Dream home stories - Learning and sharing stories

What have I learned in my first year of gardening?

If you have followed my blog before then you already know there were a lot of firsts for me last year and one of them was my first attempt to try gardening. And it has given me a wonderful amazing summer. I have lessons learned in my first year of gardening.

I was in between for a long time about whether I should start this year and more importantly – can we be ready in time with our wildlife jungle and create enough void to create a veggie patch. But I got a little nudge from my better half so I went to explore seeds to sow and I was stunned for a bit. Of course, I knew already beforehand that there are almost infinitive species of everything in the world even tomatoes and cucumbers – but to see (only) tens of them in front of you is a whole different thing. And I had to pick … ONE! How do people do that?

Researching plants

The first step was to find seeds so I dived into the internet – who knew there was soooo many veggies and different types of the same ones – carrots, tomatoes, beets… you name it and there are tens of options to choose from. Damn, I want them all!!!

Since I had to start somewhere so I started to read up and eliminated all tomatoes and cucumbers that had to be planted in a greenhouse. I might be ambitious and way too hopeful at times, but even I realized that this collapsed and junglelike greenhouse can’t be fixed in less than two months and we are not able to build a new one from scratch. So I needed resilient open land plants, and every pack where there was a need for a greenhouse, windless and warm stable temperatures were tossed aside.

But I finally found the seeds and was ready for the next step – sowing. So I need to buy some fresh soil and head home. And as you may guess I forgot something – yep, seed pots! So I had to improvise since patience isn’t my strong suit and didn’t want to wait another day. Luckily for me – we eat a lot of eggs and they are packed in carton boxes with perfect little round shapes. Since they are made of carton – the plants can grow through them and breaks down in soil without hurting their roots.

Lesson number one

It didn’t take long before I got my first lesson in this gardening course – if you sow – they will grow. Kind of logical and expected, and same time unexpected. I tried to google the ratio of seeds sprouting and somewhere I found that 50% will not grow so just in case I sow 10 of each – cucumbers and tomatoes.

About 2-3 weeks later I had to state the fact that only 3 cucumbers had sprouted so I sow more. and some tomatoes also just in case they won’t grow. And ended up sprouting all of them. When it was the first time to replant them to a larger pot – I counted 58 of them. The first time I thought maybe I had gone a bit overboard with growing my plants. But it was too late. They were all my little green babies now. And they were beautiful. And they smelled heavenly – have you smelled tomato plant?

Finding a spot

To put all those green babies in their permanent home I need to find a place. It had to have sunlight, but not all day long so they would die from the heat. It had to be open enough for rain but sheltered enough from strong winds to survive even with storms. Everything that I knew plants will need. And it shouldn’t be in the center of the garden and not too far away. And how should I know how big it has to be?

I tried to vision – all my 60 babies and then how much room they needed. I even Googled if there is an app for this. But ended up going with my gut. So I picked a little meadow under apple trees to protect them from too much sun, shielded from the winds by a broken greenhouse and willow bushes. A nearby creek would help out keeping the soil moist if we were to be away. So it looked kind of perfect for my newbie gardener’s eyes. Except for the Japanese knotweed.

Digging through roots

So prepping for my first veggie patch meant a lot of digging. Since the ground was moist and felt soft I thought it would be easy. Boy was I wrong! The roots were huge and there were so many of them. Most of them like big tree branches and made me worried a few times that maybe I am hurting apple trees. But seeing how they are thriving now my mind is at ease.

It didn’t take long before I was sore all over the place and looked up in hopes that I had dug my way through the planned area – and disappointed. Not even half. By then the older kid had finished up with a campfire pit and joined me. We can preach about equality as much as we want to but the truth is – men and women are built differently and physical labor like digging shows harshly. This land just gave in under the shovel in the hands of a young man.

Step by step

So we got this patch dug once and ended up for a day to rest for a bit. The next morning I continued with derogating and started working on raised beds. And found more roots. I created some outlines for veggie beds and this dug-up soil started to look a little like a real vegetable garden – my own!

Did you know why there have to be raised beds? I never gave this a lot of thought before but now when I was working on it this question rang in my head – why? Why can’t I just plant them without this extra work? There are two ways to form veggie beds – building/buying boxed raised beds or adding extra layers of soil on the bed so they are higher than the ground. In both ways, it’s for the good of plants. I used the latter one.

The purpose of it is to keep moisture more localized around the plants and option excess water to flow off. And safety from kids-pets. When they are raised it’s easier to spot them and hopefully, kids/pets walk around them. Especially at the begging when there isn’t anything visible growing there.

I have been blessed

When I started this I hoped and believed I will be living there soon and be on sight almost daily. But life throws us curveballs so my first garden attempt had to manage a lot more on its own than I planned. So considering all this I am extremely happy they are still alive and thriving.

I was late planting them at the beginning of the growing season and sometimes they had to rely solely on nature for a whole week – with these heatwaves! But they survived! I know they got a lot of help from our naturally overmoist ground and whenever I left – I did water them twice as much as they would need. Just to add an extra layer of moisture there for later days. But still being a way my heart aches. And I hoped for rain – at least during the nights – to give them extra water.

At some point, I was ready to give up – because the heatwaves were awful and I couldn’t help them on daily bases. So you can imagine how happy I was when I found my first full-grown cucumber! and then more. At the time of writing this – I have gotten about 4 kg of cucumbers! Yey!

So yes – plants need constant care and love, but now I know that they do have their own survival mode also. And they can live without daily checkups if they aren’t possible.

Sowing and growing

One thing I really failed at was sowing from seeds in outdoor veggie beds. Firstly – if you sow seeds – they tend to grow. And while sowing do consider that all of them will sprout – so leave space between them for growing. Of course, there is always a possibility of thinning out but – I felt soo wrong doing that. I gave them life – and before they really could grow and thrive – I had to pull them out. How do you choose?

Another thing – look how long is the growing period. For next year I will sow some plants like salad and radishes in patches at different times. Because they are the best when they are fresh, but planting a whole pack at once means – they will get ready at once. well … should be but I made some mistakes. Like not leaving them space and not thinning out enough. Rookie mistakes.

Another rookie mistake was not planted deep enough. I trusted the instructions on the bag with this one and never gave a second thought to that. Not until I saw my first radishes-beets trying to grow. I should have put them in deeper. Since I don’t have boxed raised beds it means winds and water fill carry away some of the soil from on top of the raised bed. And brings seeds closer to the ground. Closer than they need to be. I will be smarter next year.

I will plan better next year. I am already making lists in my head and probably end up creating a gardening planner for me. Would you be interested in this? Should I share it when ready?

Now it’s your turn – share with me your experiences with gardening!

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