Learning to grow vegetables is a trial and failure endeavor. In the beginning, you get small successes and devastating failures until experience teaches you the hard lessons of nature and her vegetable minions. In most cases, it’s the under-40 crowd who are having challenges if their parents never gardened, so nothing was handed down. It’s not their fault, they just haven’t failed enough like everyone did when they first began.
To help busy gardeners do better in the new year, here are some solutions to help avoid the major failures and save yourself a lot of work to boot:
1. Make water automatic. The vast majority of vegetable gardens in drier regions fail due to too much or too little water. That is usually because of human error, which most often is forgetting to water. Truth is, as summer approaches and kids get out of school, everything gets too hectic to remember to tend the garden each day. This is where failure begins because every parent knows you’ll never get caught up by back-to-school season. For everyone’s sake, and to prevent hoses left running and the inevitable waste that follows, install an irrigation system and put it on a strictly controlled timer.
2. Small and diverse. Unless you have a large backyard in-ground garden, you’re probably growing in raised beds of one sort or another. This limits your square footage. Problems arise when one big collard takes over your beautiful bed or a cherry tomato demands the one next door too. This demonstrates how smaller gardens need to focus on a wide diversity of plant types sized for optimal yield from a 4-by-8-foot bed or a 32-square-foot rectangle. It allows you to pack them in during the cool garden season for a huge range of leaf and root crops. In summer, the dwarf patio tomato types may prove more amenable, bush beans over pole beans, cilantro, basil and shorter, dense-growing peppers.
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3. Use row covers. Almost every heirloom seed catalog carries row cover growing supplies. The row cover is a lightweight tube that shelters your plants and keeps bugs out. This is huge for lettuce and the cabbage family, Asian vegetables and all the traditional American pot greens. Where aphids are a real pest, these covers keep them out completely and your greens will be miraculously perfect. You won’t have to be faced with the chemical pest control dilemma either. Be aware that in summer you must open row covers to let pollinators come in for the flowering vegetables. Heavier gauge row covers can go on in the fall to hold your crops for deep winter harvest.
4. Pick often. The more you harvest your plants, the more they produce. Pick every day even if you don’t need to, because that requires you go out there and get personal with those plants. In the process you’ll notice how they look when happy, so you’ll know at a glance when they aren’t doing well. You’ll feel a normally stiff and upright leaf feel soft and floppy and you’ll know moisture is deficient. And if a pest does get in there, you’ll find the problem on day one before your crop is damaged.
The only way to really learn how to grow vegetables and flowers is to accept the trial and failure process. Every time you try something new, it gets better and better as you build your knowledge base. That knowledge base is driven by your failures more than successes. Failures drive you to study what went wrong and why. Only then will you know how to avoid that one next year. This trial-and-failure learning process occurs during a gardener’s entire life, so don’t quit if you’re discouraged. Each year the effort will grow ever more successful, but only if you strive to learn from the consequences.
Maureen Gilmer is an author, horticulturist and landscape designer. Learn more at www.MoPlants.com. Contact her at email@example.com or P.O. Box 891, Morongo Valley, CA 92256.