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6 Things You Need To Understand The First Year Of Gardening

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My first garden was awesome! It didn’t grow a ton but it was the best feeling knowing I was learning how to be self sufficient. However, there are things I wish I understood. I am not saying that I wish I knew because technically I knew, I just didn’t understand. Read on for 6 Things You Need To Understand The First Year Of Gardening and hopefully it will help you avoid the same things.

1. Soil, soil, soil

Who knew soil was so ding dang complicated! It doesn’t feel that way to me now but when I first started I was clueless.

Soil tip #1 – you can’t use garden soil in containers/raised beds. You need potting mix or raised bed mix.

Soil tip #2 – top soil is garbage. It’s super cheap because not a dang thing can grow in it! It doesn’t have any nutrients at all to support healthy plants.

Soil tip #3 – 50/50 soil/compost mix delivered in a dump truck from a local garden store can be too hot to plant in. I don’t mean hot as in heat, I mean hot as in the compost (poop) hasn’t decomposed enough for plants to thrive in. I had to buy bags of vermiculite and peat moss to mix into the huge amount of soil I bought.

raised bed filled with soil

2. Just because the local big box store (I’m looking at you Home Depot) has plant starts doesn’t mean it’s the right time to plant them.

In early spring big box stores have tons of cabbage, broccoli, cilantro and cauliflower plant starts. My heart was leaping with joy at all the food I was going to grow. The problem is that here in NC, spring is so very short. These are cool weather crops so planting them is a waste of garden space! It’s far too hot for them to thrive in the spring and when I want to plant heat loving tomatoes and peppers, sad looking brassicas are in their spots.

3. Plants bolt

Ok, I feel like I am always talking about how slow I am at grasping concepts but plants bolting is one that took a minute! This is connected to #2 because all plants have a job, to go to seed. We grow plants to eat them before they go to seed (most of the time) When it is too hot, plants bolt much quicker. Bolting means they throw up a huge shoot with flowers or seeds. When they bolt they don’t taste good anymore.

bolted plant
Our fall here in NC was so so warm that my bok choy bolted!

4. Irrigation isn’t expensive

Anytime I read the words irrigation I would immediately move on because I’m just a regular joe and regular joes don’t have a budget to install irrigation. Well I was 100 percent incorrect! And if you’ve been thinking the same thing read on and GET EXCITED! I installed snazzy irrigation for super short money. I used this system and I still have some tubing left to expand it this year.

Add a timer like this and you will have a more cost effective and efficient watering system.

5. Don’t start seeds in 4 inch pots

My theory last year was why would I want to have to up-pot my seedling several times? I decided it was wicked smart to just start my seeds in 4 inch pots so they could just grow in that one pot the whole time until I was ready to plant them outside. What I didn’t consider was the amount of soil I would need and the amount of space they would take up. It ended up working out fine but it was a little overwhelming at the end. I will use smaller pots meant for seed starting (these guys are my favorite) so I can use less soil and pot up the strong ones.

tomato seedlings
I had so many starts that I had a sale! You can see just how much room they took up.

6. Have a plan for the harvest

This may seems super obvious but I was simply not fully prepared for the bounty! We were eating fresh from the garden everyday but I had pounds and pounds of tomatoes and peppers we simply could not eat in time. I knew I wanted to learn to can but the summer garden is a lot of work and by the time I needed to learn to can, I felt like I just couldn’t handle one more thing. I ended up freezing the extras and I’ve pulled them out to make sauce this winter. It all worked out but now I know that I need to have a pre thought out plan.

heirloom tomatoes
Each week I had large bowls filled with tomatoes and peppers!

Think about whether you plan to use a canner to preserve the harvest or maybe you’d like to invest in a freezer so you have plenty of extra space to freeze! Either is totally fine but it’s best to at least think about it ahead of time.

I hope these 6 Things You Need To Understand The First Year Of Gardening helped you. Please leave a comment if you experienced different things that you wished you understood. Sharing your wisdom is so helpful for new gardeners.

If you need some inspiration read about what food independence is here because we can all use some encouragement!

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