Backyard Gardening

By Amanda Kuhnert

For most backyard gardeners, growing and sustaining a garden is a process of trial and error. Every year we learn something new. We focus on one thing but overlook something else. And we vow to never let that happen again.Billings Garden

After a decade of gardening, I still get goosebumps when those first seedlings poke through the earth. And I marvel at the miracle of every tomato, green bean, and zucchini that eventually comes into being. Because I know, from experience, that every successful garden is the result of hard work, learning from mistakes, and a little luck — even professionals aren’t immune to universal gardening threats like weather, disease, and pests.

But overcoming these challenges is half the reward, along with a season’s worth of fresh veggies. There’s nothing like preparing a delicious meal from ingredients picked right out of your garden.
Thinking of giving it a go? Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Pay attention to the soil, every year.

It doesn’t matter how well you plan out your garden or how often you water it if the soil itself is nutrient poor. My very first garden was a raging success. I put in a small 12-by-12 foot raised bed filled with an equal mix of high-quality compost and topsoil, and miracles happened. By the third year I could barely keep anything alive.

What I didn’t realize is that soil nutrients need to be replenished every year or two. You can do this by adding compost at the end of the gardening season, using amendments like compost or greensand to help the soil drain properly, or planting a cover crop like alfalfa in advance of the planting season and then tilling the crop into the soil before putting your first seed in the ground. All of these tactics help build healthier, more nutritious soil.

Choose the right plants for your location.

For years I tried to grow tomatoes in a shady backyard that was best suited for lettuce. At our new home there isn’t a tree within 50 feet of my garden. The mesclun that grew all summer long in my previous locale bolts by early July in my new sun-soaked garden. So I’ve turned to more heat-tolerant lettuce varieties like Romaine and Buttercrunch, and am enjoying my first-ever crop of sun-loving pepper plants.
Not enough space for your own garden? Sustainable Woodstock has sunny plots available in our community gardens. Find out how to secure your plot for summer 2019:

Expect visitors.

Every gardener’s first major heartbreak: heading out to pick your veggies and discovering that some other critter got there first. Deer were my first unwanted guests. After they mowed down my lettuce, I decided to never again plant veggies without a fence to protect them. But the tallest fence won’t keep out squash beetles. Last year they nearly decimated my garden overnight. As an emergency response, I wrapped a strip of aluminum foil around the base of each plant, to prevent female vine borers from laying their eggs around the stems. This seemed to help. But what really did the trick was sprinkling the leaves with food-grade Diatomaceous Earth, microscopic fossils that cut into the soft bodies of insects.
Who will it be this year? I wish I could say that I was ready.

Plant under the right conditions.

With my previous gardening blunders in mind, I set to work this year to fertilize and put up the fence. So when it came time to finally put the plants in the ground, I dug holes and hastily threw them in. The next day nearly every single plant was half-dead. Why? Because I planted them on the hottest afternoon of the summer thus far, and I didn’t water them soon enough. The soil was bone dry. I managed to save most of them with some emergency watering. Whew.

Ask the experts.

I’ll strike up a conversation about gardening with anyone who seems to know what they’re doing. My biggest piece of advice for newbie gardeners: Just dig in, but don’t be afraid to ask for help. We’re all learning as we go ….
Happy gardening!

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