This post about backyard gardening for beginners is part of a sponsored home garden program from Monsanto called “Hey Let’s Grow.” All experiences and opinions are mine. Follow fellow gardeners (of all experience levels) and the program with hashtag #HeyLetsGrow
Way back in April, I invited you to start a gardening journey with me. I was determined to turn my brown thumb to green and I was pretty ambitious. I planted a megaton of seeds and just waited for nature to take over. Just water them and wait for them to sprout!
That’s exactly what we did and it was so exciting. Gardening is easy, I thought to myself. Can’t wait to stick these plants in the ground and harvest my veggies!
Have you stopped laughing yet? Because you’ve probably done a little gardening before and you know that it takes A LOT more than planting seeds and reaping the harvest.
Let me catch you up on my journey and what I’ve learned about gardening for beginners.
Coddling My Seedlings
The first thing I had to learn was that seedlings need love and care just like any living child. So the first thing I needed to do was warm my seeds. They needed to stay about 10-20 degrees warmer than the interior of my house. I tried the top of my refrigerator but in the end, I made a $22 investment for a seed warming mat.
The seed starter pods were kept warm, my plants starting sprouting, and everything was looking good. Until…
The seedlings were leggy and I had to make the tough decision to eliminate all but one of each plant in the pod. I’m not good at selectivity but I knew from a biological perspective, it was a necessary step.
I kept the seedlings watered, gave them plenty of sunlight, and when the time came (their yellow droopiness telling exactly when that time was), I transplanted them to bigger pots and got them ready for the hardening process.
Hardening Off the Plants
I never actually knew you had to do this but it makes sense. Don’t take your seedlings from a lovely temperature and humidity controlled environment to a place that is subjected to winds, rain, bugs, and either too much/not enough light. So I started the process of “hardening” them off.
For several weeks, I placed the plants outside for several hours during the day and brought them in at night (we actually had cool night for quite a while this spring). And while they were getting ready for their one way journey to the outside world, I realized I needed to find a place to keep my babies safe.
Planning and Creating a Backyard Garden
My backyard is a mess. We’ve got about three different projects going on that make our backyard look like a construction zone. And our yard backs up to a very steep hill. The only positive note is that we get TONS of sunlight (so much sunlight that we put solar panels on our roof and make a killing!).
My bright idea was to create a lovely terraced garden. The only problem was that the hill was especially steep and oh yeah, I HAD NO IDEA WHAT I WAS DOING.
So I scaled back and decided to go with some easy DIY raised garden beds. But I still wanted to make this a project. So I cleared out a spot in the backyard and began my garden project.
I wanted it to feel a bit like a fancy English garden so I built four raised beds in a square with about 10-12 inches in between each square. I filled the beds with organic raised bed material and filled in the walking spaces with crushed stones.
Then, knowing the woodland creatures that roam freely in the woods behind me, I established a perimeter fence with some simple gardening wire and stakes. And the best part is, I DID IT ALL MYSELF!
Maintaining My Backyard Garden
After the beds were ready, I planted all my hardened off plants and, once again, waited for nature to deliver its bounty!
And then I learned the truth… nature often needs a little help.
It took some expert gardening advice to understand why my plants were purple and yellow and growing verrrrrrry slowly. Little old me thought that you plant the plants and you’re done!
It turns out that gardening is actually work. And my organic raised bed materials, while all natural, were missing essential nutrients that plants require like nitrogen, phosphorus, and iron.
I tried to be all organic and cut up banana peels for my tomato plants and soon realized my babies needed medicine or they would die. It was Miracle Gro to the rescue and I noticed a big improvement in just a week.
I’ve since continued to fertilize weekly but now realize I still need to increase the fertilizer amounts to make up for what’s missing in the gardening material.
I also monitor the water. I set up a small sprinkler capable of delivering water in a square pattern. I turned it on and let it run for an hour before my husband informed me that our water bill would not survive the summer if I gardened like that!
Now, if we haven’t had rain in a few days, I check the moisture in the soil with my hands and I turn on the sprinkler with an outdoor water timer for just 10-15 minutes.
The Fruits of My Labor (Literally)
It’s been almost 4 months since I started my gardening journey and we’re actually starting to produce! It’s a little late in the season but it doesn’t matter. The process (that I’ve done almost entirely with my 10 year old son, Evan) has been such a tremendous learning experience.
And now, my son is starting to make the connection. Although he is admittedly not the outdoorsy type, he now requests every day to go out with me a look at the garden. We pick a few weeds (we’ve hardly had any – a benefit to a raised garden bed), check the progress of each plant, and harvest anything that we might have. So far, we’ve produced a few cucumbers and a pepper. Nothing that gets us too excited but we do have tomatoes, carrots, zucchini, and watermelon all actively on the way!
Best Products to Help with Gardening for Beginners
If you’re looking for products to help with gardening for beginners (like me), these are some of the supplies that have helped me reach a tiny bit of success! (affiliate links below)