If there is one thing I have learned from gardening in the past few years, it’s that there is no “one size fits all” approach. In my head, every year that I would start a new garden, I would always idealize the simplicity of growing vegetables and overlook the complications and challenges that occur each year.
For a good part of those novice years, I distinctly recall specific moments during the growing season where I strongly felt that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. Sometimes, no matter what I did, I couldn’t seem to keep my plants hydrated enough. Other times, they would start off beautifully, and then just stop growing and turn into cute little dwarf plants bearing no edible fruit! And of course, my natural minded, laissez faire attitude toward pests never proved very effective at safeguarding my veggies from slugs and aphids.
Even now, I kind of feel like I don’t really know what I’m doing. I attribute part of this to the fact that we keep changing regions every few years. It takes a while to get to know your soil, your climate, and how to successfully grow veggies. By the time I started figuring out our garden in Washington, we up and moved to Louisiana.
This year, now in the Deep South, we have taken some significant measures to prepare ourselves for a good gardening year. We decided to build a “keyhole” themed garden bed, where the compost bin sits in the middle and slowly releases nutrients into the soil. We acquired a greenhouse shelf to house the many seedlings I wanted to start early. And this year I diligently planned out my garden on graph paper, with incorporated companion planting guidelines, to allow the veggies to holistically work together.
We’ve done all this, and yet I still feel like I don’t really know what I’m doing. What pests will attack my plants this year? Will I have enough of the right nutrients in my soil? I find myself asking the same questions I have been asking myself since the very beginning of my garden journey, subconsciously believing that I wasn’t a true gardener until I had these problems figured out. True gardeners don’t have pests. True gardeners always have great soil…
Not true. For any reasonable person, this might all seem very obvious. But it’s taken me nearly eight years to finally figure this out. I’m pretty sure gardeners and farmers everywhere, ask themselves these same questions, every year. The difference is that each new growing season, they have gained knowledge from all the years prior and can apply it to the next. I’m sure this is quite true for many things in life.
When I first started writing about gardening in my blog, I felt a little phony. As I said above, I didn’t feel like a “true” gardener. I am the first to proclaim that I’m no expert. I often think that I don’t know what I’m doing. But eight years ago, I didn’t even know about companion planting, or what an aphid was. When I’m being truly honest I have to admit that over these past years, and past garden blunders, I have actually gained a bit of knowledge.
So, what are my new and improved methods for gardening this year? My biggest goal is to successfully implement companion planting into the garden. All plants take and leave different nutrients in the soil, some attract good pests, some deter bad pests, and others provide shade or trellises for vines of other plants to hang. In this respect, certain plants grow really well with certain other plants. Ever heard of the phrase “we go together like peas and carrots?” Well, that’s companion planting! Carrots and peas actually grow really well together.
I also plan to grow several marigolds and cilantro plants throughout the garden as my first line of defense against pests. And this year I discovered this fantastic recipe for homemade bug spray that calls for a heavy dose of garlic.
For proper soil hydration, we opted to mulch the bed with hay this year. There should be lots of nutrients from the hay to further fertilize the soil, and it creates a nice little barrier that protects the soil from sun and wind damage when fragile seedlings are most vulnerable.
For fertilization the keyhole gardening should help us out, with the compost nutrients feeding into the soil. I’ve already amended the soil with coffee grounds, egg shells, and some homemade compost of my own. When the plants seem like they need a boost, I plan to add more homemade compost, and apply my own concoction of milk, molasses, and Epsom salt fertilizer spray.
I hope that by sharing this all with you, you will gain some encouragement to try your own hand at gardening this year. You don’t need to be an expert to begin, or even to continue in the adventure, but just keep at it and learn from the experience.
I will update periodically this summer and harvest season, and hope that by winter I will have a few more tidbits of helpful information to share with you, and to propel me into the next year.