5 things I won’t do in my garden again

I‘m not sure if I’ll ever consider myself to be a gardener, but each spring I can be found hunched over a pile of dirt, dropping spinach seeds into a shallow trench, and daydreaming of an early salad crop.

If I was a real gardener, I probably would have dug the remaining carrots last fall and stashed them in my cold storage. Instead the boys uprooted them yesterday, and set aside half a bucket of rubbery orange specimens to offer the hens for snack.

I like to think that back in autumn I would have made the effort to turn the compost one last time, or put away the wire trellises, or at the very least, rolled the hose. Alas, the last of the snow melted this weekend, leaving behind the evidence of a very distracted -and hardly dedicated- gardener.

Aimee's Way Homegrown Goodness

Last week, superstore Canadian Tire launched their spring digital catalog, and included in it is Aimee’s Way: Homegrown Goodness, a short feature on me and my backyard garden. The art team did a beautiful job on the project, Tim’s photos really pop, and gosh, do I ever sound like I know what I’m doing.

Which I totally don’t.

I’ve always made an effort to keep things real in this space, so when the feature came out, my first reaction was “I have to disclose that I’m not an expert!” I am the first to admit I have a ton to learn about gardening and, like many people, I imagine, am just trying to grow something yummy for dinner.

Each season brings new challenges. Every failed crop leads to a lesson learned. All hours spent in the garden are completely worth the effort.

Today I’m sharing a handful of examples where I’ve totally done the wrong thing – and how this season will be different.  Maybe my tips can help you avoid my pitfalls.

5 things I won't do in my garden again on simplebites.netAll photos by Tim Chin

1. ‘Wing’ my crop selection.

I like to read the backs of seed packages. Yes, that makes me sound like a total nut-ball, but there’s something about that line “…as soon as the soil can be worked.” that speaks of such promise. And there’s a lot of good information on that little rectangle of paper. But not enough.

Good gardening requires a solid handle on your growing conditions, and then a bit of research to decide what will thrive in your plots. Research that I skipped last year, and resulted in beets that took forever to mature and zucchini plants that flowered but never produced fruit. This year, I’ll try to plan a little better.

Oh, and it’s a good idea to check for your last frost date (USA and Canada) to get a better idea of when it’s time for those plants and seeds to go into the ground.

Aimee garden

2. Ignore sun and shade requirements.

My raised beds just don’t get as much sun as I’d like, a condition that I disregarded last year, and planted whatever I felt like, wherever. I don’t recommend this.  I’ve come to accept my partially shaded garden, and will be sowing accordingly.

A basic rule I have learned is that if you grow a plant for the fruit or the root, it needs full sun. If you grow it for the leaves, stems, or buds, shade is just fine.

Guess what? Many culinary herbs love shade, and so I will be focusing more on plants like chives, parsley, cilantro, and oregano this year. I use herbs in almost every meal during the summer and nothing makes me happier than harvesting them myself.

3. Hope and pray that the pests will cease and desist

The squirrels stole many of the tomatoes just as they were ripening, a groundhog family wreaked havoc on my pots of herbs, and toward the end of the summer, the tomato plants were succumbing to some sort of nasty beetle.

This year, I’m marking my territory early and won’t stand for pests, furry or fluffy. However, I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to go about this. Feel free to leave suggestions in the comments!

Mateo Garden

4. Plant crops that my children dislike.

This spring I plan to involve my  boys in gardening by planting produce that will capture their imagination and tickle their fancy. Unlike tomatoes, which they both currently dislike, and which took over my raised beds last year.

Half of the reason I tend a garden is to help my children make that key connection between field and fork. I believe kids can take for granted the effort that goes into producing fruits and vegetables without being exposed to gardening and harvesting. Also, what better way to explain seasonal eating than by observing it first-hand as the seasons change?

People of all ages support what they create, and I’ve seen how growing their own vegetables has helped curb my sons’ fears of new foods – they love big summer salads as much as we do. And this year, they are sowing those greens, along with green beans, peas, and potatoes.

We’ll work on the tomato issue too, but I don’t need to grow rows and rows of them.

5. Let Mother Nature do the tending.

Right. Maintaining a vegetable garden does actually require a fair bit of maintenance between sowing seed and harvesting fruit. You think I would know this.

Spring is such a busy time, that getting the crops planted – raised beds, front flower beds, hanging baskets, and deck pots – feels like a supernatural accomplishment every season. I then tend to block off ‘Gardening’ from my to-do list for a bit while I catch up on work and house responsibilities. Oops.

