There are many little things that I overlooked when starting this process. There are lots of things that never came up in the research unless you know what you’re looking for. Like I’ve said many times, my goal is to help you learn from me! With that being said, here are some helpful tidbits you can use going forward!
1.Make sure you know how many of each plant you need/want, and have a plan for what to do with extras. Please do not just run off to the garden store and buy everything with abandon! Have a plan and a budget in place before you go. Make a list of what you want to buy and leave only 1 or 2 list spots for in-the-moment decisions. Have some kind of idea of what you’ll do with any extra plants. Many times plants are sold are groups of 3-4 plants that you have to buy together. I made the mistake of just putting everything in the garden even if I didn’t have enough room: don’t do this! Plan for what to do with the extras, such as selling or giving them away, or putting the extra plants in their own pot or container separate from the main garden.
2. Make sure you know how tall the plants will be at full growth before planting. Research every plant before you buy it. You MUST know how tall and full it will be when it is grown. I made the mistake of buying indeterminate tomatoes and they got taller than me (I’m 5’7”)! Please do not make my mistakes, know your plants!
3. Map out your garden space. Knowing what you’re buying, how much space it needs, and how large it will get will help you map out the garden space. If you are keeping each plant in its own container, you don’t need to worry about this as much. However, if you are doing raised beds or an in-ground garden, this is VERY important. You need to map out your space to ensure that everything will get enough sun and that nothing will get covered up by something else. I also had no idea how large tomatillos would be and they became huge bushes that completely covered my bell pepper plants. This led to my bell peppers hardly producing.
4. If you can, spend a little more upfront for plant supports. I made the mistake of buying cheap, flimsy tomato cages. Don’t do this. Spend some money upfront on something that will last more than one season. Examples of good plant supports are rebar with rope/cloth, heavy duty cylindrical cages (not the 3 or 4 wire post things you typically think of), farm fence posts with rope/cloth, or wooden box cages. You may also have to support smaller plants such as peppers. Have supports in mind for these as well, such as wooden stakes or small metal posts.
5. Mulch your garden! I did not add any mulch or soil protections and my plants suffered. They did not retain water as much and soil runoff was a big issue. Add mulch on top of the garden soil much like you do for decorative flower beds. This helps plants hold water and soil better and protects the roots. Mulch ideas could be wood mulch, dead leaves, or ripped up newspaper.
6. Prune! I will get more into this in my post all about tomato care, but I’m just growing to throw this out there now and say PRUNE!
7. Keep a log of everything you do and learn. This is one thing I can say I did right! Even with all the research and help, you WILL make mistakes. Write them down so you can learn from them. Write down everything you do. Keep a log of when you water, when it rains (so you don’t over water), what you planted, how much each plant produced, did the plants do something strange, plant illnesses, garden pests, pest control methods implemented, and the list goes on.
8. Check soil levels. Over time, the soil may runoff. This is normal. Just make sure you add fresh soil and compost when you notice soil levels getting too low.
9. Have a plan for garden pests. Diatomaceous Earth will be your best friend! I love the stuff! It is a natural pesticide made by the fossilized remains of diatoms which are little creatures with hard shells. Buy the ‘food safe’ type and it is considered safe for humans and pets! I use it on the soil of the garden, on nonflowering plants, around trash cans, and in door thresholds! To humans, it feels almost like powdered sugar, but to insects and other pests it is razor sharp! This keeps the bugs away from your plants (and your house). Do not put Diatomaceous Earth on flowering plants as you will not have the all important pollinators you need! However, some pests can fly in. You need to have a plan for these friends as well. You can use store bought sprays, but I prefer all natural pesticides.I use this recipe: 2 garlic cloves, 2 cups mint leaves, 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper, 1 tablespoon dish soap (I suggest Dawn), and 10 cups water. Put everything solid (garlic, mint, pepper) in a food processor or blender and let it go until it is a paste. In a bowl, put the water, soap, and food paste. Whisk it all together. Pour the mix into a squirt bottle and spray all over your plants. This lasts no more than a week, so you’ll need to make more and adjust the recipe for smaller or larger batches.
10. Water! Water regularly, but don’t over water. Your plants do not need to be watered each day. Watering 2-3 times per week is more than enough. If you get lots of rain, you may not need to water for a few days afterwards. Also, when it comes to watering, don’t water the leaves or stem of the plants, just water the base and towards the roots. Many plants can rot or get illnesses from being watered incorrectly.
11. Plant flowers that pollinators love as well. I made the mistake of overlooking the pollinators. It just never came to mind. However, when my tomatoes were not coming in, I soon learned that they needed some natural insect assistance. So I bought some flowers and put them in pots all around the yard, and before you knew it, there were little tomatoes coming in! Plants need help to pollinate. This job is mainly done by bees, and bees love flowers. Plant flowers that bees tend to gravitate towards and your garden will grow and thrive!
12. Fertilize! Don’t forget to fertilize your garden. No amount of good, fancy, expensive soil will help your plants. They need some extra love. You can do this by adding fresh compost, making homemade fertilizers, making compost tea, or getting store bought fertilizers.
I hope this helps give some hints, tips, and tricks before you start planning your own garden and homestead! As always, please feel free to comment or ask questions. You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!