Another summer and another harvest has come and gone. And whether you're a beginner trying out your first garden or a seasoned farmer with a thumb as green as the earth, there are always lessons to be learned as to how to make next year’s bounty even better. Like many gardening enthusiasts, my wife, Hailey, and I got our start from container gardening in an apartment. Each year we learned to adapt to sunlight and crop varieties best suited to our Zone 7a conditions and north-facing balcony.
However, this past summer we’ve been fortunate enough to have our very first backyard garden and a chance to really get some soil under our fingernails. Of course, with this being our first “real” garden, there were a lot of beginner mistakes and lessons learned on the road to our first harvest.
- Proper Tilling. When we first moved into our house, the backyard had not been touched in nearly a decade. Weeds and Virginia Creeper had overrun the soil and turned it into a nearly impenetrable sheet. After much hard work and tilling, we were able to uproot all of the pesky rocks, roots, and clumps that would compete against our spring crop. However, despite all of our hard work, there was one small section in the garden that we did not till over as thoroughly as the rest. And it showed. We planted our sugar snap peas in that patch and its stunted growth, limited production, and short season were only some of the signs that it was a significantly weaker crop.
- Overseeding. In my opinion, impatience is another word for overseeding. I know gardeners who’ve been active for decades still tell me they’re guilty over overseeding year after year. The truth is, it can be difficult to believe that a tiny little honeydew or squash seed will eventually blow up several feet wide in all directions. In the spring, when you’re sowing 2-3 seeds every 5 or 6 feet away from each other, it can seem like a waste of space, so why not cram in a few extra watermelon plants while you’re at it? But the truth is, we’ve got to learn to be patient and trust in the seeds to grow as big as they’re meant to.
- Soil Health. We built some additional garden boxes this season which, in total, required two cubic-foot bags of soil. However, the soil we purchased was not very organically rich and we learned this after our transplanted starts did nothing for the first month outdoors. We bought an organic liquid compost fertilizer to add to the soil, which eventually helped the transplants take root.
- Over-Productivity. When we lived in our apartment, we were able to make use of all the tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and herbs we kept on our balcony. Never any waste. However, with some extra gardening space this season, we found ourselves struggling to make use of everything our garden produced. Nonstop cucumbers, zucchini, pole beans, and heirloom tomatoes! Whether cooking, gifting, canning, or pickling, always have a game plan for your produce.
- Cover Crops. When we moved into our home earlier this year, we didn’t have enough time to plant a winter cover crop. As mentioned, we had to compete with some tough and uncultivated soil while also having to add liquid fertilizers to the soil we bought for our garden boxes. This year though, we’ve already planted a Garden Cover Crop Mix to help replenish organic nitrogen back into our soil, with taproots to loosen the soil, aid in weed suppression, and then to be tilled back into our garden for an even better harvest next year!
Watch us preparing our backyard garden with an autumn Garden Cover Crop Mix!