One fun part of gardening is that we get to learn and grow in our knowledge each season. My 2019 spring garden yielded several successes and lessons learned, and I want to share those with you.
In this episode of the Beginner’s Garden Podcast, I identify ten lessons I’ve learned from my 2019 spring garden. Click below to listen to continue reading.
Start Lettuce Indoors for an Earlier Harvest
I have never recommended starting lettuce indoors because it is so easy to direct sow lettuce in the garden. This year, though, I strayed from my own recommendation.
Hoping for an earlier harvest, I started four lettuce plants indoors. Then, at the same time I transplanted those plants, I sowed the rest of my lettuce crop from seed directly in the garden.
I harvested the transplanted lettuce a few weeks before the direct-sown crop reached maturity. In the spring when we’re so anxious to harvest, those few weeks felt like a few months. It was so nice!
Never Use Hay as Mulch in the Garden
You might remember when I talked to Jill Winger of the Prairie Homestead and she shared her experience of poisoning her garden. She used a the deep mulch method with hay that had been treated with herbicides. I have used hay in my garden in the past and haven’t had any problems with the small amount I’ve used. I thought using it for a short-term mulch to prevent early blight in my potatoes and tomatoes (and removing it from the garden after harvest) would be fine.
I was wrong.
I used non-organic hay to mulch one row of my tomatoes and to hill my potatoes. After only a week, I noticed that the leaves on the row of tomatoes mulched with hay started showing signs of gnarly leaf curl that Jill mentioned. I immediately removed all of the hay from my garden, hoping the plants will recover. (As of this writing, some have. Others are still struggling.) For me, I will not use non-organic hay in my garden again.
Cut Yellow Tomato Leaves off Tomato Plants Immediately and Frequently
We have had so much rain in my area this year that early blight has been a big problem for my tomatoes (and last year it was Septoria Leaf Spot). Both early blight and Septoria Leaf Spot are fungal diseases that travel up the plant if affected leaves are not removed.
You will notice disease by the yellow leaves that start at the bottom of the plant.
Because I was determined not to let it get the best of my tomato plants, I stayed on top of this disease. By pinching off the yellow leaves every day (especially in rainy periods), my tomato plants have grown strong and healthy.
Spring Broccoli Isn’t for Everyone
I have tried so many times to make broccoli work in the spring, but I just can’t get them to form a head before the heat sets in and causes them to bolt. I think it’s a problem for my area in Arkansas. We don’t have much of a spring — we go from cold to hot weather in a short period of time — and broccoli do much better with cooler spring weather. Unless I learn some other good tips (feel free to share if you have any!), I’ve decided to grow broccoli in the fall and winter but not in the spring.
Though the bolted broccoli flowers are pretty, they’re not what I was going for when I planted!
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If Upgrading Grow Lights, Start Seeds Indoors Later
I usually start my tomato and pepper plants in February. (My average last frost date is April 1.) But this year I switched from small, inexpensive LED grow lights to these high-quality T5 lights. In response, my tomatoes and peppers grew much more rapidly and were ready to go in my garden before my garden was ready for them! Next year I’ll know that I can wait another week before starting my tomato and pepper plants.
Keep Strawberry Beds Weed-Free
One of the most common pieces of advice for starting a new strawberry bed is to keep it weed free. I didn’t do that. I used native soil that came full of weed and grass seeds. Plus, strawberries are more difficult to mulch because of how they grow. And let’s be honest. In the height of the season, when strawberries aren’t producing, their bed ends up out of sight, out of mind, and I frankly don’t keep up with the beds like I should.
This year, however, I saw the stark results that this simple practice can make a huge difference in strawberry yield.
I added two new strawberry plots — in both a raised bed that had been in use for several years (and thus mulched and weeded) and in a ground bed. Both beds of strawberries performed much better in their first year than my 3-year-old weed-filled bed.
(And yes, I know you’re supposed to pinch the flowers off first-year strawberries. I just couldn’t.)
Lesson learned: keep your strawberry beds weeded. If you can’t, plant them in a bed that has already been mulched and weeded in previous seasons — never brand new land or soil.
Strawberries and Onions are Great Companion Plants
Have you ever wondered what plants can be companion planted with strawberries?
I finally decided to take the advice of strawberry experts and plant my strawberries 24″ apart. It’s so hard to do that when you see so much space not being used! So, because I couldn’t bear all that bare soil, I searched online for companion plants. Bingo! I found that onions could be a good companion for strawberries. Because I had some extra onion transplants, it worked out perfectly! My onions were ready to harvest just as the strawberries started sending out runners and overtaking that bare soil.
Plant Peas in Well-Draining, Fertile Soil
I planted peas in two sections in my garden this year. In one section the soil drains well. In the other, it doesn’t. When creating my garden layout, I thought peas would be more flexible like beans, but I was wrong. The peas in the well-draining soil did well. The peas in the other area did not. Of course, the record rains in our area this spring didn’t help. But I ended up pulling them up to go ahead and plant my summer crops.
I learned that peas are not as forgiving as I thought, and because I can’t predict the weather, I need to instead plan to plant peas in well-draining portions of my garden.
Be Intentional About Planting and Harvesting Herbs
This year I’ve been more intentional about planting and harvesting medicinal herbs. Not only do I use them, but they also attract beneficial insects to my garden.
My goal for many of these plants is to harvest enough herbs to dry and use all year.
I began harvesting herbs in May, which was great timing for me. My spring planting had been completed by then, but the heavy harvest hadn’t begun. Win-win. And now I have a spice and wellness cabinet full!
Observe the Wonders of a Natural Garden
When it comes to my garden, I work hard. But I have learned the necessity of walking out to my garden just observe — not work or weed or harvest — but to look and see what is happening in my garden. I observed aphids on my plant with no beneficial insect in sight. Then within a few days I spotted ladybugs and syrphid flies, and within a week all of the aphids were gone! Seeing this dance of nature play out was the highlight of my year! (You can see my fun discovery in this IGTV video:)
But this wouldn’t have happened, had I not taken the time to simply walk my garden, enjoying it and taking notice of the little things.
Perhaps that’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned from my spring garden in 2019.
What have you learned from your garden this year?
For more lessons, check out: My First Garden: Mistakes and Successes
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