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In the Garden: New vegetable gardeners share triumphs and tribulations

UPDATED: Sat., Sept. 19, 2020

Susan Mulvihill hopes new vegetable gardeners enjoyed their first year of growing their own food.  (Susan Mulvihill/For The Spokesman-Review)
Susan Mulvihill hopes new vegetable gardeners enjoyed their first year of growing their own food. (Susan Mulvihill/For The Spokesman-Review)
By Susan Mulvihill For The Spokesman-Review

Did you grow your first vegetable garden this year? Well done! Even if you experienced some problems or frustrations, I hope there were enough positive aspects to make you want to do it again next year.

I recently asked new gardeners on Facebook how they fared and received a lot of interesting replies. Before I proceed with those, I want to emphasize that no gardener has ever had a “perfect” garden on their first try. Come to think of it, I’ve been growing veggies for ages, and I don’t think I’ve ever had everything go according to plan. Do I still love it? You bet.

Vegetable gardening is a learning experience: You build on that experience by repeating your successes, talking to others about the challenges you’ve encountered and making adjustments each year. It should feel satisfying to grow vegetables. If you ate a homegrown tomato for the first time, you know it was worth the effort right there.

Here are some of the comments I’ve heard:

One new gardener realized he hadn’t spaced his plants properly, which impacted their growth. It’s always a good idea to follow the spacing recommendations on seed packets or plant tags. When plants are crowded, they have to fight for sunlight, moisture and nutrients. Stressed plants are often targeted by bugs.

A lot of folks were frustrated that our cold, wet spring affected their plants’ production. That’s one of those things we can’t control, but you might feel better knowing you weren’t alone. I should have waited a bit longer to plant my warm-season crops; others mentioned they probably planted theirs a bit too soon, as well. We should all wait until the danger of frost has passed and remember to harden off the seedlings before planting day by slowly acclimating them to outdoor temperatures and the intensity of the sunlight.

New and experienced gardeners alike commented on how difficult it was to find basic gardening supplies such as seeds and tools. While I know that was frustrating, it’s fantastic to have so many new gardeners. I’ve long maintained everyone should know how to grow their own food, and a lot of folks began that journey this year. Most garden centers and online sources are back on track now.

I heard positive comments, too. One couple said their crops produced so well, they’re already sketching out next year’s garden and looking through seed catalogs. Now that is organized, and I’m very impressed. Another person has appreciated the distraction that gardening has provided: “It has kept me centered and sane during these difficult times.”

Many people dealt with insect problems on their plants, which is always discouraging. The first step is to get them identified, then learn about organic solutions for controlling them. Experienced gardeners are great resources, as are our local Master Gardener programs; refer to the information box for ways to contact them.

A frequent frustration of new gardeners was that their gardens got out of control, making it difficult for them to keep up. Enthusiasm can cloud our judgment, but it’s wise to start small, gain experience and get the hang of this thing called gardening. Above all, remember the gardener’s mantra: There’s always next year.

Susan Mulvihill is author of “The Vegetable Garden Pest Handbook.” She can be reached at susan@susansinthegarden.com. Watch this week’s “Everyone Can Grow a Garden” video at youtube.com/susansinthegarden.

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