As I write this, the Seed Saver’s Exchange catalog is spread across my coffee table along with a sketched out garden map as we begin preparations for our fall garden. When I first introduced The Amateur Garden, I mentioned that we had spent countless seasons planning to start a vegetable garden, plans that never materialized. And now here we are, wrapping up our first season and looking ahead with many lessons learned and the tiniest bit of experience under our belts.
If I had to describe the number 1 thing we learned in our 1st season of vegetable gardening, using only 2 words: companion planting. We rent our house and our landscaping is taken care of by a man down the street, so I can’t say that we ever paid too much attention to the bugs and beetles living in our backyard. The very second we put seeds in the ground and tried to grow something, it was like an alarm was sounded and every garden predator in the southeastern United States arrived to feast on our budding plants. We quickly learned about the impact of companion planting to deter bugs and beetles without having to spread chemicals throughout the garden. Catnip was planted among our eggplant and okra, mint and marigolds went in a planter along the outside of the garden.
Even with these companion plants, we started a Friday night tradition of heading out to the garden beer and flashlights in hand, to pick beetles off of our cucumber plants.
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A 2nd thing we quickly learned is the importance of doing a bit of research on the vegetables you’re planting, prior to burying the seeds in the soil. I know, this sounds like common sense, but it’s easy to get carried away buying seeds and wanting to grow all the veggies. A good example is the 1 tomatillo plant we put in the ground that grew tall and quickly flowered but never produced fruit. Tomatillos require cross-pollination, so you must plant at least 2 of them. Similarly, I was warned of squash vine borers as I was preparing to plant our zucchini and yellow squash, a bit later than recommended. I stored that bit of information in my brain but proceeded forward too excited to heed the warning. Our squash flowered but inevitably the plants were destroyed by the vine borers.
Our 1st season did have some successes. We discovered we’re really good at growing cucumbers, herbs, as well as sun gold tomatoes. And we didn’t ignore all of the advice that we were given. Despite our desire to plant an enormous garden, we made the smart decision to start small, knowing we can always expand in the future. Over the last several months, I have enjoyed the early morning’s spent watering the plants, weeding, and checking on everyone as the sun rises above our house.
For fall we’re looking at tripling the amount of garden space we have, significantly increasing our companion planting, and planting with a bit more knowledge and intention.
If you’re starting your first vegetable garden this fall, I highly recommend this book as a great resource for beginner gardeners. You can read about The Amateur Garden from the very beginning, as well as check out a few of our other resources in this post.