Being stuck at home sparks inspiration for many people and also signals the need for a new hobby. As the last frost has passed in most of the country and spring is in bloom, many people are turning to gardening as a way to fill their days. I personally also felt the need to grow my own food, as some of the stores run short on necessities.
Starting a garden can be fun and very rewarding, but it can also be disheartening at times when you find your new seedlings massacred by pests, your berries picked off by birds, or your plants wilting in the sun. Most gardeners run into an array of challenges and I’m here to give you a general guideline of how to get started.
Make A Plan Before You Buy
Many people have a vision of tomatoes, corn, beans, and strawberries in their minds when they envision their perfect gardens. However, many new gardeners may not be aware that certain plants shouldn’t be grown together (like tomatoes and corn or carrots and dill) and some plants benefit from being in close proximity to others (like lettuce and mint).
Companion planting is extremely important and you’ll have a better chance at a more successful garden with some careful planning. You’ll need to ensure there are plants and flowers in your garden to attract beneficial insects, like ladybugs, that will devour your aphids as well as Honeybees for cross-pollination. You’ll also need to avoid mismatching veggies that will fight for the same nutrients or that get attacked by the same pests. There are several charts located on Pinterest that can give you a good start.
In addition to companion planting, you’ll want to figure out where the sun is at anytime during the day to ensure your tall crops, like corn, tomatoes, and sunflowers won’t shade other plants that need full sun to flourish. Sketch out a plan on a piece of paper with all your desired plants and fill them in until you’ve made the perfect plan with good spacing for your garden. Once you’ve done that, you can begin purchasing seeds, seedlings, bulbs, and the like.
Keeping your garden close to a water source is also extremely important. If you have a small garden, having a hose nearby will be a time saver and will keep you from having to drudge across the yard a number of times with a watering can. If you’re planning a large garden, a hose or drip irrigation system will be a life saver.
Start Sowing Seeds Indoors First
You may be in a perfect climate for outdoor growing, with no risk of frost, but that’s not the only thing you’ll want to keep an eye out for when growing from seed. Seedlings are susceptible to a number of pests when they are young and fragile and many pests attack in the middle of the night or while hidden underground in the middle of the day.
Sowing your seeds indoors will allow your plants to mature and become more sturdy so they can handle a few pests here and there without it being detrimental. Just don’t forget to harden off your seedlings before planting them in the garden. This means that you’ll introduce them to the outdoor elements a little at a time until they’re used to it. If you don’t do this, you’ll likely lose some plants.
I personally like to use a seedling tray with humidity cover like this one: (affiliate link) 10-Pack Seed Trays Seedling Starter Tray
Some seeds should be started directly in the soil in your garden and do not normally transplant successfully, such as corn, sunflowers, and carrots.
Have A Small Arsenal Of Tools To Fight Pests
You’ll see earwigs, slugs, snails, cutworms, aphids, beetles, and so many more pests, depending on where you live. If you’re like me, you’ll want to stay away from insecticides whenever possible. I have dogs, kids, and a cat to worry about and I wouldn’t want them getting into any poison in the name of ridding my garden of pests. Here are a few ways to get rid of pests that you may want to arm yourself with:
- Diatomaceous Earth. This is a natural material that is created by crushing up fossils from the ocean which creates a fine powder. This powder is detrimental to many insects as it dries them out and causes them to dehydrate. It’s important to wear a mask and eyewear when using this, as you don’t want to inhale it or get it in your eyes. The powder may feel like chalk but it’s actually very abrasive and some believe it could cause respiratory issues. Be sure to purchase food-grade Diatomaceous Earth, as the type that’s sold for pools and other uses is not safe for food use. I personally tried this brand, found on Amazon: Diatomaceous Earth DE10, 100% Organic Food Grade Diamateous Earth Powder – Safe For Children & Pets (affiliate link)
- Hunt For Beneficial Insects. One of my favorite morning routines is to go for a walk with my daughter and hunt for ladybugs and lacewings. Ladybugs and lacewings are excellent for the garden as they eat aphids, whiteflies, and other small plant pests. You can also purchase live ladybugs and lacewing eggs online: Live Ladybugs on Amazon (affiliate link). You can also hunt for other beneficial insects, like praying mantises, but they can be a little more challenging to find. Here’s a shot of my baby praying mantis that I found sitting on my outdoor couch one morning. Praying mantises are excellent predatory insects but you don’t want to depend on them alone to control your pest issue. They are generalists, which means they eat anything that comes their way. This means that they will not control the aphid population very effectively, as they don’t specifically prey on specific pests. In addition, they will also happily eat the ladybugs and lacewings that hang out in your garden. It’s a good idea to google your pest problem and discover which predator you should hunt for or try to attract to your garden. That way, you’ll be more able to control your pest issue naturally and without the use of insecticides.
