David and I have kept a garden every year since David moved in. This is our fifth garden, and it is shaping up to be our most successful. My family always had a garden growing up, sometimes as larger as one acre. Some of my favorite memories are of jumping from one dirt hill to the next right after the garden was tilled with the tractor or of playing hide and seek in the corn. So I had some basic gardening knowledge going in. However, that doesn't mean there hasn't been room for me and David both to learn quite a bit along the way.
1. Don't make your garden too big.
This was a big realization in helping our garden become more fruitful. The first couple of years, our garden was about 4 times as large as it is now. This might seem like a good idea, but as two busy people with full time jobs, it was way more than we could reasonably maintain. Since downsizing, we have been more able to keep things under control. Which brings me to my second point.
2. Weeding is important.
This may seem like a "duh" to many people. But I really hate pulling weeds. It was one of my most dreaded chores growing up and I have not learned to love it. It's easy for me to adopt the attitude of "oh, the veggies will be fine, they can live harmoniously with the weeds." This is not the case. This year, I have made a real effort to stay on top of weeds. After letting things go too far in late spring, I finally got around to clearing things out and within a few days, saw a huge growth spurt from all my veggies. This was no coincidence.
3. You can water too much.
This was a new realization to me this year. Last year, the sprinkler was set up by the garden on a timer to go off every morning and we had one of the worst yields ever. I did some reading, which recommended no more than 1" of water per week. This information really rocked my world, so this year, we have watered the garden only a handful of times, usually only after planting new plants. Other than that, we have relied only on rain, which fortunately has been fairly regular this year, and our crop has been tremendous so far.
4. Work your soil well before planting.
Tillers are expensive, we learned. The cheapest one we have found is over $600. That investment just isn’t worthwhile to us with the small garden we maintain, so we opted to buy a small cultivator instead for around $200. In years past, we felt this worked well enough, but it would seem we were wrong. This spring, David decided to first use a shovel to hand turn the soil to a depth of about one foot. Then he used the cultivator to break up the large soil chunks. This resulted in a much less compacted, easy to work with soil, which I believe is one of the reasons we have had so much success this year.
5. Plant marigolds in your garden.
This is something David learned a couple years ago. The flowers help deter several types of bugs that damage plants with the added bonus of attracting more pollinators.
As for what we choose to plant, we tend to stick with easy to grow veggies that work well in our small space. And, of course, we always choose vegetables we enjoy eating. This year, you can see what we've got growing in the image above. We also have some lettuce and kohlrabies in the front left corner that you can't see in the photo. In the past, we have also grown onions, corn, carrots and radishes. One year, we accidentally grew pumpkins, when the previous year's jack-o-lantern got tilled into the soil in spring.
Bugs and wildlife have always been a issue for our gardens as well. Our squash frequently succumbs to insect infestations and rabbits wreak havoc on our fledgeling plants each spring. This year, we resorted to covering the garden with bird netting to keep the adorably irritating creatures out when they ate our tomato and pepper plants down to the ground. Fortunately many of them were able to grow back.
We've also tried our hand at growing fruit. The summer David purchased the house, he planted a blackberry bush. Birds are especially frustrating for these plants, as they eat the delicious ripe berries before we get a chance to pick them.
We recently mulches and staked our plants in the hope that they will do even better when they're not being overtaken by grass and getting run over by the lawn mower. You can see David chasing Chico around the yard above, as well as our peach tree. This tree was here already, but we did plant another at the same time as the blackberries.
We have never gotten any fruit from either tree. Apparently, peaches ain't easy. You have to remove 90% of the fruit for any of it to reach maturity. Not to mention they are extremely susceptible to insect infestations and diseases.
So although our trees are heavy laden with fruit each year, the only ones that get to enjoy it are the squirrels.
And now for some gratuitous photos of our vegetables. This is a baby kohlrabi, which, for those of you who don't know, are similar to a turnip.
We haven't yet gotten any squash, but the blooms tell us we will soon enough.
Green beans. Delicious raw straight from the garden.
This is the second year we have planted cucumbers and the first year they've been successful. And they have been WILDLY successful. They have a net for the vines to climb on. I plan to make some pickles later in the summer.
No tomatoes have become ripe yet.
But they will be soon enough.
Serrano pepper (on the left) and pimento peppers on the right. We also have Tabasco peppers planted that haven't produced any fruit yet. I'm excited to try these last 2 types, as I have never tasted them before.
Does anyone else have any gardening tips they've learned along the way? I'm definitely still learning as I go and hopeful that next year's garden will be even better!