Tips for First Time Gardeners

Tips for First Time GardenersOne Hundred Dollars a Month reader Claudine recently sent me an email with a question about getting started with gardening, she wrote,

Hi Mavis, do you have a blog post on how to start a garden for the first time? I have a new yard (with grass) but plenty of room and is like to grow some food – but I have no idea where to start. Thanks!

organic fruitsI think I could probably go a million different ways with this question, but the first thing that comes to mind is grow what you will eat.  I know that seems obvious, but it’s not.  I think a lot of times, first time gardeners think that they “have” to have tomatoes, or whatever, in order to be gardening, but when you get right down to it, their family doesn’t even eat that many tomatoes.  So, think about what type of produce you buy most often at the grocery store.

organic romaine lettuce basil chivesIf you find yourself throwing lettuce into the cart every week, that’s the perfect place to start.

organic vegetablesSecond, don’t feel like you have to grow ALL of your produce in order to make a garden worth it.  You may not have the time/space/desire to grow everything your family eats.  Supplementing a few meals with garden fresh produce is still super satisfying.  Unless you go straight homesteader, you will still have to buy your produce—so garden to supplement and enjoy the hobby.  It will take a lot of the pressure off.

raised garden bedsOnce you know what you want to grow, consider your space.  If you have a sunny patch of grass you want to turn into a garden spot, perfect.  You can choose to go all in and make raised garden boxes, or start out by just having designated garden beds.  I find that I “tweak” my garden space every season, after learning from the previous season.

cherry-tomatoesA lot of gardening is like that, actually, something doesn’t do as well as you would have liked, so you move it the next year or you work on improving the soil, etc.  Even after years, my garden is constantly evolving.  And for those of you that don’t have space in your yard, consider container gardening—you can actually grow quite a bit in containers.  Plus, it is easier to control the quality of the soil and drainage.

DIY Potting soil recipeFinally, know your dirt.  If you are going to use the dirt you already have in the backyard, prepare to invest a couple of growing seasons in making it hospitable.  Test your dirt’s pH levels, and then amend it accordingly.  I usually end up buying garden soil every year for some spot in my yard as well as making my own potting soil.  Yes, it seems insane to pay for dirt, but I’m impatient, and want to start growing immediately.  I typically add a little homemade compost to enrich it even more.

zucchini plantAs a final word of encouragement, remember, you can do everything right and still get plants that will die or be poor producers.  This happens to experienced gardeners {read:  me, like all of the time}, so don’t let it discourage you.  Some years are better than others, some variables just can’t be controlled, etc.  Garden on.

Hope this helps you get started,


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  1. Claudine says

    Hey, it’s me, Claudine!! Thanks SO much Mavis…this really does help to give me a starting point. I’m going to start making lists and planning what I want to grow, and where I’m going to put it in the yard. As always, love your blog! (sorry about the typo in my question – argh, I hate that! LOL)

  2. Paula says

    My two cents…don’t bite off more than you can chew. Gardening isn’t hard, but it does have a bit of a learning curve. Start with a manageable size and you won’t feel so overwhelmed and discouraged that you give it up. Good luck and have fun!

  3. Lynn says

    Is the garden in a brand-new subdivision? When I moved into my home (new subdiv), for the first couple of years there were few worms and birds in my garden. The eco-system seemed to be totally disrupted by the building. I could still garden, but it wasn’t as easy to garden organically as it is now that I’ve been here for over a decade. Now the worms are prolific, but so are the birds, rabbits and chipmunks 😉

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