Lessons from a New Gardener

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My green thumb came only as a result of the mistakes I made while learning to see things from the plant’s point of view. 
~ H. Fred Ale

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Since I started my garden the third week of May, I was sure that everything would die. Every flower or plant that I’ve tried to grow in the past has always bit the dust early on. I heard all kinds of advice imaginable and I started to think if I didn’t follow everything, my garden would be a sure failure.

But what I’ve learned over the past 6 weeks is that the process is unique for every gardener and the best tips and tricks are those learned from personal trial and error. There is no better teacher than experience and the lessons that I’ve learned will stay with me always!

Here are some lessons I’ve learned over the past 6 weeks…

1. Plants aren’t always better than seeds.

Case in point- my pea plants! The pea plants that I started from seed have grown three times the size as compared to the plants I bought in the store. Next season, I will plant more seeds now that I have more gardening confidence.

Pea plant planted from seed…huge!

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2. Greens are great for beginners!

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Next season, I will likely plant more varieties of greens as I’ve seen how easy they are to grow. Very low maintenance! Umm, except for that spinach failure…

3. Keep your garden within arm’s reach.

This year, I decided to put my potted tomato plants on the opposite side of the house because that’s where the most sunlight is, but honestly it’s a huge pain in the butt to water them so far away. I might move them to the other side of the house and just make sure they are in direct sunlight! When your garden is in arm’s reach, you are much more likely to water them on a regular basis. Try to keep everything as close as you can.

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4. Raised garden beds are amazing!

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We used this raised bed tutorial and I’m so glad we spent the extra time, money, and effort to build raised beds. Raised bed gardening is beneficial for several reasons, including better drainage, more aeration in the soil, less bending over, more control over the soil, closer plant spacing, and an earlier start to the season and later end (due to the raised bed being warmer than the ground).

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5. Don’t be afraid to crowd a few plants

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I followed plant spacing guidelines to a tee when I planted everything (I even measured with a ruler!!), but now that I see the growth, I know I could have spaced things closer together and still had success. Next season, I won’t be so afraid of a little crowding here and there! Also, with a raised bed, you can plant closer.

6. Chicken wire is great for keeping small animals out, but annoying when gardening.

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We haven’t had any major issues with small animals eating our plants thanks to the chicken wire. However, occasionally I will see a bunny eating my KALE through the chicken wire! The bunnies are too cute to get mad at…and can you blame him? That’s good kale! I laugh when I see a leaf nibbled on next to the wire, but again, it has only happened a couple times.

With that being said, the chicken wire is really annoying when it comes to gardening because it’s always in the way. Unhooking it eats up time, so I usually just bend it down when I’m weeding and picking.

7. Before picking herbs, give them a rinse with the hose.

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This way, you won’t have to fuss with washing them once you bring them inside!

8. There are no mistakes in gardening, only learning experiences!

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The best part about gardening is that you are in the trenches learning every single day. There is no better teacher than experience! I’ve learned much more by actually doing it, than from reading a book. I will never forget about my bolted spinach and if I plant it again, I will try another variety more resistant to bolting and I will plant it earlier in the season!

9. When picking kale and lettuce leaves, pick the outer leaves and leave the inner ones

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Seems logical, but I had to Google this before I did it!

10. Plant only the produce that you LOVE to eat.

Only plant produce that you get excited about. Kale is one of my favourite vegetables, so I planted the most of it- 20 plants. I’m not worried about having too much because I can always freeze it and enjoy it all winter long!

11. Nothing is better than tasting fresh peas.

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Sweetest peas ever.

12. Seeing a bell pepper sprout is like Christmas morning :)

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Happiest moment of gardening to date!

More progress pictures…

The tomatoes have surfaced :)

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The tomato plants didn’t want to wrap around the pole and one of the plants actually fell over!! I don’t know if it was from another animal or from the wind, but I loosely wrapped a twist tie around the upper stem to support them. Seems fine now. :)

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Peppers are growing!

This is our banana pepper plant. Long and slender. :)

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Cucumbers! Which have little pricklies on them…..cuteness.

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Our two cucumber plants have grown the most out of any of the plants in the garden.

Here they are May 28, 2011:

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July 7, 2011:

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BEETS! Grown from seeds (which I’m especially proud of)

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Carrots sprouting ever so slowly, also grown from seeds. :) And a few weeds to pull out!

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The peas love to hook onto things for support.

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Another pea plant which was planted from seed is doing well. It managed to hook around a stick for support.

