9 Things I wish I knew as a Beginner Gardener

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1.  As a beginner gardener, I wish I had never used pesticides or herbicides.  When I moved away from Idaho, where I had gardened before, I got a shock. The bugs and diseases are rampant in hot and humid Arkansas.

I had squash bugs all over my zucchini squash and I sprayed a broad spectrum pesticide on that plant religiously. The plant died anyway and the next year, the bugs were worse.

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Looking back now, I can hardly believe I did that (I am now an organic gardener)! I was uneducated on the harmful effects of pesticides and I didn’t know about bad bugs and good bugs.

I use no sprays now, just handpicking bugs and added chickens and flowers to attract beneficial bugs to our homestead. My garden has less bugs than it’s ever had before!  Just trust me on this. Even if your garden gets attacked by bugs this year, IT WILL BE BETTER NEXT YEAR! Don’t be tempted to spray. Your patience will pay off.

2.  I wish I would have done a better job at feeding the soil and having the soil feed the plants. As a new gardener, it’s easy to have the knee jerk reaction of feeding your plants with a fertilizer when they are hungry or look sick.

The better way to do it is to have your soil tested first. Then make necessary adjustments by adding amendments. And then most important of all, add organic matter like compost.

3.  I wish I had picked disease resistant and bug resistant varieties of plants. When I was first starting out, I had no idea that there even was such a thing as a squash bug resistant squash or a tomato variety that is resistant to early blight.

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These days, I do my research first. I just read the seed packet descriptions. If they are resistant to a disease or pest, it will usually say on the seed packet because those things are assets!

4.  I wish I had bought seeds from heirloom and organic seed companies.  Like I said before, I did not start out as an organic gardener. I went to the big box store and got whatever seeds they had.  Ten years ago, the varieties were few and they didn’t sell organic seeds.

They do sell a bit more variety now and usually have a rack dedicated to organic seeds! I will still go buy from a local store when I’m in a pinch.

The majority of the companies I buy from now are online. They have much more variety. Heirlooms seeds allow you to save seeds for next year and they are cheaper than hybrids.  

If you are planning on organic gardening, it’s a great idea to buy organic seeds. These seeds were saved from plants that were grown organically the year before and possibly many years before that. Organic seeds have developed some resistance to pests and diseases naturally because they haven’t been sprayed.

5.  I wish I had known that starting plants from seeds is easy for most vegetable plants! You know the cucumber and zucchini starts they sell at the store? They are already begun for you in a nice seed pot with soil. What you don’t know as a new gardener is that these plants probably sprouted just a few days before. It’s not worth it to buy them already sprouted. Plant them directly in your garden!

Tomatoes and peppers are some common vegetables that can also be easily started from seed. However, you’ll want to start these indoors at least four weeks before the last frost in your area. It takes a little bit of equipment (shop light, seed tray, seeds, soil) but it is worth it! You will save money in the long run.

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6.  I wish I had invested in quality tools and materials from the beginning. My first year gardening, I made our raised beds out of pine. I kept it raw because I didn’t want chemicals in the garden and the price of cedar was 3x as expensive as pine.

Only two years in the boards started to rot considerably. I ended up taking all the dirt out and lining the inside boards with plastic so they wouldn’t rot as fast. By year three, the plastic lining on the boards was so weathered it literally flaked into pieces.

My first Garden, lined with plastic because I didn’t want to spend the money on cedar

My first Garden, lined with plastic because I didn’t want to spend the money on cedar

If you have the money, definitely invest in cedar or a high quality material for building your raised beds.

If you don’t have a big budget, I suggest mounding the soil to a “raised bed” but without the forms holding it in. I have several raised beds in my current garden that don’t have barriers.

Raised Potato Bed

Raised Potato Bed

You will still be able to grow and improve the soil and can save up for quality materials over time.  I wouldn’t waste money on cheap shovels, hoes, etc. Buying quality will pay off in the long run.

7. I wish I had spaced my plants out more. When you can a small garden and a lot of things you want to grow, its easy to over plant and space too tightly. Spacing too tightly can lead to a number of problems! For example, slugs, diseases, nutrient deficiencies, leggy, and weak plants can all be brought on by spacing too tightly.

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An example of my own garden and planting vegetables to tight together above. The winter squash took over the ENTIRE garden. I had to prune it back 5 times it killed some of my other plants and I only got like 5 squash off it. It was not worth it.

8. I wish I had done more research. If you are reading this you’re already doing better than I did!

I knew about sun needs and water needs but if I had spent more time researching what soil to put in a raised bed, I would have been way better off. My first raised bed I filled entirely with compost and a small amount of sand! While my plants grew ok, they were missing some of the minerals that comes with regular topsoil.

I have since created a raised bed garden soil recipe that really works. This is what I give to friends and have used myself. You can get the printable recipe by signing up below.

9. I wish I had begun earlier!  While research is great don’t think you need to do it perfect the first time. Looking back now, I wish I had done all these things on my list, but the most important thing of all is that you just begin! I’m in my 13th year of gardening and I’m still learning. The process is continual. You can do it!

My Backyard Garden 2014

My Backyard Garden 2014

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