5 Rookie Mistakes to Avoid when Starting a Garden

Sowing too many seeds is a simple mistake to avoid when starting a garden.

Starting a garden is one of the most exciting and rewarding … and frustrating things I have done. When things go well, eating home-grown produce is the best food ever. But there are so many things that can go wrong too. Here are five mistakes you can easily avoid when starting your garden.

A lot of hard work often go into a garden! Then, nothing grows, or most of what does grow, is consumed by pests. The disappointment and frustration you feel can be devastating. You work very hard yet very little end up on the table. This can put off even the most stubborn gardener – and result in an abandoned garden!  

Some of the things that can go wrong, you can prevent by preparing and planning, both when it comes to planting and harvesting. Here are some mistakes you can easily avoid!

1. Sowing too many seeds of the same sort.

Most seeds bags contain a lot of seeds! And it is very tempting to sow too many seeds. The seeds look tiny and it’s easy to plant 50 seeds without giving it a second thought. Knowing that not all seeds will germinate, it is even more tempting to plant a few extra.

But hang on a minute – do you have space for 50 tomato plants, 50 cucumber plants etc. My garden is rather small, and I have a small greenhouse. So, I do not have space for hundreds and hundreds of plants. Even 20 tomato plants are too many for my greenhouse. Then I would not have space for anything else!

Last year I managed to sow close to fifty kale seeds. After prickling and keeping around 25 plants, I had to discard about half the seedlings. Just because I simply did not have the space for them in my garden. This is an easy mistake to avoid when starting your garden.

Look carefully at your seed bags. There should be a best before date stamped on the packet. Most seeds will be good for two to three years – so no need to plant all the first season! If you do end up with too many seedlings, you can also give some to friends and family. Or try selling some!

2. Starting to sow too early in the season.

New year and new season! I often feel very excited and am eager to start planting seeds for each new season. However, living in a cold climate, starting too early is not the best idea.

I do not have a grow light or space in my house to accommodate a lot of seedings. If I start too early, I will be left with a lot of very thin and tall, small plants, that will need to be transplanted out into the garden way before the frost is gone.

The growth of these plants will stagnate, and the plants will be weak and not at all ready for the challenges growing outside in a cold climate will throw at them.  

Several times I have had plants that wither and die before I could get them planted outside, and all the hard work of raising them have been for nothing!

Here a green house comes in very handy. Some of the hardier plants can be started inside and then moved out to the green house for a period before moving to their destination in the garden after the earth is warm enough.

3. Growing vegetables that you don’t really like.

When I first started growing vegetables, I read a lot about how to grow, what to grow and what was easy to grow.

One of the vegetables that often was mentioned was radishes. They are small, easy to raise and mature quickly. A no brainer and almost guaranteed success. That is – if you like radishes!! I don’t like radishes, yet there I was growing radishes.

One of the biggest rewards when growing your own vegetables, is the pleasure of eating them. Of course, it is nice to be able to give away home-grown vegetables as well. But with some contemplating in the planning phase, growing things you don’t like is not necessary. This is yet another mistake that you can avoid in your garden by planning better.

4. Planting vegetables that don’t grow well in your climate zone.

Get to know your hardiness zone! To succeed at growing some of your own food, it’s very important to know what plants will do well in the climate zone you are in.

The hardiness zones or climate zones are defined differently depending on where in the world you are. We do not have any universal hardiness zone system. The American system is well known, but not applied in Norway where I live. We have our own system, like most other countries.

It can be very tempting to try and grow fruits or vegetables that you love, but that don’t belong in your climate at all. I would for example love to be able to grow citrus, but these threes will not survive the Scandinavian winters. Instead, I go with plums and apples and other cold hardy threes.

To find out what grows well at your location, you can go for a stroll in your neighborhood and look at what your neighbors are growing. What grows well on the rest of your street, will most likely do well in your garden as well.

If you want to try growing species that are not normally grown in your zone, do some research and if you are lucky, you can find a variety that have been bred to do well in your hardiness zone.

Last fall I bought a cutting of a grape wine that should survive in my climate. Not many varieties of grapes will do well here, but there are a few that might survive the winter. It has been overwintering inside this winter and will go outside later in the summer. I will make sure to plant it in one of the warmest spots in my garden.

5. Failing to plan enough time to harvest and preserve.

Harvesting can be quite labor intensive in the autumn. In a cold climate a lot of the produce will ripen in a few short months and needs to be harvested in a short timeframe. What is not eaten during the season, needs to be preserved for the winter months.

The more vegetables, berries, and fruits you have growing, the more time you need to spend harvesting and preserving.

This means you need to plan these tasks in your schedule. If your autumn months are fully booked with jobs, sports, kids, and other commitments, you will not be able to harvest all your vegetables.

So, plan ahead and think about what and how you want to preserve. Make sure you have the equipment you need and know how to use it. If you want to can part of your produce, purchase a canner well before harvest season and learn how it works. I still have goose berries in my freezer from last season. I was going to turn them into wonderful marmalade when things calmed down. But I never got around to it. I will probably end up adding them to one of the batches of sirup that I will be making this autumn.

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