Editor’s Note – Enjoy this guest post from Liz Greene on her experience as a beginning gardener.
When I started gardening this year, I did so without the slightest clue as to what I was doing. I’d never even tended a garden, let alone grown one of my own. And if the state of my houseplants was any indicator of the future health of my tomatoes, things were going to be, well, less than rosy. However, regardless of both ignorance and ineptitude with plants, I jumped into the world of gardening feet first — and I’ll be damned if I didn’t learn some valuable lessons along the way.
Bees Are Our Friends
Pre-garden, bees scared the bejesus out of me. We’re talking screaming, running, flailing limbs scared, here. Despite absolutely no allergy to them, I reacted to the presence of bees as if death were imminent. I certainly never would have imagined a future where I actually appreciated the stinging little buzzers.
Knowledge is the antithesis to fear, and in the last year, I’ve learned enough about bees that they no longer frighten me. What is frightening, however, is the plight of the bees. Since bees pollinate 80% of our flowering crops — a third of what we eat — we need them to survive. Unfortunately, due to habitat destruction, colony collapse disorder, and the use of certain pesticides, both honeybees and native bees have seen major population declines in recent years.
I did my part to avoid harming the bees that visited the blossoms on my plants by electing to forego the use of pesticides in my garden. Next year, I plan to plant a number of native plants as well as installing a home for wood nesting native bees. You can learn about other ways to help our sweet pollinator friends here.
Pests Can Be a Problem
Naturally, refraining from using pesticides meant I found myself having to deal with insect visitors that were far less helpful than the bees. Thankfully, there are a number of natural ways to get rid of pests, and I successfully employed a couple of different methods.
I have no idea why, but I had a colony of ants that would not leave my cucumbers alone. While I couldn’t find any damage that I’d attribute to ants, I decided I didn’t want to take a chance. I sprinkled a liberal amount of cinnamon in the soil around the base of my cucumber plants and, voila! Within a day, there were no more ants troubling my cukes!
The second pest I dealt with took a bit more time to get rid of. My mother warned me that tomato plants were earwig magnets, but I shrugged it off. That was a rather large mistake. Had I prepared for earwigs from the beginning, I might have had less work.
At first, I wasn’t sure what was responsible for the damage — my leaves just started sprouting holes. However, a cursory internet search identified the culprit, and provided instructions for a handy way to trap them.
To create an earwig trap, fill a small shallow container (tuna can, Tupperware, etc.) halfway with vegetable oil. Place it in your garden near the base of your plants, and bury it so the rim of the container is even with the ground. The earwigs will be attracted to the oil, fall into the container, and drown. In the first week of using an oil trap, I caught over 200 earwigs. This method will take some time if you have a serious earwig problem — and you have to continue to use it for the entire duration of the growing season — but it’s well worth it to avoid the use of pesticides.
Adjust or Die
No one ever told me that gardening required making constant adjustments throughout the season. I figured you just planted the crops, watered them, and then harvested whatever grew. Any seasoned gardener will tell you that I was very much mistaken in that assumption. Besides dealing with pests, I also found myself battling blossom end rot, puzzling out the mystery of bitter cucumbers, searching for the best fertilizers, trying to get the right ratio of sun to shade, and constantly struggling with what was either too much water, or not enough.
You Have to Be Willing to Work
By the end of the season, even watering the tomatoes every day seemed like too much work. I’d been staking, tying, weeding, fertilizing, battling pests, and watering, watering, watering for months. It was hard work. Even the joy of the harvest was overshadowed by the sheer amount of tomatoes I had grown. I had no idea what to do with all of them!
I have to admit, while I’m happy my garden produced so much tasty and healthy food, I didn’t think I’d have to work so much tending my garden!
My biggest mistakes? Not reading enough beforehand, not being properly prepared for the realities of gardening, and most of all, going too big, too soon. My greatest triumphs? Destroying earwigs, tasting garden fresh tomatoes, and growing something from seed to harvest.
Despite being a bit overwhelmed by my first year’s gardening experience, I plan to try again next year. I’ll take the lessons I’ve learned, apply them to a new garden, and continue the cycle of learning.
Liz Greene is a makeup enthusiast, rabid feminist, and an anxiety-ridden realist from the beautiful city of trees, Boise, Idaho. You can follow her latest misadventures on her blog, Instant Lo.