I‘m not sure if I’ll ever consider myself to be a gardener, but each spring I can be found hunched over a pile of dirt, dropping spinach seeds into a shallow trench, and daydreaming of an early salad crop.
If I was a real gardener, I probably would have dug the remaining carrots last fall and stashed them in my cold storage. Instead the boys uprooted them yesterday, and set aside half a bucket of rubbery orange specimens to offer the hens for snack.
I like to think that back in autumn I would have made the effort to turn the compost one last time, or put away the wire trellises, or at the very least, rolled the hose. Alas, the last of the snow melted this weekend, leaving behind the evidence of a very distracted -and hardly dedicated- gardener.
Last week, superstore Canadian Tire launched their spring digital catalog, and included in it is Aimee’s Way: Homegrown Goodness, a short feature on me and my backyard garden. The art team did a beautiful job on the project, Tim’s photos really pop, and gosh, do I ever sound like I know what I’m doing.
Which I totally don’t.
I’ve always made an effort to keep things real in this space, so when the feature came out, my first reaction was “I have to disclose that I’m not an expert!” I am the first to admit I have a ton to learn about gardening and, like many people, I imagine, am just trying to grow something yummy for dinner.
Each season brings new challenges. Every failed crop leads to a lesson learned. All hours spent in the garden are completely worth the effort.
Today I’m sharing a handful of examples where I’ve totally done the wrong thing – and how this season will be different. Maybe my tips can help you avoid my pitfalls.
All photos by Tim Chin
1. ‘Wing’ my crop selection.
I like to read the backs of seed packages. Yes, that makes me sound like a total nut-ball, but there’s something about that line “…as soon as the soil can be worked.” that speaks of such promise. And there’s a lot of good information on that little rectangle of paper. But not enough.
Good gardening requires a solid handle on your growing conditions, and then a bit of research to decide what will thrive in your plots. Research that I skipped last year, and resulted in beets that took forever to mature and zucchini plants that flowered but never produced fruit. This year, I’ll try to plan a little better.
2. Ignore sun and shade requirements.
My raised beds just don’t get as much sun as I’d like, a condition that I disregarded last year, and planted whatever I felt like, wherever. I don’t recommend this. I’ve come to accept my partially shaded garden, and will be sowing accordingly.
A basic rule I have learned is that if you grow a plant for the fruit or the root, it needs full sun. If you grow it for the leaves, stems, or buds, shade is just fine.
Guess what? Many culinary herbs love shade, and so I will be focusing more on plants like chives, parsley, cilantro, and oregano this year. I use herbs in almost every meal during the summer and nothing makes me happier than harvesting them myself.
3. Hope and pray that the pests will cease and desist
The squirrels stole many of the tomatoes just as they were ripening, a groundhog family wreaked havoc on my pots of herbs, and toward the end of the summer, the tomato plants were succumbing to some sort of nasty beetle.
This year, I’m marking my territory early and won’t stand for pests, furry or fluffy. However, I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to go about this. Feel free to leave suggestions in the comments!
4. Plant crops that my children dislike.
This spring I plan to involve my boys in gardening by planting produce that will capture their imagination and tickle their fancy. Unlike tomatoes, which they both currently dislike, and which took over my raised beds last year.
Half of the reason I tend a garden is to help my children make that key connection between field and fork. I believe kids can take for granted the effort that goes into producing fruits and vegetables without being exposed to gardening and harvesting. Also, what better way to explain seasonal eating than by observing it first-hand as the seasons change?
People of all ages support what they create, and I’ve seen how growing their own vegetables has helped curb my sons’ fears of new foods – they love big summer salads as much as we do. And this year, they are sowing those greens, along with green beans, peas, and potatoes.
We’ll work on the tomato issue too, but I don’t need to grow rows and rows of them.
5. Let Mother Nature do the tending.
Right. Maintaining a vegetable garden does actually require a fair bit of maintenance between sowing seed and harvesting fruit. You think I would know this.
Spring is such a busy time, that getting the crops planted – raised beds, front flower beds, hanging baskets, and deck pots – feels like a supernatural accomplishment every season. I then tend to block off ‘Gardening’ from my to-do list for a bit while I catch up on work and house responsibilities. Oops.
This year I’ll be more rigorous in ensuring the earth stays damp where seeds are planted, root crops are properly thinned, and the herb are harvested before they ‘bolt’. Among a dozen other jobs, of course. Good thing I enjoy this part of urban homesteading.
I did do one thing right last year. My chief gardening mentor, my mother, tipped me onto something to maintain healthy soil. She suggested I mulch around the plants to protect the soil, retain moisture and keep the weeds down. I used a combination of leaves and compost to mulch my raised beds and it worked! I hardly had to weed all summer.
Hey, it’s Earth Day! Get out and plant something. This post on Things to Think about When Planning Your Backyard Garden is a good place to get started.
Note: All the photos in this post were taken in early summer of 2012. My backyard is a current brown mud hole, so who wants to see that? Thanks to Tim Chin for the snaps.
What have you learned from your gardening mistakes? Any tips to share?