A few lessons I learned my first two years of gardening

I’ve learned much over the course of the last two years in regards to planting and keeping up with a garden.

My first year – although I did a lot of reading and planning before planting anything it just didn’t seem enough. I guess until you actually have some dirt under your nails and have gone through an entire season will you totally understand and comprehend what all those articles and books were trying to tell you. I thought my first garden turned out pretty good that first year but definitely learned that I still had a lot to learn. We only had one raised bed with four 4′ x 4′ squares to contain everything.

Boy were we enthusiastic that first year. Six tomato plants, carrots, two pepper plants, two or three zucchini, two yellow squash, cucumbers, strawberries, bush beans, kale, scarlet runner beans (thanks to my grandson’s school project), a sunflower plant, onions, chives, zinnias.

To say it was a total jungle is an understatement.

It’s a jungle!

So the first lesson we learned was to not plant so much. Even though the garden looked pitiful when we first planted everything it didn’t take long for it to take off and then get overrun.

May 8, 2018 – plants are in, seeds are sown.

To go along with lesson one – don’t plant too close together. You need to give the plants room to breathe and grow. I honestly thought things were pretty well spaced but once they started growing..yikes! Everything was so crowded it was hard to get in there and water without splashing water everywhere.

This year we added a second raised bed with three 4 x 4 feet sections. We were able to spread things out a bit more and add a few extra things we didn’t have last year. Like pumpkins.

May 11, 2019 – The beginning. It looks so empty.

The biggest lesson I learned last year was prune the tomatoes. Holy cow were they overgrown!

These need a serious pruning!

I did prune them, twice I think, but it was such a hot summer and we were out of town for two weeks they got unmanageable. Not to mention I didn’t start to prune them until they were already overgrown. Whoops, a little too late. There were a lot of tomatoes but they honestly didn’t get much bigger than you see here and I didn’t get a ton of red ones. At least not as many as you’d think with how large the plants are.

This year was cooler and my plants didn’t get nearly as high or as bushy. I also only put in four plants and trimmed them up from the beginning. Talk about a huge difference from last year.

Fairly decently pruned.

I learned that you should prune several inches up from the ground and try to give the tomatoes as much air as possible. It sure helped because the tomatoes were absolutely beautiful. No blossom end rot this year. Large beautiful red tomatoes as beautiful on the inside as the outside. I also made sure to stake them as soon as they were planted. My lesson for next year is to get some of those soft, flexible twist ties to tie the branches up rather than twine or string.

Beautiful celebrity tomatoes

The one thing I didn’t do this year that I did last year was use the blue plastic protectors for the tomatoes.

Blue plastic protectors for the tomatoes. Each well is filled with water to keep the plants warm during the night.

For some reason I guess I didn’t think I needed them. We planted around Mother’s Day this year and it was hot. Hot enough my grandson was running through the sprinkler. But June was much cooler and I think the tomatoes should have had that extra insulation until the temps evened out to around 70 degrees at night. There are little wells that get filled with water. During the day the sun heats up the water and then at night it keeps the plants warm, kind of like a mini greenhouse around each one. So I’ll pull them out next year and see if the tomato plants grow taller than they did this year.

I was definitely not disappointed in my harvest this year. We had some gorgeous tomatoes and made about 12 pints of spaghetti sauce and then another 6 pints of diced tomatoes. Not to mention what we ate in salads or gave away.

Tomato harvest 9-1-19

My beans were definitely not as prolific as I had hoped and I think it’s because I started them too early. I didn’t realize they need pretty warm soil before you plant them. It took forever for them to even germinate. So next year I’ll wait until it stays a nice 70 degrees before planting those. I also need to work on my trellis system next year. It didn’t seem tall enough and the bean vines were just not twining around like they should have. I did pole beans this year and not bush like last year. Pole beans seemed to be a better idea in a small raised bed like we have.

Another major lesson this year was caring for my zucchini and squash. Both years I tried using cages to try and train the plants to grow up and not out. In a small space like we had I thought that would be ideal. It didn’t work very well last year so this year I bought inverted or pyramid like cages. Wide at the bottom and narrowing as it went up. It didn’t work any better.

Spaghetti squash

My problem I discovered, after reading an informative article, is that I wasn’t pruning the plants. They should be pruned similar to tomatoes. Pruning will also help with that powdery mildew you always seem to get. No, I was not watering from above, always at the base of the plant. But it was very dewy in the mornings and the leaves just collected so much water from the dew that I think that was the major contributor to the powdery mildew.

Before pruning and powdery mildew

I learned that you needed to prune branches below the new zucchini growth and close to the main branch. That main branch should also be staked like tomatoes. That was my main problem, I wasn’t staking the main branch and I wasn’t training it to climb up. I was simply shoving the leaves up through the cage which certainly didn’t help with airflow. Just like tomatoes they need that airflow. Even though my zucchini looked like they weren’t going to produce too much more I could see some new growth in there, so I decided to give it a go and see how it did. Nothing to lose right?

After heavy pruning

Look at that poor plant. Doesn’t seem like there is much left now does it? But you can see there is new little zucchini flowers forming. I had to carefully tuck that main branch up the cage a bit. Too late to stake it but I wanted to get it up off the ground.

A little bit of new growth there

I actually got a couple more smallish zucchini and the plants look pretty healthy. I think next year will be a bumper crop if I stake and prune right from the start.

So those were a few of the major lessons I’ve learned. There were a few other things I made note of but nothing really major. I had a great time putzing around the garden this year, more so than last year. Maybe it was because it wasn’t so overgrown. I felt so intimidated every time I went out there last year. I had no idea what to do or where to start once things started getting out of hand.

I’m looking forward to next year and implementing even more changes and keeping my fingers crossed for a much better harvest.