A look at my early-summer garden progress, and a few lessons I’ve learned in my first year with a home garden.
Looking at other people’s bountiful early summer gardens on social media makes me feel like I’m a bit behind with my veggies and herbs still working on getting bigger and leafier. In all fairness, the gardening bloggers I follow live in completely different regions and even countries than me, and all have experience gardening, so I need to cut myself some slack. After all, we did have a weird late-season frost at the beginning of May that nearly killed one of my hydrangeas and did kill off a bunch of my neighbors seedlings, so I suppose it’s for the best that I’m a bit behind! Progress continues though, and we are loving the sight of our raised beds slowly becoming overtaken by green with each week that passes.
As this is my first attempt at gardening, I started small planting our most loved veggies and herbs; tomatoes, bell peppers, jalapenos, watermelon, zucchini, basil, cilantro, lettuce blend, and a few things I started from sprouted food waste like celery, garlic, scallions, and potato. I didn’t follow any companion guides, or whatever it’s called when you strategically plant things next to other things that are supposed to help them grow, because 1: I was already overwhelmed with the amount of prep and the surprisingly high cost involved with starting a garden, and 2: my entire little garden is all within about a 10 ft long by 3 ft wide space, so everything is pretty close already. As with many challenges we’ve been presented with as first-time homeowners, I’m taking the wing-it-and-hope-for-the-best approach; keeping my standards low and my prayers consistent, and it’s not looking too bad so far! Below I give the general layout of my garden beds, listing from left to right what I’ve planted.
In the first bed and the one that takes the brunt of the scorching afternoon sun I planted my seed potato first, at the end of February just to see what it would do, and so far that seems to be a good time to get seed potatoes in the ground here regardless of risk of frost. Garlic was the next to go in, which will take about 6 months to go from one sprouted clove to a fully developed head, and it flanks the tomato portion of the bed. The tomatoes I started from seed and only about 3 out of probably 15 made it. Those 3 are now on a tomato cage as they’ve only JUST started getting tall enough for it but I’m still a ways off from any fruit. I did sow a few more seeds because of how many March indoor seedlings didn’t make it, so I should be ready to harvest at the end of August/early September, I hope! Lastly, peppers. I actually can’t remember if I put my jalapenos or red bell peppers (which I started from the seeds of a pepper we used then I saved the seeds) here, but these are also indoor starts and are growing VERY slowly.
Again, not sure if these are red bell peppers or jalapenos but they’re doing alright with the exception of one (which I think is actually 3 close together) which is towering above the rest, and should give us some food next month! Next to the mystery pepper is my pride and joy – zucchini! I planted these from organic seeds I ordered online and they are looking amazingly leafy and robust. Just this week I’ve begun to see little nodules (def not the proper term but whatever) at the base, which makes me think LOTS of zucchini is on the horizon. The chives in the upper right were a gift from my parents when they came for a visit in April and so far this is the only thing I’ve been able to eat out of this garden – exciting! The scallions were planted from kitchen discard, and the little bit of oregano growing below them was another gift from my parents, which I thought had died as it turned brown and disappeared but it’s come back and looking great now. That’s definitely a lesson I’ve learned with a few plants already including a beloved peony; if it turns brown and appears to have died, don’t rip it out right away, it may just be having a little dormant moment (expert gardener terms, obvi) but may come back as both of mine did!
Since I don’t label anything, I again am not sure my order here, but these first two plants are broccoli and cauliflower, and one of them is coming along swimmingly. These are another replacement for failed indoor seed starting attempt and these look MUCH better than my leggy, weak seedlings ever did. Again, it’s all about the light. Next is cilantro which was also direct sowed and it’s also beginning to look like a mature version of itself with lots of discernable leaves forming. In the right corner is basil, also a direct sow and it’s doing very well even under the scorching sun which seems to be taking a toll on the other plants’ leaves. I did plant a store-bought organic basil after we used the leaves just to see what would happen and after a few days of heavy rain I have new leaves popping up all over it. The last thing in this bed is celery, also from kitchen scraps, and I have absolutely no clue how to tell when this one is ready, if it will grow again, or what’s going on with it beneath the soil but these top leaves look healthy, so I’m just watching it.
Watermelon. That’s it! I will be SO HAPPY if these grow some sweet juicy melons for us but I’m keeping my expectations low – this is my first garden, after all. I followed the planting guidelines on the seed packet but every single seed did well and now I’m afraid they are too crowded where they are. They do have this entire bed though so maybe I can train them into other parts of the bed? We shall see.
We eat a ton of lettuce so I planted two small terracotta little pots with a mix of lettuce seeds and put them in a completely different location just to see how they’d do. So far this is the slowest growing seed with just about 2 inches of growth from ONE seed in one pot, and only a sprout in the other pot after over 4 weeks. I will try moving them out of this mostly shady spot and see if they don’t catch up to the rest of the plants! I used a blend of organic soil and organic seed starting mix.
This detail definitely caused me the most grief and is the reason why I didn’t get my garden planted until week 2 of May. Being backed up to a forest, I figured we’d have a constant battle with local critters thinking my plants are their free buffet, so I researched all kinds of methods of netting and protecting the garden, and in the end just ended up doing what made sense to me and cost me the least amount of money and effort. We had these wooden beams laying around, by God’s grace, so I had Nate cut them to 3 1/2 feet – tall enough to deter even deer but low enough that I can reach over them – and secure them to the raised beds. I found this netting on Amazon, and I couldn’t be more happy with it! It’s nearly invisible but has so far, kept my plants safe. I had to buy 2 of them which will give me enough to cover the beds if needed, so all together protecting my garden cost me less than $35.
-The biggest lesson learned – that I was not able to find anywhere on the internet or any gardening devoted blog – is that if you are starting seeds indoors, you must must MUST have a sunroom or greenhouse that gets constant natural light for at least 12-14 hours a day, or have a grow lamp system on them for just as long each day to mimic their ideal growing conditions. This is critical or your seedlings will sprout right away, but be extremely leggy (long and thin), fall over, and not be strong enough to transplant and no, hardening off does nothing to save them once this happens. It’s ALL ABOUT getting the right amount of light from day one. Another factor that may have had an impact was that I did not transplant my seedlings except for when they came outside into the ground. I’ve heard that some people move theirs to bigger pots as they grow and keep doing that till they plant them outside, but I did not have that many pots (or even makeshift planters) to test this out, nor have I heard that this is something that needs to be done, perhaps it is? That’s an experiment for next year, if I do decided to start seeds indoors again after this year’s disappointment.
-New plantings are super demanding and need thoroughly watered every single day (food, flowers, everything). During more mild weather I would give them a good soak but never so much water that it would pool on top of the soil – always watch that it seeps into the soil and keep watering if the soil is slurping it down super fast. Now that it is blazing hot and the sun is beginning to scorch them, I make sure to water either very early in the morning, and/or in the evening once the sun has stop beating on them and spend a few minutes on each bed. I’ve heard that watering plants during the heat of the day can cause the water droplets to act like magnifying glasses, and thus cause the sun to burn the leaves. I’m not trying to find out if that’s true or not, so I just stick to what’s worked for me these past months!
I hope you liked this look into my small, first-time garden! If you did, please drop a comment below with any questions, comments, or tips if you have been at this a lot longer than me.