Greetings, readers. This is Handyman and today I’m writing about what transpired during my first year trying to grow vegetables in our own garden. It was quite the learning experience and I hope you enjoy – and possibly learn something from my mistakes.
First, a couple of questions to begin: Why even grow your own vegetables? Isn’t it easier and less time consuming to just buy them from the store? That’s how I used to think, but as I grow older my desire to be more self-sufficient has dramatically increased. I want to know where my food is coming from and what has been done to it before it goes into my body. Besides, learning what commercial veggies go through before they get to the store is borderline scary, but, I will write about that a different time. Now, I ask myself, why would anyone want to do anything BUT grow their own food? Gardening can be incredibly rewarding, and I hope this blog helps you on your journey to be a successful gardener.
My parents did a garden once when I was 8 or 9, but I don’t remember helping, so this was literally my first real time trying to grow food. Each year I learn from my mistakes and get better, but we’re talking about my FIRST year for now.
Planning the Garden
During that first year, I vaguely remembered commercial crops being done in single row mounds, and that memory is what I based the design and layout of my garden on. With that plan for what I wanted my garden to look like, I had to decide where I wanted to create it.
The property that my family and I purchased was previously a horse farm, but there was no specific area where a garden had already been established. I wanted a place relatively close to the house for three main reasons:
- First, who wants to walk far to their garden, tend to it, then carry all of the vegetables back?
- Second, Getting water to the garden would be easier if it was close to the house – which already has water piped to it.
- Lastly, probably the main reason for me and my family; if it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind; so the further away it is, the less likely it is to be paid attention to.
With those being the main criteria, there was really only one place to put it. On the west side of the house was a 1/2 acre pasture that we could definitely use, and our dining room window looked out over this pasture, so it was seemingly perfect.
Preparing for Planting
Preparing that pasture was much more difficult than I ever would have imagined. It was probably so difficult because of the tools we were using. It turns out that using a little gas powered rototiller with front tines, to chew up well established horse pasture, is not the best tool for the job. Luckily, we had a friend who owns a tractor with a plow attachment! Our friend came over, and in a matter of an hour or less thoroughly plowed the entire half-acre field. A 36″ rototiller tractor attachment was rented, also, and used in an impressively short amount of time to get the pasture ready for us to make our rows and start our garden.
We dug our our mounds by hand, all twenty one of them, each fifty feet long. All completed by April, on schedule. April 30th was supposed to be the last frost . Planting could begin two weeks after that. I started my seeds indoors at the end of April and kept them inside until June 1st just to be safe.
Adapting to Disaster
The week after transplanting all of my starts… THEY ALL DIED! Here we are, over a month behind after all our plants died, what to do? We decided to direct sow all types of our seeds, from lettuce all the way to tomatoes, because we didn’t’ want the whole season to be a wash… And it worked! Everything we planted grew after direct sowing, at least somewhat.
Well, unfortunately, our watering system was terrible. We used soaker hoses, one down each row with a cap on the end. With 21 soaker hoses going at once, the pressure was awful and didn’t even reach the end of the row. We adjusted that by getting hose valves so we could water two rows at a time without moving the hoses. That worked out better, but definitely not optimally. Water pressure at the end still wasn’t the greatest, and half of each row died due to lack of water. Overall, I’d say that soaker hoses are not the way to go.
This was also a drought year, here in Washington state, with unusually high temperatures for the Pacific Northwest. The only thing that really thrived was the grass. The lettuce bolted almost immediately. Next year I needed to learn how to keep them shaded from the heat. Our cooler weather veggies didn’t fair so well for this season either. Fortunately, at least one plant of every type survived to be harvested from (perhaps because of how many were planted!); so I considered this year a successful first year.
Next year I would have to figure out a better watering system, protect some of the more delicate veggies from the sun, prepare the garden space to be easier to combat the grass, and not waste time by starting seeds indoors. Most of which I will write about sometime soon. Thanks for reading through my first year, until next time…
Handyman is on the job!