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I laughed when I saw that the plant has grabbed onto this long piece of grass (below) and strangled it!

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I also read that I should put string across the pea plants horizontally so they can spread out more…I’m hoping to do that this weekend.

And the best lesson of all?

13. Mother Nature knows best!

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The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that nature is pretty darn good at working things out for itself! While it’s important to take care of a garden, it’s equally important not to smother the plants. Like a mother sending her child off to their first day of school, sometimes you just have to let them go grow. :)

Initially, I was watering too much and the plants began to yellow and die. Once I backed off a bit and let it do its thing, the plants just took off with growth!

 

Weather means more when you have a garden.  There’s nothing like listening to a shower and thinking how it is soaking in around your green beans.  ~Marcelene Cox

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{ 131 comments… read them below or add one }

Sam@I Tell Stories July 8, 2011

You’ve had so much success with your garden, I’ll be planting a bigger one than the one I currently have next year :) Looking forward to all my home-grown produce!

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The Teenage Taste July 8, 2011

Great lessons, Angela! My Dad and I have been planting a veggie garden in the backyard for as long as I can remember. It’s a tradition I look forward to every Summer. Gotta love those fresh, pesticide-free veggies! :-D

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Cait's Plate July 8, 2011

I’m dying to have a garden! I know I say this every time you post about yours but I’m so jealous!

That bell pepper is awesome. I would be so excited if I saw that and knew that I grew it myself!

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Gina @ Running to the Kitchen July 8, 2011

I love all your garden pictures. I think you’ve done an amazing job for your first year and I’m super jealous of all your kale!

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Kristen @ Popcorn on the Stove July 8, 2011

We eat so many vegetables that it would make more sense to just grow everything! I wish I could have a garden, but we don’t have a balcony at our current apartment and if we have any plants inside we get those annoying little flies. We’re moving in August and our new landlord has a garden in the back that we’re welcome to, but it’s not the same as having your own. I guess it’ll be good practice!

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Marit July 11, 2011

If the landlord is not keen on you digging around you can always use pots. Those strawberry pots (tall with lots of holes in the sides) are brilliant for growing herbs and both peppers and tomatoes will grow quite impressively in pots. oblong pots or window boxes are excellent for both lettuces and peas. You can do a surprising amount of great stuff with small areas.
A garden is great but as long as you rent accommodation there will always be limits to what changes you can make and pots can be a fantastic feature. A friend of mine went to a demolition site and found a really old set of wooden interior stairs. she dragged it home, set it up against the wall in her garden and filled every step with pots of veg. it looked amazing.
As the stairs ended at the wall, she called it her stairway to dinner. :)

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Nicole July 8, 2011

Thanks for the advice! I agree that gardening is a lesson you learn from experience. I did my first raised bed garden this year and while most of what I planted is growing really well, there are certain things I will likely try differently next year.

For the chicken wire, I would suggest asking Eric to build a frame with a door that you can open and close on one end. That’s what Blake did for me and I love it.

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Angela (Oh She Glows) July 8, 2011

umm that’s genius. I think Eric will shoot me if I give him another project though. Might have to wait til the deck is done…lol.

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Meredith July 8, 2011

Love this post! I’ve never grown a garden, but as soon as I move out of my apartment and into my own house, I know planting a garden will be on the top of my to do list!

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Robyn @ Blueberries and Oats July 8, 2011

Thanks for the great tips! =)

Gardening’s pretty tough when you don’t know what your looking for or you don’t know what’s normal! This is my first year ever trying to make something grow and you have certainly been an inspiration! My little cherry tomatoes are finally coming in and I couldn’t be happier.

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Angela (Oh She Glows) July 8, 2011

cherry tomatoes would be lovely! Glad they are working out for you.

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Lacey July 8, 2011

Last year was my first attempt at a garden, and failed pretty miserably. The few tomatos that did come in were quickly gobbled up by my neighbor’s daughter (we share the garden), and I believe we had only 1 pepper actually reach a respectable size. This year we tried a few different things and so far so good.

I laughed when you mentioned the rabbits eating your kale. I have a similar problem, only it’s my black lab that likes to eat mine. I’m having trouble getting my hubby to embrace a more plant-based lifestyle, but the dog is more than happy to eat up anything green. :-)

I’ve been reading for a while, and really love the blog. Last summer I switched to a pescetarian diet and have recently eliminated diary from my life. For me, the changes are due mostly to GI issues I’ve struggled with over the years, and I’m finding that a more plant-based lifestyle is truly helping.

