10 things I learned from my first year of organic gardening

Hello, it’s been a while! I’ve been busy with garden planning and starting up the early spring garden. Upon going over last year’s gardening notes, I thought I’d share a few things I realized in my first year of organic gardening in our backyard. I went into the year with a little experience, from my college work/study job of maintaining the greenhouse to small plot and container gardening while living in apartments. It definitely felt like my first real year of gardening in a real yard though; I had a sore back in the spring and may have shed a few tears once the tomato plants were done producing in late fall. By winter, I found myself really missing gardening and dreaming about next year’s garden. Here are a few tidbits that may help anyone else out there who’s new to gardening or interested in getting started in it altogether.

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1. As a newbie, it helps to find a resource or guide specific to your gardening zone or seek out a gardening mentor if you’ve got any friends, family members, or neighbors who garden. I read through Seattle Tilth’s Maritime Northwest Garden Guide, listened to Encyclopedia Botanica podcast, consulted with the Seattle Garden hotline, and chatted with coworkers who garden. It can get overwhelming sorting through all the information out there. I felt like I had to know everything about what I wanted to grow before even starting, but I learned to just take it month at a time, and look specifics up and ask when I needed some insight.

2. Soil quality is extremely important! Get your soil tested at a local lab, amend with a well-rounded organic fertilizer, and put down compost before starting anything. It’s completely worth it for healthy, nutrient-rich veggies.

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3.When determining what to grow, think about the staples in your kitchen. Garlic? Onions? Peppers? Greens? Try and grow what you see yourself using the most of, and expand from there.

4. Sketch your garden layout and keep a garden journal. It makes a great visual guide and helps with succession planting, plant monitoring, and keeping track of ideas.

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5. Planting starters rather than seeds can potentially make things smoother and easier for your first year. I used quite a few starters last year, and I felt like it helped me manage my different plots more easily, but I now feel ready to delve into mostly starting from seed this year. Personal preference – everyone finds their happy medium.

6. You will have successes. You will have failures. Every gardener encounters pests, critters, and plant diseases. Most of which have measures you can take to try and get your plant healthy and productive again. However, if something wipes out a crop, you’ll know it’s an “at risk” species in your garden, and next year you can leave it out of rotation or take precautionary measures to try and prevent it from happening again.

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7. If you’re at all intimidated, don’t be. Gardening isn’t difficult, it just requires attention in the form of watering, babying young plants, pruning, and harvesting. Oh yes, don’t forget soil amending, weeding, pest and disease monitoring, plant removal at the end of it’s cycle, and any other general garden maintenance. Not difficult stuff, though, I promise!

8. Gardening will make you resourceful and inventive ways you’ve never realized. Tomato plant getting too heavy for it’s cage? No problem, I’ll just use some twine and secure it to the side of this retaining wall. Lettuce is beginning to bolt? It’s ok, I’ll strategically place this squash trellis over the lettuce to provide shade and slow the growth. Your brain is pushed to quickly think of solutions and it continues this way of thinking into everyday living, just wait and see!

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9. Make your garden into a space you love to be in. Even little improvements to your garden space such as a rock border, bamboo fence, hanging chimes, or any personal touches draw you to want to hang out in the garden rather than it being a chore to be in the garden.

10. Organic gardening is a continual learning process. It’s fascinating and rewarding. Once you start, you will most likely want to continue gardening and learning about gardening. For me, it was an awesome first season and I can’t wait to see what next season brings.

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Happy gardening!