Grow it Yourself: My Advice to Beginning Gardeners

Reader Contribution by Carole Coates
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My garden gate

As we are jarred by headlines warning us of coming food shortages, more and more people are ready to turn their hands to gardening. Of course, there is more to growing than can be covered in one short article, but I have some ideas that can get you started.

The most important thing to remember is this: don’t worry that you are a novice. The best way to become an expert gardener is to garden. Gardening is the epitome of an experiential education. Gardeners experiment, and we learn from our experiences, whether successes or not. Here are a few tips for the beginning gardener.

Start Small

Every experienced gardener will tell you one of the biggest novice mistakes is going overboard. Did you know one summer squash plant can produce as many as twenty-five pounds—forty or fifty squash? All that enthusiasm for a giant garden can wear pretty thin by mid-summer. A hundred square feet—10 by 10 or so—is big enough to get you started without overwhelming you. If you still want more plants, you may want to think about adding a few containers. They take a lot less preparation.

A bean tepee can be made from bamboo or downed tree branches, and it takes up hardly any garden space. Photo by Ron Wynn.

Start Easy

Let’s face it. Some plants are simply a lot harder to take care of. It takes great diligence to protect broccoli from pests, for instance. In my wet, short growing season, tomatoes are a huge challenge and, often, a disappointment. I’d rather get mine at the farmers’ market. But other plants practically do all the work for you. Zucchini is such a big producer that you better not miss a day of harvest or you will find yourself with the infamous baseball-bat size squash. And they are extraordinarily versatile at mealtime.

Radishes aren’t just easy–they’re also quick and provide an early reward for your efforts. Photo by Carole Coates

Other easy growers include salad greens, green peas, garlic, green beans, Swiss chard, and potatoes. Children get a real kick of digging in the dirt and coming up with fresh potatoes! I’ll be writing more about easy crops to grow in an article to come out soon, so be on the lookout.

Call on an Expert

And don’t be fooled into thinking you need a physical person holding your hand. My gardening bible is Niki Jabbour’s Year-Round Vegetable Gardening. You can learn why on my Mother Earth News blog post: Best Gardening Books.

Mother Earth News’ own Barbara Pleasant is full of practical gardening advice as well as tips on simple and imaginative ways to make use of all that produce you’re going to grow—like making beet raisins. Yes, you read that right. You can follow her blog or her Facebook page or via her Mother Earth News articles. And by the way, her Home Grown Pantry is a must-have if you garden for year-round eating. This book is featured in my earlier blog post, as well. (Can you tell I’m a fan?)

Several television and radio series feature basic gardening tips, too. Check your local public radio or TV listings for programs such as Weekend Gardener or Mike McGrath’s You Bet Your Garden. A new one I just came across is on Amazon Prime. Grow, Cook, Eat. This series—designed specifically for the new gardener, devotes each 30-minute program to a single crop you can grow in the home garden or in containers with step-by-step guidance. It also troubleshoots common growing problems and includes some clever growing tips and recipes. 

Consider Alternative Growing Options

No garden space? No problem. If you have a sunny deck, patio, or driveway, you can plant in containers. Most garden vegetables can grow in containers—as long as you have drainage holes and choose good planting medium. Many plants offer dwarf varieties to make container gardening even more satisfying.

You can also grow indoors. Fill a planter with a mixture of your favorite herbs—ready for cutting right in the kitchen. Sprouts—a jar, a colander, a sunny window, and water and you’ll have salad and sandwich toppers in only 2 to 3 days.

There are all sorts of ways to get started gardening, and my bet is you will be surprised and pleased with the results. Let’s get digging!

Carole Coatesis a gardener and food preservationist, family archivist, essayist, poet, photographer, and modern homesteader. You can follow her Mother Earth News blog posts here. You can also find Carole atLiving On the Diagonalwhere she shares her take on life, including modern homesteading, food preparation and preservation, and travel as well random thoughts and reflections, personal essays, poetry, and photography.


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