If you have ever kept a garden, even a small one, you are aware of how much time and labor goes in. Unless you are going for the jungle-look, there are weeds to pull, plants to trim, stake and cover, never mind the time spent actually harvesting and preparing the produce for canning, dehydrating or freezing.
I have been gardening for several years now, and each year I learn something new. I’ve had neat little gardens, and been the guilty keeper of a messy jungle garden. I’ve had multiple sized gardens, enjoying wide spread rows as well as the square-foot method. With all these experiences, I thought I would share some of my best gardening tips.
- Start weeding before you put in your plants. Most people think of weeding as something that needs to be done at the same time as planting, or just once those vegetables are in the ground. However, it’s never too early to pull weeds, and the sooner you start, the better. Weeding eliminates competition for your vegetables, by ensuring there is plenty of space for roots systems to develop, as well as stopping undesired plants from depleting the soil’s nutrients.
- Weed in the mornings. My morning routine always includes a trip to pull weeds in my vegetable and herb garden beds. Getting outside early means pulling weeds before the heat of the day, making the chore more enjoyable. It also reduces your sun exposure, making for healthier weeding, too. If you can’t make the mornings work, there is nothing less enjoyable about an early evening weed-pulling session. The important part is to weed daily. Pinch out those pesky plants before they get way ahead of you, and start wreaking havoc in your garden.
- Thin seedlings in the morning or evening, only. Avoid thinning or moving seedlings when the sun is high and the day is hot. You are more likely to have success if you move them in the cool morning or evening, and give them a little drink of water right after.
- Thin seedlings after rain fall. Thinning right after a good rain has always proved to be the most successful for me as well – the ground is wet and soil soft, so less roots get damaged. If you’re in a dry spell, but those seedlings can’t wait, thin them after a good, hearty watering, in the early morning or late afternoon, when it is not in direct sun.
- Stake early. Even if your plants don’t need stakes or trellises yet, get these in place ASAP. This way you disturb the growing plant as little as possible, and the support is ready when needed.
- It’s all about the roots! You can weed and weed until the sun goes down, but if you are leaving the roots behind, you’re wasting your time. Sure, I wear work gloves when dealing with thorny plants, or those with toxins like poison ivy, but when it comes to your every day weeds, bare-handed is the way to go. No gadget or glove will ever compare to the knowing, pincer-grasp of your fingers as they wiggle into the ground, following the weed down and pulling the whole plant out. Removing the roots (or at the very least, as much of them as possible), will prevent that plant from regrowing and making you feel crazy when the same weed keeps returning from the dead.
- Enjoy it. There is no sense in doing something you don’t love, if you can avoid it. Gardening shouldn’t be a chore, where you “have” to go do this, or else. Gardening is a wonderful chance to be out doors, soaking in the sun, breathing in the fresh air. Admire the fall of sunlight on the various leaves and fruits, the songs of birds and gentle buzzing of your gardening-coworkers, those lovely little local bees.
- Share the love. Invite your children and loved ones into the garden with you. I love watching the delight on my daughter’s face as I hand her a freshly picked green bean or radish to eat. She wrinkles her nose and smiles so wide as she reaches out that tiny hand to grab a fresh, garden treat. She has even learned to spot and harvest our snap peas all on her own – standing on tip toe at the garden fence and reaching over to pull another into her mouth. I love knowing she will grow up in my gardens, pulling weeds and eating produce straight from the dirt and plant. I love the excitement I see even on my husband’s face when we see fresh berries developing, or stumble across a giant squash we never even saw as a bud. Sharing the knowledge and love of gardening with your family is one of the best gifts you can give, and watching them enjoy it too is one of the best you can receive.