7 important lessons I learned from my first veggie garden in 2020. Tips for planting your first successful vegetable and herb garden. Everything you need to know before starting your first veggie garden - what NOT to do + tips and tricks I learned along the way!
This year, like many others, I decided to plant my first veggie garden. I say my "first" because this was my first veggie garden I've planted on my own, without any help. I did spend a lot of time growing up in the garden with my Mom. From a young age, I remember planting seeds, waiting patiently for everything to grow, and learning how to harvest herbs with my Mom.
My Mom has the most green thumb of anyone I know. She can miraculously grow and make any plant thrive. Even in Ontario with our cold winters, she has grown a lemon tree (which stays in a pot indoors over the winter). Her lemon tree even produced a few lemons this year, and they were so tasty!
Just like with anything else, sometimes you have to learn from your mistakes. I feel like all of the things listed in this blog posy may seem obvious, and none of them are breaking news. Honestly, my Mom and other gardeners reminded me of these important steps before starting my own garden, but in the excitement of starting my own garden I figured if I cut a few corners and improvised, it would all work out. It turns out, their advice was all for good reason, but I had to see it first hand and learn from my own mistakes! This blog post is as much a list for myself and reminder of what I'd like to do differently next year - as it is a checklist for anyone looking to start their first veggie garden as well! I am by no means a pro, but I had so much fun gardening this past summer and I can't wait for next year to try again.
To give you some background, the veggies and herbs I grew (or tried to grow) this summer in my first veggie garden included:
- Heriloom Tomatoes
- Kale (Dino, Curly, and Red)
- Sugar Snap Peas
Here are 7 Lessons I Learned from Planting My First Veggie Garden:
1. Space Out Your Seeds
One of the first things you will see on any seed packaging is how far apart to space the seeds when planting, and how deep. In my excitement to get my seeds started this past spring, I wasn't very careful with spacing out the seeds as directed on the packaging. I used four 32-Cell Seed Starter Tray made of biodegradable peat to start my seeds in. For soil, I used Nature's Care Organic & Natural Potting Mix. I think this was a great setup, but the first issue was how closely together I planted my seeds. Figuring that the more seeds I planted, the better - I decided to plant multiple seeds in each cell. This made things tricky once it came time to plant. Not only were the seedlings competing against one another for space, but they were crowded in and hard to separate. Not only that, I planted too many. But we'll get to that later!
2. Use a Grow Light
If you are starting seedlings early in spring like I did, using a grow light is definitely a good idea. Again, this is something I read about but figured I could get around. We have a very bright front porch in our house that gets a lot of sunlight, so I figured it would be good enough.
Instead, I ended up with "leggy" seedlings, which is exactly what I was warned about. When your seedlings don't get enough direct sunlight, they put all their energy into growing as tall as possible to reach more sunlight. This makes for really unstable and fragile stems, which sometimes tip over and snap. A lot of my kale seedlings got really leggy, but luckily survived once I transplanted them. Kale is so resilient!
3. Less is More
I definitely went a little overboard with starting seeds this year. When I moved my seedlings over to my gardens, I had over 25 tomato seedlings and only 5 raised beds. This was just tomatoes! I had countless carrot and beet seedlings, as well as peas and kale. I had to thin a lot of the tomatoes in the end, and it felt like a huge waste after putting so much effort in early on. If I had instead focused on 5 -10 nice tomato plants, I think I could have actually produced a lot more tomatoes and used up less space.
For the carrots, the seedlings were so close together that they were hard to salvage, and there were so many! Instead of thinning them out and getting rid of some, I tried to dig them up and space them out carefully. I think I spent a few hours on this and the did continue to grow, but were very stunted. At the end of the season, I ended up with just 2 hand fulls of very small carrots. It was the same for my beets as well!
4. Planning is Key
When it comes to gardening, planning really is key. Both in terms of planning when you need to start seedlings, and where everything will be planted (mapping out your garden). In our area of Ontario, they stay that after May 24th is typically the best time to get seedlings planted in the ground outside. I was really excited to get things started, so I started my seedlings way in advance. Maybe too far in advance! Especially since I didn't have grow lights, I think this was a big mistake. The other thing I would do differently is to not start everything indoors as seedlings. My beets, carrots, and cucumbers could have been started in the ground and I think would have done a lot better. I will try that next year and see how they turn out!
5. Location Matters
Again, this is not breaking news... but following the directions based on the veggies you are growing is key! Finding out if they prefer direct sunlight vs shade or partial shade makes all the difference. I was somewhat limited with the location of my raised beds because I had 3 pre-existing garden beds (which were more shaded) and 1 new raised bed that was in direct sunlight. I figured that for my first veggie garden - any space would do whether it was shaded or in full sunlight. No surprise, but my raised bed in direct sunlight did a lot better than the other 3, and produced lots of kale, tomatoes, and herbs!
6. Proper Watering
Watering in the morning before it's too sunny and hot makes a big difference. This is also when the soil is the coolest, and gives the plants time to dry before night time. Also watering the soil at the base of the plant rather than the leaves helps to prevent fungus and rot. I also learned to give plants lots of water, completely soaking the soil and roots. If you water the surface of the soil lightly and often, it promotes shallow root growth.
7. Home Grown Tastes The Best
Last but not leas - and it comes as no surprise - but home grown veggies truly taste the best!! Even if I didn't get a huge crop of veggies, every little thing that came out of my first veggie garden was so delicious and satisfying to know that I had grown it from seed. My carrots, beets, onions and cucumbers didn't do that well since I plated them in a pretty shaded area. But the kale, tomatoes and herbs really took off! Right now it's November 1st and we've had one snowfall (which melted immediately). I'm still enjoying kale from my garden, and just picked a huge batch to freeze for winter.
Plans for next year
Next year I plan on doing more herbs as they were one of my favourite things to grow. I would like to have lots to dry for winter to make my own herb blends, as well as for tea. I also plan to plant less tomato plants and focus my energy on a few plants so that they produce more. I will definitely still plant lots of kale, because in my opinion you can never have too much! I love making this Healthy Caesar Salad with Kale and never get tired of it. Yesterday I planted 35 cloves of garlic, so we will also see how that does come spring.
Are you going to start your first veggie garden next year? I would love to know what you're going to plant! I hope you find these tips from my first veggie garden helpful if you are a newbie gardener as well. And, if you're a seasoned gardener with a true green thumb, I would love to know your tips and favourite thing to grow in the comments below. I hope that your first veggie garden is successful, and leaves you inspired to do it all over again next year (which is exactly how I feel)!
Be sure to follow me over at @nourishmintkitchen for daily wellness inspiration, healthy recipes and more! If you liked this post, you may also like to read my thoughts on 4 Attainable Zero Waste Habits to Adopt in 2021!