Conclusions: Must-Knows for First Time Vegetable Gardeners
Updated: Sep 26, 2018
Chronicles & Confessions of the Veggie Patch
An unfolding adventure tale of amateur vegetable gardening, peasant style.
-With detailed steps for establishing your own organic vegetable garden.
Final Series Post…
Herbal remedies. Goats milk soap. Heirloom vegetables. Candle-making. Baking bread from scratch in a wood stove…
I’ve always had big “peasant” dreams, but I was discouraged when in my thirties, I had never been able to get around to any of them!
These things take time and a bit of money, to tell the truth. From the moment I became an adult, I had neither - until one year ago.
Don’t misunderstand me, my husband did not rescue me from a life where I scrimped along every day, but Jesus in His grace aligned my path with Max’s, and contrary to what everyone warns, marriage has been sunshine and roses ever since. The reason? We aren’t meant to journey alone. (I'm not just talking about marriage.) Sometimes when we become partnered with others who love Jesus, the boundaries that once seemed like thick, stone walls completely vanish as though made of dust.
You see, I was married once before. I know how difficult it is to be joined to someone who does not love me. I also know how difficult it is to be a single woman trying to make it on her own (before and after my divorce). So, I have wholeheartedly embraced what it is to suddenly find myself married to a godly man at age thirty-three and according to God’s will for my life. And as a result, my dreams have finally started to become realities. Isn’t it amazing when God says, “Ok, you can have that now."...?
So even though I’m not who and what I want to be to the fullest of possibilities at this point, it is all full steam ahead for me! No looking back. It’s amazing to finally be able to say with bold confidence…
I am a gardener. I’m no longer just a dreamer.
I am also a writer! I am an artist. I am a blogger. I am a filmmaker. I am a ministry leader.
I am the things I chose to be long ago and couldn’t fully delve into until now. But what I have through God’s grace I share in the hopes that someone else who doesn’t think they could ever be whatever it is they have dreamed might be inspired.
Now, I know better than anyone that it’s not always so easy under certain circumstances to chase after what you believe you are meant to do. But don't let discouragement hold you back. The truth is that it’s much easier than we think. After one day goes by and then the next, challenges become less intimidating. Experience teaches us. We begin to change. I know I will look back one day and be so much more knowledgeable than what I am right now, and I will know it is because I seized the opportunity when it finally came.
Learning how to vegetable garden was just one of my many dreams, but it also became a door to unlock others. For instance, I have always wanted to eat healthier, take more responsibility for where my food comes from, and learn about the properties of herbs.
If you, too, are teetering on the edge of dreams like these, and you’ve stumbled upon this post or have followed my little journey to its conclusion now, here are the top 25 things that I learned during my first summer of not killing every plant that I own that I would tell myself if I could time travel to four months ago …
Amateur Gardening Must-Knows
Even thinking about bug problems makes me feel like I’m going to throw up, but it is shockingly remarkable how simple soapy water solves most issues!
I don’t mind getting dirty, but I’m terrified to even accidentally touch a bug or worm. Gardening gloves are lifesavers!
Taking the time to have the best possible soil is probably the best advice I could give anyone. My plants that were grown in the home-made potting soil of the garden box did the best; the next best were the ones in regular yard soil mixed with some sand (because we had run out of everything else), and the plants in only commercial potting soil fared the worst (spindly and lot of yellow leaves).
Plant only what you love or need for cooking. I probably won’t plant cucumbers again. It turns out that I don’t even like them that much and never knew it until we had to eat a lot of them!
Re-growing kitchen scraps is not worth the indoor bug infestations. Do not attempt to start new plants this way. Even with some success, it’s a waste of time and does not save money. Re-growing green onions in a glass of water is perhaps the only exception.
Follow the directions on the seed packets (or what came with your seedlings)! Different plants are meant for different seasons.
Less is more. You need only two healthy tomato plants, not six struggling ones.
Adequate space between plants is almost as important as good soil.
Watering plants while the sun is shining on them can scorch the leaves. Drip irrigation is probably worth looking into.
Composting takes too long, and maintaining the right balance of greens and browns is confounding, yet store-bought fertilizers can attract specific bug infestations and aren’t exactly the organic route. So, pick your poison. The soil and plants need nutrients to be healthy, so you must do something.
Judging from how well I handled my compost, I wouldn’t dare try a worm farm. They can end up rotting if you’re not careful!
Don’t dump fertilizer near the base of stems. This can burn the plants.
Thankfully, plants usually grow in spite of you.
Weeds flourish in spite of anything.
Raised garden beds are the way to go, reducing grass and weed seeds from flying in while giving you the ability to prepare the soil how you want it. The soil will also be aerated since it’s looser, and worms will come up into it from the earth. (Yes, that’s a good thing.)
