. Another option would be to use raised beds. These too have to be filled with top soil but are easier to manage after the first year. My neighbor installed four of these last year. The option I prefer is container gardening. This is a little more expensive up front but well worth it. I had to bring in soil like my neighbor but I use a mix called Mel’s Mix. This is 1/3 compost, 1/3 soil, 1/3 vermiculite. Again this cost more to start but you don’t have to replace this mix for a years. You just top it off with compost each year. Two books I think you need to read if you don’t do traditional gardening are Square Foot Gardening and The Container Garden Bible. All the information in these books can be found online, but I liked having it in one location. These books helped me look like a master gardener in year two. A good friend of mine called my garden Eden. Unicorn Crossing was born.
Gardening is about controlling what you can control. In containers I could control water, soil, sun (you can move the container), and pest (row covers). Container gardening and Square Foot Gardening are what I will talk about most but please know that many of these rules will apply to traditional gardening as well. If your soil is loose and pliable you have just saved yourself hundreds of dollars and I’m jealous. If you don’t have a lot of space or rough soil raised beds or containers are really your best bet.
If your yard is not covered in snow go for a stroll and pick a location. Stand in the space and begin to imagine what you want it to look like. Take some pictures and really get a feel of your space. If you catch the gardening bug this will be your new home for the next few months. I lived in my garden from March-October. The goal is to make this a space you want to be in, a space you enjoy. For me its a space to not think. A space where I just do. A space where my mind finally gets to stop working and I simply get to enjoy nature. Tell me about your space. Send me some pictures. Get excited. Let’s grow some stuff together.
Here are some pictures of the process: