Growing Guide: General Tips

It's easy to get overwhelmed in your garden, and so arming yourself with information is super important.  But it's also important to remember that gardening is for lifelong learners.  We fail and learn just as often as we succeed (some seasons, maybe even more!), and that's all part of the process.  Embrace it!  But here is some information you may find useful in your planting journey.

Healthy Soil

Healthy soil is they key to garden success.  If the soil isn't healthy then your plants will not succeed.  Here are some general guidelines:

  • Don't till--it disrupts and kills the beneficial life in our soil.  If you must break up the soil, only do it the first season.

  • Compost, compost, compost. You don't need to make your own! You can buy bags of mushroom compost at Merrifield for $6, or find local areas selling composted manure (aged 1+ years).  **Advice: avoid Black Kow brand. It's dead and questionable.  Add a 1-2" layer every year--or once in spring and once in fall for best results.

  • Feed the soil and let the soil feed the plants. Don't add fertilizer.  Most likely, you don't need it and your soil won't benefit from it.  If you put organic material (compost, leaves, grass clippings, composted manure, you feed the microorganisms that feed your plants.  Keep it "fed" and you'll have healthy soil every year--and in turn, healthy plants.

  • Don't leave it naked.  Use a quality mulch, like leaves or shredded hardwood, to cover the soil. It prevents runoff, controls weeds, prevents compaction, keeps water from splashing onto your plants, retains moisture, and composts over the course of the year.  

  • When in doubt, get a soil test. Any deficiencies in your soil can be fixed using organic material, and the test will let you know what nutrients are low.  You don't need fertilizer!

Black Soil
Joy of Harvest

Grow What You Like

Pour your heart into the things that you like to eat.  Start small, and start with just the things you love.  Try growing just a few of those types of plants.

If you're a beginner, you're going to run into some obstacles along the way.  It takes a few seasons to really get things down, so don't be discouraged!  But to minimize those burdens, stick to just a few things that you really enjoy eating or cooking with.  

If you're only going to try one type of plant, it's a good idea to start with a few different varieties.  Take notes or make a journal to remind yourself what did well, what didn't, and why.  You'll find something that works for you and your garden, and it will only get easier every year!

Keep it Convenient

Make it easy for you to maintain your garden.  The more difficult it is for you to take care of, the more likely you're going to make like Elsa and let it go.  Even if you're not a lazy gardener like me, keeping it convenient opens up more time for you to grow even more things.  So here are my convenience tips:

  • Keep your garden as close to your home as you are comfortable with. Access is a big deal.  It may not seem like it when you're excited about your new garden, but you'll quickly find that the small things add up when you're trips back and forth start to feel like Hobbit adventures

  • Keep your tools in one place, and if possible, make a small enclosure or dedicate a space for your garden supplies to make access easier.

  • Setup irrigation.  It's not as complicated as it sounds, and one with a decent timer will allow you to enjoy your garden without the burden of constant watering.  Plus it allows you to leave town worry free!

Organic Garden
Plant & Irrigation System

Be Water Smart

Watering is one of the main reasons things go wrong in a home garden.  Too much or too little water can create problems for your crops, and it can become a burden for you.  Here are my tips:

  • Irrigate. There are irrigation systems for most budgets, and it's easy to setup.  A good timer ensures even watering.

  • Water the soil only.  Wet leaves breed and spread disease!

  • Don't water every day. Unless your plant is in obvious distress, don't water every day. Research shows that watering deeply and less frequently encourages our plants to stretch their roots out further--creating stronger plants!

  • Mulch. It keeps the water from evaporating as quickly.

  • Listen to this podcast, or at least read the show notes. It breaks down all things watering-related in our gardens.


Vegetable Farm

Give your plants the space they need to grow.  It can be tempting to plant as much as possible, but that can limit what your plant produces and make it easier to breed and spread disease.  Here are my tips:

  • Not all plants need to be planted together. In fact, research has shown that it makes it even more enticing for bugs that feed on certain plants if there are a bunch in the same place. Don't be afraid to move things around to make use of the space you have in your planting spots

  • Follow the recommended spacing of a plant. Leaves that are constantly touching don't allow air to move through or water to evaporate off of the leaves. This creates a breeding ground for fungus and diseases that kill our plants.

  • Give the roots room! The stronger the root system, the more productive your plants will be.  

  • Interplant. You can put rows of carrots or radishes between your plants instead of giving them their own space. They like the shade of the bigger plants in the hot summer, and they don't take up any room.  

Plant Pots

Use Containers!

You don't need a lot of space to grow a ton of things. You can use containers for just about any summer plant if you can find the right size.  Here are some tips:

  • Pay attention to the size requirements of your plant--particularly the depth.  If the roots get bound in the container, it will spend more energy on sending roots out to find space than the plant itself.

  • Don't add anything to the bottom. It is a myth that it creates better drainage; in fact--it makes water pool!  So find a pot with good drainage holes and use quality soil instead.

  • Try fabric pots!  They are excellent for drainage, and they can fold up and be stored at the end of the summer.  If cared for properly, they can last many years and are inexpensive.  They come in just about any size you need.  Our favorite brand is GeoPot.

  • Anything can be a container as long as it drains.  Use old bathtubs, buckets, rainboots, or even beach toys to create visual interest in your garden.  As long as you can put drain holes in it, it can be a plant container! (**as long as the materials it is made of are non-toxic, of course)

  • Prop it up. If the drainage holes in your container sit flat on the ground, find a couple of bricks or something sturdy to rest it on so that the water can drain.