Your blog has inspired a few recipes in my kitchen, so thank you for that! Keep up the great work!!

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Angela (Oh She Glows) July 8, 2011

A black lab eating kale….who knew? I guess dogs do like grass, so it makes sense… heh
Glad you enjoy the blog! Congrats on your lifestyle changes.

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Shelley August 15, 2013

My American Bulldog looooooves kale. Every time we have it (almost daily), she gets a leaf or two plus a carrot or two. She’s the healthiest dog I know.

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Elizabeth July 8, 2011

Hi there! I’ve been following your blog for a while; I love cooking yummy vegan food, and your recipes are very inspiring! Just wanted to tell you that your garden looks so beautiful… I’m still in the apartment part of my life right now, but I hope someday I can grow veggies that are half as lovely as yours.

Kind wishes,
Elizabeth

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Angela (Oh She Glows) July 8, 2011

thanks Elizabeth!

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Jen @ keepitsimplefoods July 8, 2011

Your garden looks awesome! I have a black thumb. :(

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Aine @ Something to Chew Over July 8, 2011

Your little farm has come a long way, great job Angela! :)

Love that opening quote.

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Ashley July 8, 2011

I would love to have a garden in the future– but for now, even though I live in an apartment, I would really love to at least have some herbs on the balcony! Where we’re housesitting at right now, in St. George, Utah, they have a garden out back full of tomatoes,grapes,basil,peppers, and even watermelon! There’s a pumpkin there somewhere too– and the freshest squash:) I love watching everything grow!
We made a pizza Margherita the other night with basil and tomatoes from the garden. I never liked tomatoes before, but there’s no turning back now! :) So glad your garden is doing well!

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Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table July 8, 2011

Reading this really makes me wish I had a yard! I bet it is so exciting to watch littler peppers, cucumbers, et al progress each day.

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Amanda Elliott July 8, 2011

Your garden looks so great! I am jealous.
I only discovered your blog a couple of days ago, and I am so thrilled I did.
I am also from Ontario, so it is great to follow a local blog.

Unfortunately, my house doesn’t have a back yard to have a big garden. We do have a balcony where I planted a few things like lettuce, parsley, basil, baby tomatoes and green peppers. So far everything is doing pretty good, but look forward to next year where I plan to plant kale and try some seeds too.

I recently started my own blog to keep myself motivated with working out and eating healthy. I took some pics of my garden yesterday, that I plan to share in a post very soon!
http://gettingfitwithdvds.blogspot.com/

Anyways, great job with your garden and I am loving your blog!

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Holly @ The Runny Egg July 8, 2011

The peas are so cute!!!

Good job with your garden — I only planted one tomato plant in a pot and it is doing well. I’m so proud :)

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Amanda July 8, 2011

I love this post! I understand the feeling completely. I mean I started a whole blog to record my trials and error :) After all the years of watching my family garden, it is a completely different experience to give it a try on your own. I learned a lot of lessons last year that I’ve implemented this year and even more are being learned now. I love gardening :)

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Tichina July 8, 2011

What a lovvvverly post! :) Great to read duing my morning work break, now it’s back to work! :) Have a great day Angela!

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Christine July 8, 2011

I have been reading your blog for a couple of months now and you’re very inspiring! Also your garden is beautiful!!! I am on my third year planting veggies and have not once done any research on how to grow them but rather just charge it and learn from my mistakes. Every year our produce exponentially increases than the previous. This year my soil is incredible (top soil, mushroom compost, vermiculite). And I agree raised beds are the way to go!

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Silvia @ skinny jeans food July 8, 2011

I agree, watching things grow in the garden is exciting, and you even treat the produce differently when you cook it! Really appreciative!! :-)

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Rebecca July 8, 2011

Wow, GARDEN ENVY. And I really hate gardening. :) But I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything as adorable as that pea plant!! It was funny, at first I thought you wrote “Before picking herbs, give them a rinse of hope”…ha! :)

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Jen July 8, 2011

I envy your garden SO much! It’s beautiful. I want fresh peppers and cucumbers! One of my biggest goals is to have a garden like that one day. If I ever do, I’ll probably backtrack through some of your posts for tips, because your greens look amazing. :)

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Andrea July 8, 2011

This is my first year having a garden too and I love it! It’s so fun seeing the progress… next year I think I will definately expand it now that I know what I’m doing a little more! Do you think you will expand yours?

