We’re halfway through spring orientation for the Peterson Garden Project 2013 season and it makes my heart happy to see folks who, last year, had no clue about growing food going into their second season. And I really love the gardeners from our first, original garden in 2010. Some of them, novices at the time, have gone on to share what they know and teach others.
But most of all I love our GREWBIES (growing newbies)… every year they show up, eager, excited and a little scared… here’s some of the advice I share with them.[Hopefully, if you're a grewbie too, no matter where you are, this advice gives you some comfort and encouragement as well. And to our Peterson Garden Project grewbies - I'll see you in the garden soon!]
1. Mother Nature is our best friend… and sometimes our worst enemy. One of the joys of gardening is becoming less distracted from our high technology, media stimulated world and settling back into the rhythms of nature. She is a little moody these days due to climate change and she’s keeping us on our toes. Last year on this day, April 18, it was 76 and dry as a bone. Today we’re in our third day of non-stop rain and there’s a chance of snow tomorrow. You never know what nature is going to throw at you but, as a gardener, you learn to adapt.
2. You will make mistakes. This is a promise and part of the fun. Even as a lifelong gardener I make lots of mistakes. Sometimes the same ones – see Top 5 Dumb Gardening Mistakes as a case in point. Just forgive yourself and move on – gardens are a good place to learn to not take yourself so seriously.
3. Your garden won’t look like Martha Stewart’s garden. Most normal peoples’ gardens aren’t photo ready and perfect. Sometimes leaves are brown or plants are scraggly as they’re getting started or ending their growing cycle. Sometimes insects like to camp out and there might be disease. You will learn to deal with these things and love your garden with its imperfections.
4. In fact, you might over love your garden but not in the way it needs… while last year over watering seemed impossible due to the stinky heat, you can over water, over prune, over tend. Find the balance of what your plants need and admit it if you have a little OCD. Save that for work, let the garden be your relaxed place.
5. Chances are you will over plant. If I had a dollar for every time one of our new gardeners showed up with enough plants for the back forty vs. their 4×8′ I could buy a house in Hawaii. I gently explain over planting, expecting the dejected look, and then remind them (and myself) gardening is all about trial and error. If you must plant all that then you go on and plant all that. It will be a great learning experience. (And I’ll smile next year when I hear, “you were right, we planted too much” and smile more when you do it again…)
6. You need 200 square feet per person to feed someone all season from a garden. Your 4×8′ will not feed your family of four. You will get a lot of produce, herbs, great stuff and save yourself some money, but you’ll still need to go to the grocery store. Sorry.
7. You don’t have to buy a lot of fancy stuff to garden. You can if you want and you have the dollars but, even then, I don’t recommend it. Gardens are great places to recycle things and spending more money won’t make your plants any happier or make you a better gardener.
8. While it would be great if every seed and transplant provider grew their material organically, it is how you raise the plant that matters. If the seeds or transplants you buy aren’t organic, it isn’t the end of the world. You’ll raise them organically. That’s what counts.
9. Gardeners are the most generous people I know. Why? Because after all that love and care you bestow on your plants you can’t stand the thought of something going to waste. Extra produce is a great excuse to get to meet your neighbor. Since you’re a gardener now, why not get a head start and meet your neighbor ahead of time? Chances are they might have some good advice to share, offer to water while you’re on vacation or be really happy at the prospect of homegrown tomatoes. Share the love, people!
10. The most important piece of advice is this - plants want to grow. As much as we like to complicate gardening today with special methods or gadgets and create anxiety over it all, we have civilization because of agriculture so it can’t be all that hard. And it isn’t a contest. Gardening is a partnership with you, your plants and your patch of soil. So be nice to yourself – you can do this! – and welcome to a lifetime of adventure.