This year I’ll be more rigorous in ensuring the earth stays damp where seeds are planted, root crops are properly thinned, and the herb are harvested before they ‘bolt’. Among a dozen other jobs, of course. Good thing I enjoy this part of urban homesteading.

I did do one thing right last year. My chief gardening mentor, my mother, tipped me onto something to maintain healthy soil. She suggested I mulch around the plants to protect the soil, retain moisture and keep the weeds down. I used a combination of leaves and compost to mulch my raised beds and it worked!  I hardly had to weed all summer.

Hey, it’s Earth Day! Get out and plant something. This post on Things to Think about When Planning Your Backyard Garden is a good place to get started.

Note: All the photos in this post were taken in early summer of 2012. My backyard is a current brown mud hole, so who wants to see that? Thanks to Tim Chin for the snaps.

What have you learned from your gardening mistakes? Any tips to share?

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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  1. Not sure how well it works with squirrels, but I had a lot of issues with cats and deer. I started using a couple of motion activated sprinklers (http://www.amazon.com/Contech-CRO101-Scarecrow-Activated-Sprinkler/dp/B000071NUS/). They have worked fantastic! (just don’t forget to shut them off before you go in…)

    • THE BEST stuff I found out about – Milorgamite. It is granular, organic fertilizer -heat dried waste water, used on golf courses. Will keep rabbits, deer etc out of garden and fertilize at same time. Miricle worker on my garden and flowers!!!!M

  2. Last year I shared our how we try to keep the pests out of our garden naturally, some of the tips were passed down from my dad. http://bit.ly/JN3HEq

    I’m totally going to try some plastic snakes too! Love getting new ideas in the comment section.

  3. Well, there’s always alternative methods to get rid of pests. Bust most likely try hiring an exterminator just in case you aren’t well informed yet with protecting your garden. Good luck with your planting adventure Aimee! I hope to hear more from you.

  4. I just moved into a house with a mostly shaded garden as well. My biggest mistake? The plants look soooo tiny when you plant them. I just planted waaay too much. Example: Those tiny leeks can use some company, right? Well guess what, I never harvested a single leek, as they got overgrown by everything else I put into the “empty” spaces 🙂 Same with lots of other stuff. I harvested just a tiny bit of chives before they got overgrown and the carrots that were in the sunniest spot got overgrown by beans, sugar peas, dill, kale and probably some more stuff I can’t remember. The carrots I had planted in the other bed turned out to be in a spot that didn’t get enough sun, so they are really really tiny. Well, now I know for next year…

  5. I have had really good luck with schedule 40 pvc pipe bent over rebar spikes down the length of the raised bed. Then cover it with bird netting and secure it with zip ties. The bottom will slide up so you can harvest or weed but bunnies squirrels and birds stay out

  6. I had a big problem with squirrels, didn’t feel like building a structure around my garden, so I just ended up leaving sunflower seeds at the other end of my yard, they left my veggies alone.

  7. I sprinkled dry mint around my most desirable edibles…you can plant mint around beds, but it easily spreads and takes over. Plant and harvest I a dedicated location (it’s perennial) for tea and other uses.

  8. Great post- we fence for deer and pick plants they don’t like for outside the fenced garden. I think squirrels would be tough to keep out. Maybe try feeding them at the other end of the yard Maybe 1/4″ plastic netting would keep them out. There’s also blood meal that people recommend for deer.

  9. My boys (now teens!) have always loved picking sugarsnap peas & raspberries

  10. I use Christmas balls hanging from my tomato cages. I try to use red ones and when the squirrel takes a bite they give up.

  11. Sue Capell says

    I had pesky critters (bunnies,squirrels, gophers???) that ate off my beet tops before they were 1″ tall, cabbage & broccoli plants the day after I planted, deer that ate my beans, leaves and beans,….for several years. Last year I had just shaved a filthy matted farm dog just before planting time. so I put those disgusting little bundles of fur all around the garden bed. The scent lasted all through harvest and I never lost a leaf! So, go to your local pet groomer, and pick up the yuckiest of fur, and have a wonderful harvest.

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  13. Last year I had squirrels that killed some of my small chickens and threw green tomatoes. Double fencing, disturbing their holes with fire ash, hot peppers, and covering with rocks slowed them down. I planted nasturtiums and mint around the perimeter and many varieties of chili peppers. They were too smart for rat traps and I don’t use poison. This year the population dropped down because of weather changes. In preparation I added euphorbias (spurge) on the perimeter as rodents who burrow don’t care for the irritant sappy roots

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