- Create DIY Insect Traps. You may wake up and discover that your seedlings have completely disappeared. There may be a number of pests responsible but in my area, it appears to be earwigs this year. A great way to catch earwigs is with oil traps. Simply use an empty tuna can or cut disposable cups to create a short container, fill halfway with vegetable oil and soy sauce, and set out near your seedlings. The next morning, you’ll find your seedlings safe and your trap full of earwigs.
Know Which Pests to Leave Alone
Many people might consider all insects to be pests, but when you’re gardening, there are certain insects that you might consider welcoming into your garden. Spiders, wasps, lacewings, ladybugs, praying mantises, and a number of others, will eat insects that can harm your garden. When you find a new insect in your garden, it’s a good idea to do a quick google search before getting rid of them.
Obviously, some pests can do harm to you, your kids, and your pets, so use your best judgement when handling pests in your own garden.
Make Use of What You Have/Purchase Lightly
If you’re like me, you don’t want to spend an arm and a leg on gardening supplies, especially if you don’t know how successful you’ll be. I’ve compiled a list of useful supplies, some of which can be used for several different purposes. Here are some affiliate links:
- Raised Garden Bed Kit
- Bamboo Stakes
- Bird Netting
- Hardware Cloth or Plastic Safety Netting
- Landscape Staples
- Watering Can and/or Sprayer Hose Nozzle
- Paper towel/toilet paper rolls (to place around seedlings, for compost, etc)
- Plastic cups (to make disposable bug traps, to put around seedlings, etc)
Grow Food From Scraps
One of the biggest ways I’ve found to save money while starting my garden is to grow food from my dinner scraps. It may sound odd, but you can actually grow food from the pieces left over from your meal prep. It doesn’t work with everything but here are some that work well:
- Green Onion, and Scallions
- Lettuce, Cabbage, and Bok Choy
- Sweet Potato
Many of these you can grow right in a glass on your windowsill. Here’s a good article from BuzzFeed with the details for scrap regrowing: 16 Foods That You Can Magically Regrow From Scraps
Have Fun With It
While you’re first starting out, you’ll likely make a few mistakes, and that’s okay. It’s possible that you’ll lose some seedlings, ripe fruit/veggies, or an entire crop. There’s always going to be a learning curve for something like this but the results will be well worth the trouble.
Once you harvest and eat your first fresh tomato, sweet corn, or strawberry, you’ll be hooked! Experiment with new fruits, veggies, and flowers. You never know which ones will succeed in your garden. If you like to grow plants from seed, there are some awesome starter sets on Etsy here. If you prefer to start with seedlings or established plants, you can find them at your local hardware store, nursery, or even on Etsy too.
These are just a few tips for the beginner gardener but I’m sure you’ll find lots of useful information during your gardening journey. If you have anything to add, please tell me in the comments!
Disclaimer: This post is the opinion of the author. The information provided in this post is for entertainment purposes only and is not intended to provide medical, legal, or other professional advice. Read and/or use any of the information from this post at your own risk. Some or all of the links displayed on this site may be affiliate links.