By Krystal Krogman
Sometimes you have to fail, several times, before you ever learn a lesson. The last article I wrote was about the beginner mistakes I made last spring, but at no point did I mention that I was a beginner then. I had mentioned that I had gardened before when I was a kid, having complained about that back-breaking weeding, but that wasn’t the only time I had experienced this rewarding hobby before the container gardening escapade.
After I wrote the last article, a fellow coworker and myself were joking about the predicament I had put myself in last year, the expectations of this year, and our favorite gardening experiences. It was then I remembered the first gardens I tended to.
When I first moved out of my father’s house, I moved into a shoebox. Not literally, but if it were any smaller it would be considered a bedroom and not an apartment. I had an even smaller terrace with this shoebox, and at the start of spring my second year there I got a windowsill box built for me. This box was built out of standard lumber, was three foot by six inches wide… and had no drainage holes. (You can see where this was going right?)
Being fresh on my own, and wanting beauty before function, I opted for a lovely array of flowers to be planted there. I filled it bottom to top with potting soil, and put some cute little daisies and the like in the fresh soil… I just wanted something that I could look at on occasion and see the beauty of just a delicate little flower in the cruel “real world”. Those “occasions” were few and far between. It was never watered, but since there was no roof above it, I figured God would take care of them and I could just enjoy the beauty. Like he doesn’t have more important things to do… Well, they died, and I honestly couldn’t tell you how long they’d lasted.
Then a few years down the road, my husband and I moved into our quaint little house that I’ve mentioned before… the one in the middle of a small town. One blessing of our small house, is the lot it was built on, is not very small for being in the middle of town. An even greater blessing, when we opted to get a few “guard dogs” was the fenced-in backyard that accompanied it.
Our first year in the house, we got the typical case of “stretching our wings”, that everyone who goes from renting to buying goes through. We painted, we built walls, we replaced windows, we tore up carpet, and we dug up the yard. We built our first garden in the farthest back corner of our spacious backyard. In fact, we dug up both corners. In the one corner, we planted these amazing sunflowers. I loved them, truly a majestic piece of art they are, even when their season is ending and they begin to bow their heavy heads. These beauties were so tall they grew above our privacy fence in the back.
In our other corner, we built a cage, in hopes it would keep those pesky rabbits, cats and other vermin out of our precious garden. It was a small plot, probably only 4 or 5 foot square, we tilled up the soil, and planted. I once read, that a beginning gardener should work the soil by hand and once they tire of digging up the land… that is the square-footage they should plant. It’s a good tip that I plan on remembering this year.
We purchased our started plants and a few packets of seed – going in full-throttle, purchasing 4 slicing tomato plants, some cucumber seeds, a cherry and a grape tomato plant, and even a green bean plant. (If you read my first article, you notice the trend here. No planning, just buying.)
We didn’t prep our rather sandy soil at all, just started digging holes and planting seeds and plants. This corner of our lot gets a lot of sunshine, in fact it’s sunny there the majority of the day, seemed like a logical place to put any, and every, plant. (I know you veteran gardeners are chuckling to yourselves right now.)
Soon we were so overwhelmed with tomatoes, had a couple baby gherkin-sized cucumbers, and no green beans. None at all! Being young “gardeners” we thought we had done everything right: we watered when we remembered, picked when we had nothing better to do, and did nothing, except chuck them off to the side, when we noticed the ‘bug bites’.
Unfortunately, neither my husband nor I had any experience or equipment to can. So after we’d had our fill of picking through our bug-infested tomatoes to find a few good ones to eat fresh, we let the majority of our larger tomatoes die on their vines. After we had picked grocery sacks full of cherry and grape tomatoes, over and over, and just giving them away they too met a similar fate.
After that first year, we vowed to never purchase so many tomato plants to put in the same little area (yeah, apparently I forgot that vow, or thought I’d be able to separate out my plants after they’d grown together for a couple months) and the following year, we didn’t. In fact I think we got only one or two. Of course, we didn’t have near the bounty, and thought it was a bad year.
After the “bad year,” we hung up our metaphorical straw hats and focused on smaller things. Plants in the front yard, where people would be able to see their progress, things like Hostas, Black-Eyed Susans, Daisies, and Lilies. It’s not nearly as practical, but in the city it’s all about curb appeal and these plants fit the bill… (Except for those Hostas, even in my shady front yard, I still can’t keep them alive.)
So, here’s what I’m doing this year… to prove I’ve learned at least one lesson all these years. I’m reading, I’ve got a couple good books to get me going: Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardening (which literally tells me what I have to do every week and it’s based off my average frost date – not just some strictly Zone 9 recipe for disaster, being that I’m in Zone 5.) and Vegetable Gardening for Dummies which came with my “Beginner’s Vegetable Gardening Package” that I bought (but didn’t make time to read) last year from Heirloom Solutions.
I know we’re pretty far into the New Year, but since we’re just starting the New gardening Year, I’m making a toast: here’s to learning from my mistakes, and creating a brighter and healthier future for myself and my family. If you have anything you’d like to share (perhaps some seasoned advice, secrets of the trade, or tried-and-true fail-proof recipe or canning tip) I would gladly like to hear it! One thing I have learned, perhaps with a little encouragement of my coworker (Thanks Denee!) is that a famous farmer once said:
“Anything that’s worth doing is worth doing poorly first.” -Joel Salatin