This summer marked the planting of our first garden. As a long-time city girl, I never envisioned that I’d be planting a garden, nurturing the plants, and feasting on the bounty. However, living and eating in both country and city over the years has changed my vision of how we cook and eat. Both my fiancé and I wanted to grow our own organic produce and eat food that we oversaw the production of.
And it was fun! Each day, we inspected the garden, marveling at new growth and daily changes. We grew cucumbers, green peppers, two varieties of tomatoes, basil, cilantro, parsley, chives, corn, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, watermelon, and cantaloupe.
During our first gardening adventure, we also learned many lessons. We called our first garden “The Experiment” and wanted this experience to be one that both yielded delicious fruits and vegetables but also lessons on what we should do differently next year. With the heavy rains that we’ve had in our region of the country, our gardening season is quickly rolling to a close, and we’re now reflecting on what lessons and successes we had this year. I wanted to share our gardening reflections of the year.
Research plant yields and plant what you need. We were incredibly enthusiastic about our garden, and we purchased and planted numerous organic plants and seeds. The results: In some cases, we grew too much! We had more cucumbers, for example, than we could reasonably eat and give away. Our little family can only consume so many cucumber laden salads and sandwiches. Next year, we’re going to just plant what we need with some extra to share.
Berries grow together. We learned that if you plan to plant berries, plant multiple plants together. We grew blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries. We had one raspberry bush and two blueberry bushes, and we found the pollinating works best when multiple bushes are grouped together for cross-pollination. In other words, berry bushes like to grow with friends. With only two blueberry bushes and one raspberry bush, we lacked the advantage of cross-pollinating. Next year, we plan to add some more bushes.
Share the bounty. We didn’t grow all the vegetables we love. In our first year of gardening, for example, we decided to avoid root vegetables. We wanted to start with produce that we could see and easily gauge the growth of. We’re fortunate that our neighbors garden as well, and we found that sharing the bounty was a big part of having a great gardening year. We gave neighbors cucumbers, watermelon, strawberries, and tomatoes, and in return, we receiving zucchini, squash, carrots, and other tomato varieties. Gardening is only made better with a communal approach, and both the sharing and receiving of vegetables and fruits made this year even better.
Plant some flowers. Flowers are beautiful and add color to the garden. In the case of marigolds, they have an added benefit. The pungent scent of marigolds detract from animal presence in the garden. In our area, there’s an abundance of deer, and deer love some good garden munchies. We, like our neighbors, planted marigolds near and around the garden area, and we found no evidence of animal meandering in our garden. Plus, marigold seed is incredibly inexpensive.
Love the bees. We learned quickly not to do anything in the pursuit of insect elimination that would detract from bees hanging out in our garden. We learned that our garden needed to be an area frequently visited by bees. Initially, we applied a natural Chrysanthemum solution to detract from the other insects and realized that we were chasing away the bees. Without bees, your garden is doing to be disappointing in terms of its vegetable and fruit yield. We quickly changed our ways.
Plants need space. We scoffed at the notion that we should plant various plants with certain space between them. Space was a premium in the way we chose to organize our garden. So, we planted as we chose, casting aside this advice. While this served us well in some cases, it didn’t in others. For example, our melons should have had more space, and we wonder if perhaps our melons would have grown larger if greater space had been given.
Above all, have fun! Our first garden was a team effort that we both enjoyed. Sure, some of first watermelons were the size of baseballs, but we remained positive and diligent in nurturing our garden. This was an experiment in learning, and we took any plunders in stride. We enjoyed watching the growth and learning what to do differently next year. It was a project that we gained perspective from, with lots of joy and frustrations along the way. Planting and maintaining was fun for us, and we plan to do this year after year, learning lessons along the way.
When I watched the movement to grow your own food grow, I always thought it was a nice idea. I made conscious efforts to seek out more farmer’s markets and local sources for my produce, but I admit that I always discounted the idea of growing my own food. Until this summer. I found that the garden was incredibly rewarding, and there was something incredibly satisfying about putting my own homegrown basil in my pesto, my own watermelon on my tongue. It’s been an incredible experience.
Despite the fact that we live in a more rural area, we executed our garden in a more urban farm style. We used lots of containers and only small areas of the yard for planting. So, whether you live in an area where cows and deer are aplenty or a concrete jungle, you, too, can grow your food and taste the bounty of your nurturing in every bite. I recommend this for anyone, whether you’re growing in the yard or in pots on the porch. Growing your food is a rewarding project that is fun and a better alternative to the grocery. A garden allows you to connect your food from seed to salad, and there’s something beautiful in that process that is missed when you grab the cellophane version at the corner market.