This year we will be celebrating 50 years of Earth Day! This seems like the perfect excuse to chat a little about backyard gardens! I’m the first to admit, there is always more to learn about gardening, and like most people, I’m out here planting stuff that I think will be yummy to eat 🙂 While I have some training, most of what I’ve learned about gardening came through years of experience; trials, successes, and failures.
Honestly, it’s a miracle I enjoy gardening at all, considering my early years of gardening were relegated to digging out rocks, and pulling weeds in my parents garden. As a kid, I never got to do the “fun” parts of gardening, like planting things, picking things, and watering things! And while I loved my parents, don’t make the same mistake they made with me, get your kids out in the garden with you – and let them do the “fun” stuff! Let them dig trenches, plant the seeds, water the plants, and pick & eat food right there in the garden. Here are 5 things you can do in your garden, right now, to get ready for the growing season.
1. THINK ABOUT YOUR CROP SELECTION, REALISTICALLY
Seed catalogs have been arriving in my mailbox since January – you might have a few as well (and if you don’t, they’re easy to request). These catalogs offer a much larger selection of seeds (and often, seedlings) than what a garden or big-box store will carry. They are also more likely to include heirloom varieties. Choose things that are well suited to grow in your area. I get the majority of my seeds from Territorial Seed Company. Why? Because they have test gardens in my area of the Pacific Northwest. That means I know that the things they grow, will most likely grow well for me. Keep in mind as you make your selections, of the mature plant size. It’s easy to get excited with all those plants and seeds, and then overcrowd your garden plot. This will lead to reduced yields, and disease. Resist the urge! 🙂
- plants that sprawl include: pumpkins, squash, melons, (indeterminate) cucumbers…
- plants that get big include: zucchini, (indeterminate) tomatoes (especially cherry)…
2. LEARN ABOUT YOUR GROWING CONDITIONS
Having a successful garden requires you to understand your growing conditions. A little bit of observation and research now, will lead to a healthy and successful garden later. Make sure you know if your garden plot gets full sun, partial sun, or is shaded. Then make sure to choose plants that will thrive in those areas. If your garden plot gets shade for much of the day, you may never see a ripe tomato, which would be sad, but that same plot could be perfect for lettuce, spinach, chard, and other crops. You also need to know the average first and last frost dates, for your area. Your local state extension office may be able to offer more detailed information. Know these dates before you make your plant selections. Choosing a tomato that takes 100 to mature when your growing season is 90 days, will lead to disappointment.
- full sun = 8+ hours of sunshine – tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, melons…
- partial sun/shade = 4-6 hours of sunshine – root veggies like potatoes, carrots, parsnips, beets…
- shade = 4 hours of less of sunshine – lettuce, chard, spinach, kale…
3. BE AWARE OF PESTS IN YOUR AREA
This covers a wide range of critters, bugs, and possibly a nosey neighbor 😉 Learn about the major pests: deer, rabbits, squirrels, birds, etc. and develop a plan to deal with them before they do damage to your precious plants. My biggest pests are deer. They eat everything, and have a special affinity for hot peppers, tomatoes and watermelons (just before they ripen 🙁 ). This required me to build an eight foot fence, and I also use water scarecrows to help keep the deer away.
4. IF YOU DON’T WANT TO EAT IT, DON’T BOTHER GROWING IT!
This will be unique to your particular family, and there is no right or wrong. If you never eat tomatoes, don’t plant them. Love salad blends from the grocer? Plant a lettuce mix! Plan to make your garden a place you will enjoy, full of food you will actually eat. Involve your family in this process, and if you have kids, honor their input. An exception: if your pea-hating child wants to grow peas, let them! It could be an excellent way to help them get over their dislike of trying new foods. One year I let my daughter plant Fennel, because she thought it was pretty. I’m still trying to get rid of that plant, but she loved it, and that made it worth it. 😉
5. MAKE A PLAN FOR MAINTAINING YOUR GARDEN
Maintaining a healthy garden does require quite a bit of work between the fun of sowing seeds, and the yummy conclusion of harvest time. Plan now to get any necessary compost, watering hoses, garden tools, water walls, cages, trellises, etc. so that you have them when you need them. Little seedlings can go from healthy to dead in a matter of hours if the soil moisture isn’t maintained. If you have to be away for an extended time, get a water timer to make sure those precious seedlings stay moist. A great source of information for me here in the PNW are my lovely Sunset books; The Sunset Western Garden Book, and Sunset Western Garden Book of Edibles. Simple and comprehensive, a truly lovely combination.
Remember that every season is unique and has its own set of challenges. Every crop failure, or success, is a lesson learned in what we need to do. And when you eat the produce from your own garden, you will know that all the hours spent in the garden, are completely worth it.
Do you have a garden?
Do you have a favorite vegetable that you just have to have? Please tell me about it, I love trying new foods 🙂
keep the green side up,
*disclaimer – I’m not affiliated with the business or products I recommend in any way, I just think they are awesome, and wanted to share with you. 😉