Plant lettuce plants one or two at a time every other week or so. This is how you have lettuce for salads over a longer period of time. The plants don’t last long and they go to seed quickly in the heat, so I ran out of lettuce before my garden even produced peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes to add to salads.
Use organic, heirloom seeds. The seeds in plants from greenhouses have been tampered with. If you re-plant them, you’ll get a hybrid of some sort. It might not even be the same kind of plant you took the seed from!
Gardening is very easy, but it’s on-going. Sometimes it is a hassle to have to devote a whole evening to prepping and freezing vegetables when they have ripened. Vegetable gardening is a commitment that you have to want to make.
Container gardening is do-able, but raised beds are better when possible. The material which pots are made from can work to dry out the soil or even bake it. Container gardens tend to need more water because they dry out quickly. The soil also should be potting soil, which gets expensive. You can’t just use soil from your yard, which will not allow proper drainage. Containers need excellent drainage to prevent roots from rotting, and you may need to add additional holes. Containers also need to be quite large since plants need space. All of these things make container gardening expensive and time-consuming.
You won’t be able to use fresh herbs every day because you don’t want to take more than ¼ from the plant at a time, and that isn't going to give you much unless you have a very large plant. It’s not like it will replenish by the next time you cook.
Drying or dehydrating food and herbs is not as easy as it should be. I’ve tried several methods, and I haven’t got it right yet. So, I haven't been able to rely on this method this season.
Pay attention to tools of the trade. I understand why people use gardening gloves and special tools for weeding. The dirt doesn’t come out from behind your fingernails easily, and neither do weeds come out of the ground easily.
Big-rimmed gardening hats are a must if you’re going to be doing any gardening in the sun. (Tip: It’s worth it to learn to braid your own hair so you don’t have to stretch the hat over your ponytail.) Otherwise, do gardening in the early morning or after the sun has gone down. Overcast or drizzly days are also way better than sunny, hot ones. I have never liked rain so much.
Give the soil a good soak after a rain. This way, you’re not just watering the top soil but helping to keep the lower soil moist for longer.
Trying to use pure water to water your plants is somewhat impractical. Creating a rain-water system is do-able, but the plants need a lot of water, so the hose becomes necessary. Unless water is too much of an expense, investing in trapping rainwater might not be worth it.
But those are the practical tips.
I would have also told myself to hold onto my britches because a gardener reaps what they sow, and it’s a beautiful, wild ride!
When learning to work with the earth, gratitude deepens. You develop a greater respect for where your food comes from. Your eating habits change. You become less wasteful. You learn intricate, special, seemingly-secret details about plant life. You get more sun and meet your neighbors. You better understand Christ’s lessons in the Bible. You better understand yourself. And most wonderfully, you fall deeper in love with your Creator, if you choose.
So, I began this journey wondering if I could prove that even someone lazy who knew absolutely nothing about gardening could have a successful organic vegetable garden. I believe I did.
Did I show that it could be done easily and simply? Yes and no. It’s all easy and simple, but it does take time. There’s no getting around that if it’s to be done right. But in life, we must make choices. What are our priorities? What deserves our time? Even though gardening and preserving the harvest was time-consuming, I don’t regret the investment. In fact, I’m already excited for next season!
I think I’ve enjoyed this summer perhaps most of all my life. It was my first summer married to the love of my life and the first chance I had to finally complete one of my long-bucket-listed projects. As I dream up my plans for Year Two as a Grimm, I look ahead with a heart overflowing with gratitude and wonder.
So, what’s the next stop in my quest to peasantry?
I still don’t like having to take time out to grocery shop when I could be at home writing, and especially not in the deep, dark winters. The next series of the Pleasantly Peasant blog will be about prepping to go six months to a year without the grocery store. Can it be done? This is what everyone used to do, and they didn’t even have deep freezers! I’ve challenged myself to tap into the wisdom and resourcefulness of yesteryear, and I’m prepping for the experiment as we speak.
I once heard that it was very rewarding to peasants to survive the winter knowing that they were sustained only by their previous, warm-weather labors. If they had not planned and been willing to do the work, they would have died. That is striking, yet humanity is obviously so very resilient, or we would not be here today. Now that I know so much more about food and its long-term preparation, I can’t wait to find out if I, too, have what it takes. Or, has my generation lost too much knowledge and ability due to our modern conveniences that we would never survive without them?
We’ll see. Till then, I remain
Meg Grimm is a writer, dreamer, church secretary and member of her church council. She often spends her days uncovering secrets of the historic past and writing fairy tale fiction. Meg is committed to living a healthy lifestyle according to what she understands from God’s Word.