To the Beginning Gardener
So you’re feeling all green and one with the Earth and you decide that a backyard garden is an awesome way to get food. You are right. It is. But don’t let an idyllic picture of a smiling be-aproned lady picking perfect tomatoes be your guide. Let ME do it instead, with my huge filthy boots and many sharp implements.
Choose Wisely – Pick food and flowers you like. Don’t randomly plant shit and then let it get overrun by weeds and/or rot because you didn’t realize you’ll have to eat all those peas or whatever. Generally, if it’s just you, one or two plants will make you all the food of that sort that you would want. So, 1 tomato, 1-2 cukes, 1 zucchini, etc. Multiply accordingly if you got other members of the household who are gonna want some. Be aware that zucchini is prolific as hell.
Equip yourself – Gloves, trowel or weeder, a small spade, a shovel, an action hoe, a rake, a hose with watering attachment, scissors and a knife, and a plastic tub with a watertight lid to keep it all safe in the garden somewhere so you don’t have to lug it all back and forth (this is specific to apartment dwellers and others who end up with community garden situations). You and I both know you’ll just forget it and use the lack of equipment as an excuse to be useless. I know the shovel won’t fit. Leave all that shit out if you gotta, but hopefully you can hide them out of the rain somewhere. At least don’t leave them lying around. It’ll eventually lead to comical happenings that you won’t find comical post-concussion.
Read the seed packets – Holy crap, read! I know the print is super small, but it’s worth the struggle. If stuff isn’t supposed to be planted 6 foot underground, then don’t dig it a grave. Some stuff does need to be planted that deep (/hyperbole), so decide if you are willing to do that much digging before buying the seeds or bulbs. Some stuff will go to seed or bolt more or less right away. Other stuff will stick around and provide things for your salad for weeks and weeks. The packets will also let you know if it’s too early/late to plant based on your geography and their color scheme. Figure out what’s what. If it says to give something 2 feet of space, do it. The seed people know what they’re talking about. Great things to grow from seed are all lettuce/salad/kale type things, all squashes, carrots, radishes, onions, cucumbers, beans and peas, and wildflowers.
Starters – Sometimes you want other people to deal with bullshit weak seedlings. Tomatoes are a great example. You gotta seed them in your house in the dead of winter and then wean them off your indoor temperature and lack of wind and introduce them into the wild of your garden (an introduction they will not all survive). I buy tomato starters. I also decided it’s not worth the wait for most flowers. They take most of the summer to grow and you hardly get any flowers before the frost. Herbs are a bitch too, not always, but I’m tired of fruitlessly waiting for my parsley to grow where I planted it, just to be all mad when it turns out some wild parsley grew in my flowers and I missed having any of it before it started turning to seed.
Heal or Kill – The internet is your oyster. If something isn’t doing well, find out what it likes (mostly it’s more water, or less water, or some combination of sun exposure). If it’s all shitty and you’re angry with it, tear it out and start again. It’s not really worth having a sick plant around, not producing, and possibly sickening other stuff around it.
Water it – Once a week isn’t enough. If you want your garden to do well, then water it as close to daily as you can, skip a day now and then, but be ready for sad looking droopy leaves shaming you for your neglect. Get a hose implement that rains gentle rain on your plants instead of beating the shit out of them. Water as close to the roots as you can. If you put down mulch (could just be the dried out grass from the last time someone mowed the lawn) you can water a bit less often as it will slow down evaporation. It’s also a good idea to use mulch for thirst monsters such as cucumbers.
Weed it – This is now your small kingdom. You get to choose what lives, what dies. If you let everything live, then the stuff you spent money and energy on has to share space and resources with every other seed that survived and took root. Get an action hoe (honest to god, that’s what it’s called) and the weed-a-cide will go faster. If you don’t weed every week or two it will all get a bit overwhelming and will only expose your weakness of spirit when you give up on trying to fight all the green crap crowding and choking your tomatoes.
It’s War Out There – Plants will fight for food and space. Seed things appropriately (see reading of seed packets). Give them the space they’re supposed to have and for god’s sake, weed the garden! You can also just let your guys try to fight for their lives in a Darwinian struggle for survival, but since you can play God, why not just make the lives of your chosen people easy and watch them grow strong and make lots of food for you. Speaking of food…
Feed Your Garden – Plants like poop. We’re gonna call it fertilizer, but it’s poop, and if it’s the good stuff, it smells appropriately. Watering is good, sure, but if you want your garden kicking ass and taking names, fertilize it every 2-3 weeks starting with when you first plant stuff. You can either dump fertilizer amongst your plants, or add some foul smelling substance to the water. I do both, and my zucchini will destroy your zucchini.
Harvest It – I am not sure why people are usually excited about doing all the work of planting a garden and watering it, and then get bored just when the harvest comes in. Don’t do that. Keep that momentum going. Maybe you have tomato-gheddon on your hands. That’s fine, bring tomatoes to work, leave bags of ‘em on unsuspecting doorsteps, plant less next year. But seriously, enjoy the literal fruits of your labor.
So now you have the basics. Go forth and be a GARDENING GOD!!! Or at least godling. This is your first, maybe second one. No biggie. Kill it all and start again better next year. Really, it’s OK. Watching shit grow is pretty awesome. I don’t know that I’m really saving much money since fertilizer and water ain’t free, but I love having stuff be super fresh and pesticide free. Also, it’s educational. Plants frequently surprise you with all those parts you didn’t know happened before they made it into your neighborhood grocery store.