10 Mistakes to Avoid Next Gardening Season
1. Starting Too Late
Ok, let’s get real. Gardening is hard work. You can garden smartly and avoid doing unnecessary labor, but if you ask me the whole ‘lazy gardener’ idea is a load of hooey. Part of the necessary work of gardening is a little planning and preparing in advance.
I just want to say in advance that any garden is better than no garden at all. So if all you can do is go out to a nursery on a Saturday morning to get a few pepper and tomato plants going, that’s okay. But if you’re trying to get some real productive gardening going and you have a few minutes that you can consecrate to it a few times a week, you will want to get started on time.
Mother nature gives us a window of opportunity for most gardening tasks that need to get done. If you miss the window of opportunity you won’t get another chance until next year. A huge part of the art of gardening is timing.
If you are going to start your own plants from seed, now is the time to order up your seeds. Planting can start as early as late February for leeks and onions!
2. Starting too early
This is a mistake of the over-zealous like myself who can’t wait for winter to end and to get into it. Kicking off the season too early will mean that plants will be ready to be put in the ground and the ground won’t be ready for the plants.
This translates into additional work taking care of plants that are getting too big for their flats and pots indoors. If you manage to keep them unstressed and growing strong it will mean a lot of extra care, watering more often, adding fertilizer, and potting-up. If they end up stressed from lingering too long in cramped quarters they will have to recuperate from this stress before they get growing full steam ahead.
Commercial growing taught me that planting extra early is useless in most cases also. Early in the season, the days are gradually getting longer and warmer. This means that later plantings will not be slowed down by cold and limited sunlight, and they will often catch up to early springtime plantings that had to endure more stress and less than ideal growing conditions early in the season.
3. Planting too tight
You can get a lot of production out of a relatively small space, it is true. For me, it has always been great fun trying to see just how much production I could squeeze out of my suburban lot. However, in my early years of gardening especially, this leads me to plant plants way to close together.
Learning plant spacing comes with time and experience. When you’re planting out in the spring and the plants are still pretty tiny, it is easy to space them too tightly. Little tomato plants look neat and happy planted just one foot apart in late May but putting them this close invites all kinds of problems, including insufficient airflow, too much competition for root space, nutrients, sunlight, and water.
One strong tomato plant that is really rocking, growing and flowing, will definitely outproduce even 4 or 5 tomato plants that are jammed together with insufficient space to flourish. Give your long season plants plenty of space and fill in the extra room early in the season with quick growing crops that will be harvested halfway through the season to free up space.
4. Forcing plants to grow in the wrong season
You have broccoli that goes to flower and the broccoli head is still tiny? Stop trying to grow it in the middle of the summer because it is usually difficult to keep the plant happy and unstressed. It takes discipline and attention to detail to plant your crops at the right time. Learn when your crops will flourish in your climate and get them going at the right time. This one detail can be the difference between a bountiful harvest and a complete fail.
5. Weeding ‘lazy gardener’ style
Books or garden gurus that promise you labor-free gardening are full of crap.
Garden vegetables have been bred to taste good and produce heavily, not to survive droughts or quickly outgrow the competition. They are no match for tough, undomesticated plants that have been surviving without any human intervention for literally millions of years. There is a reason why certain plants have stood the test of time and are still flourishing all over the place, in farmers’ fields, abandoned lots, fields, forest edges, and in our backyard gardens.
So the bottom line here is that weeds must be dealt with. In a small garden, hoeing and hand weeding are not that difficult, these tasks just need to be done regularly. In larger spaces, landscape fabric or black plastic can be used to block weeds, but these technique come with their fair share of problems to overcome in exchange for your saved weeding labor.
6. Harvesting too late
Cherry tomato plants loaded down with ripe fruit look really nice, but the tomatoes are not Christmas decorations. Waiting too long to harvest will mean overripe veggies.
It is important to remember that annual plants have one goal in mind from the time they germinate: create viable seeds that will grow next year and continue the species. If you allow your plants to achieve this goal, this will signal to them that their job is done and they can stop growing and producing and die.
Peas and green beans are good examples of this phenomenon. When you go through these plants every day or two and promptly harvest everything that is ready, they will keep producing for you for an extended period and if you let the seeds in the pods mature enough, the plants get the signal that their job is done and they will start shutting down.
7. Applying too little fertilizer (compost won’t solve every garden problem!)
Organic gardening gurus have been singing the praises of compost for decades. And, it is true, compost will resolve some gardening problems, it will bring a certain amount of fertility to your garden and improve your soil’s tilth.
That being said, compost is not magic fairy dust that will solve everything. The fertility in compost can vary wildly, and you never really know what you are getting. Personally I never use compost other than what I make myself from tree leaves, coffee grounds and other organic waste from my own property. You never know what crap has been thrown into industrial compost, and municipal compost is even more suspect. Toxic herbicides and pesticides can persist for years, even in composted material, and that’s the last thing you want in your garden.
With regards to fertility, what if your garden soil is already loaded down with a huge amount of potassium and not enough nitrogen, and then you add compost that is rich in potassium and carries very little nitrogen? You will be making the situation worse rather than better.
You are much better off to take a small soil sample to your local nursery for a soil test to actually see what is in your garden soil and what it lacking, and adding what is needed through the appropriate organic fertilizer.
8. Not inspecting your garden regularly
Good gardening requires good observation skills. You need to look, really look, at all your plants and notice all the little details you can, and then act on what you see.
Your cabbage plants suddenly have big chunks chomped out of the leaves when you look at them one morning? Most likely it is one of an array of caterpillars that love eating brassicas, and you need to apply some btk as soon as possible. If you don’t look and notice what is going on in your garden you can’t take any corrective steps, and by the time the problem becomes so obvious that you can’t help but see it, it may be too late.
So have a little stroll around your garden while you’re having your morning coffee, it’s a great way to start the day, have a zen moment, and avoid a lot of garden heartache.
9. Wasting garden space
When you harvest your beet patch in early autumn, you will be looking at a big patch of bare ground. If you have ample space for your garden you might want to consider direct seeding some kind of a cover crop that will winter-kill and enrich your garden for next year.
If you’re dealing with a smaller space and you want to maximize production, you want to plan for this and have a flat or two or starts ready at all times to fill in any available space that you might have. A tray or two of lettuce plants can be good for this, or any other plant that will mature before the first frost, preferably something that will flourish in cool fall temperatures like broccoli.
10. Wasting the harvest
Personally, I try to see the harvest as a great opportunity to learn about cooking, fermenting, drying, freezing, canning and any other way I can make good use of what comes out of the garden.