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Lindsey July 8, 2011

I love veggie gardens! Yours looks awesome! My peas were attacked by some sort of pest, which makes me sad since they are my favorite. Your cucumbers look great mine are so small I can barely see them! And not tomatoes for me yet. I will keep my fingers crossed for now :)

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jess @ cupcakes and kale July 8, 2011

congrats on the success this season! i’m not struggling with bunnies, but this year i’ve been catching a big lovely robin nibbling at my beet & radish greens! haha, oh well, at least i’ve always got the great big squash plant growing out of our compost heap! can’t wait to see if it will sprout zucchini or butternut or pumpkins!

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Nikki T July 8, 2011

Awesome lessons! I’m not quite as scared to plant my first garden next year now :)

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Tiffany July 8, 2011

Your garden looks great! Aren’t home grown peas the best? I also started mine from seeds…just kind of plopped them in the ground with a kiss and a prayer…and now we have SO MANY! I finally got to pick them last night. I sauteed ours with olive oil, salt and pepper and they were amazing!

I see bunnies around our chicken wire, too. And they’re so cute I don’t really care if they get some of my carrots :)

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JenATX July 8, 2011

I hope you are so proud of yourself for diving into so many challenges this summer. GF baking AND gardening!

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Magdalena July 8, 2011

The garden is absolutely lovely! Must be really inspiring to see the plants growing!

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Cat @Breakfast to Bed July 8, 2011

Do you drink coffee at all? The used grounds are fantastic in your garden. (I come from farmers)

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JL goes Vegan July 8, 2011

GREAT overview and tutorial! This was my first summer gardening (deck garden) Believe it or not, my biggest fail has been herbs. UGH. My dill and cilantro bolted, without me knowing what that even meant! (the thyme, basil and parsley have fared well, though) Kale is super easy, super good and thank goodness because kale is my heart! My red romaine lettuce started strong and I’ve had some amazing salads. I went on vacation this week and returned to bolted lettuce. Not sure, but I think my lettuce is over for the the summer :( My peppers are popping out and my cherry tomato plant brings more joy than I could ever imagine! So, yes, here, too. Hits and misses. And I’ll do it again next summer ;)

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Jo July 8, 2011

One thing to keep in mind with the spacing guidelines is that more than anything, they’re there to make sure that there’s enough space underground for the roots so they can adequately spread out and pick up enough nutrients to make our veggies even healthier.

Great garden!

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Angela (Oh She Glows) July 8, 2011

that makes sense, thanks!!

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Brenda Fisher July 8, 2011

I planted my radish seeds too close together and now they don’t have enough room to grow big and round, some are long and skinny because they are crowded. The seeds were just so small, I couldn’t see spacing them out so much, but it matters! Your garden looks beautiful!

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Michelle | Gold-Hearted Girl July 8, 2011

I LOVE your garden beds. The wood + soil + green is just gorgeous! I can’t wait to grow veggies of my own. Hopefully I’ll have a green thumb like my mom…and like you! Good job!
http://goldhearted.etsy.com

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Kelsey July 8, 2011

Great work, Angela! I can’t wait to have a house with a yard one day so I can try my hand at a garden like this.

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Angela @ Eat Spin Run Repeat July 8, 2011

Well done Ange!!! You’ve done such a great job and I think everything looks fantastic, especially the kale and that baby green pepper!! I’d say you’ve definitely got a green thumb now!

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kelly July 8, 2011

Lookin’ good! We are doing our first veggie garden this year too and I agree that it is like Christmas when those first plants start to grow :)

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Chantal July 8, 2011

Love this :) Did you plant your greens from seed or were they small plants? I can’t remember… I tried starting mine from seed and I think they got overcrowded… I didn’t have the heart to thin them out when I probably should have so I may just got with plants next year. Other than that, I totally agree with you on everything, especially the sweet pea part! (Pea shoots are also just about the tastiest thing ever, so if you have any leftover peas to plant, just let them got a couple inches and eat them, they’re amazing!)

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Carlene July 8, 2011

Great post, especially the tip about seeds vs. plants. My fiance and I are house hunting right now and at each one, I always imagine where I’m going to put my raised beds!

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Zestful Lou July 8, 2011

I would definitely be the one to choose plants over seeds because I would assume that they’ve already started growing and all I have to do is keep them alive! I guess that’s not always true. I’m learning so much!!

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Pure2raw Twins July 8, 2011

Great advice. I can’t wait for the day till I have the room to make my own garden. I am a little nervous because I feel I would not be very good at it. But I have learned so much for your experience so thank you!

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