This past year I got an amazing opportunity to grow my first garden. I had high expectations and an eager attitude and was a little disappointed in the results, but a lot of gardening is trial and error and I am learning from areas of opportunity for next year. My first season was largely an experiment since I had never grown anything successfully before, and it wasn’t as successful as I had hoped- it was a bit of a flop, actually. I accidentally overwatered one bed with a daily drip hose and it dramatically stunted plant growth and production (we changed the settings a tad bit too late).
We started out with one raised garden bed and the other two beds got turned over to my care during the season. I also used some containers for herbs and flowers. Short and cool- season veggies grow best in Humboldt County, so I planted a lot of those, plus some others just for fun.
We built our beds out of pine, put big rocks in for drainage at the bottom, lined the insides of the bed with white plastic (to protect the wood since pine is not naturally rot-resistant like cedar and redwood – a caution to never use pressure-treated wood for edible gardens), covered it with black screening, and then we added soil.
I used seedling heater mats, seedling trays, peat pots, and a grow-light setup for starting seeds indoors. I soaked seeds before planting, and I watered my plants from below and misted the tops with a spray bottle.
I started kale, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, yellow squash, lettuce, lemon cucumber, sugar snap peas, bush beans, chard, arugula, celery, spinach, pumpkins, winter squash, melons, eggplant, corn, oregano, sage, basil, brussel sprouts, beets, kohlrabi, collard greens, and romanesco from seed indoors. I started the seeds mid-March and had to restart in early April because they got overwatered and moldy after a mishap- sometimes you gotta learn the hard way, right? The plants got a late start that hindered their potential (I also didn’t pay attention to frost dates, which are good guidelines to go by).
I bought mustard greens, strawberries, tomatoes, cilantro, thyme, parsley, peppermint, rosemary, calendula, comfrey, nasturtiums, and lettuce from local nurseries. A couple friends gave me some peppers and garlic bulbs, seeds for next season, and some cuttings and transplants that didn’t quite make the transition.
I hardened them off and put them in the ground after about 3-4 weeks. Some plants didn’t transplant well, others froze, and others didn’t grow and produce for whatever reason. A lot of plants that need a lot of heat didn’t produce like melons, eggplant, peppers, and corn. Some plants flowered and went straight to seed without bearing any fruit. The fruit on the regular squash kept rotting off due to pollination problems, which I attempted to combat by imitating the birds and bees with a paintbrush.
Our compost was a complete disaster. We originally used two large barrel containers with holes drilled in it, which didn’t work out at all because there wasn’t enough oxygen so the result was a stinky mound of uncompost-able material. I tried doing an open outdoor one after that, but due to the landowner’s request I had to remove it. Until further notice when I can come up with a creative compost solution, I am sad to say that I am not composting at the moment. I used compost tea a few times, but not as often as I would have liked. I found someone local who makes it on Craigslist, but if you compost it’s not hard to make yourself. I added organic fertilizer a couple times throughout the season, but next year I am going to try to do it more regularly to keep plants well-fed and happy.
Pests are a problem in the garden. I used organicide but didn’t like the oily residue, so next year I am going to look into other organic and natural pesticide options. I used ladybugs for aphids and tried to spray them off with water, but they were still a huge problem for me. Slugs were also a problem, so I am going to try putting beer out in a container for them and see if that works. I handpicked off a lot of caterpillars.
I used sulphur to treat powdery mildew on my squash plants. I also made mini plastic greenhouses around my tomatoes, which got blight shortly after producing so I had to rip them out.
I spent a lot of time in the garden but it’s a challenge to consistently keep up with- there’s always something to do.
The bulk of my harvests were salad greens and kale with some snaps peas, beans, zucchini, cilantro, lemon cucumber, and herbs. I was able to harvest a few other things here and there, but not many plants were steadily productive.
I am a fan of cut-and-come-again greens. I tried some succession planting with lettuce and greens but I was not as consistent as I’d like to be to have a steady harvest. I also cut kale at the bases after they bolted, and most regrew. I dug out greens as they bolted and became bitter.
I planted cover crops in two of the beds after the main season ended, and I currently have lettuce, spinach, carrots, onions, garlic, broccoli and cauliflower growing in the other one and in containers.
Gardening is both simple and scientific, and getting your hands dirty and growing stuff is the best way to learn both. It’s a great way to make sustainable food choices, have free therapy, it’s a great hobby, and a lot of life lessons are learned in the garden. Next year I plan on direct-sowing more seeds in the ground, better pest management, turning one of the beds into a DIY mini greenhouse for seed starting, and successive plantings for a steady harvest.
Until next season, folks. Get out there and grow something (: