I love all the motivation people have once spring comes to start a kitchen garden. Gardening is such a therapeutic activity but also gives you so much joy when you can harvest fruits and veggies right from your yard. However, I have met with too many homeowners that as we tour their yard, sheepishly refer to themselves as terrible gardeners as we approach their empty, weed covered garden beds. They tell me how excited they were to get started but now shamefully look at the boxes sitting in their yard. I hate seeing this. No one is a bad gardener, most people just never really learned anything about gardening. So I am here to help you avoid making 5 of the most common mistakes that I see.
1. Adding Too Many Garden Boxes
You get really excited and create a large raised bed garden area then can't maintain it year after year (or frankly season after season). I know you may see gardeners online who have large lush garden beds year-round but I need you to take a step back. Is that their job? Is that their main hobby? Are they actually the ones maintaining it? What are they doing with all the extra veggies/fruit that they produced? If this is your main hobby, then go for it. As a hobby, it will lead to not only planting/tending your garden beds outside but also lead you to do research and plan out your garden throughout the year which will help the process become even more rewarding.
However, this is not most people! Most of my clients are occasional hobbyists. They want to be able to grow a few things, grow things only in one season or maybe even want to teach their kids about where food comes from. They love the idea of gardening but their life right now, is not going to allow them to devote too much time to their garden beds. If this is you, I need you to embrace that! Growing a little bit is just as fun and rewarding.
For the occasional garden enthusiast, I recommend you put in a max of 4 garden beds. Of the 4, you may want to have 2 that are 4' x 8' and then 2 that are 4' x 4'. Or maybe you just have a few wine barrels and then only one 4' x 8' garden bed. I recommend to not go overboard, you can always add more later if needed. I assure you small gardens can produce plenty of produce for your family.
2. Not Planning Out Your Garden
Even if you have only a couple of garden beds, it is very important to put some thought into what you are going to plant. You really need to ask yourself a few important questions. How big will this plant get? Is this edible a priority for me to grow? When does it get harvested? How much will one plant produce?
After asking yourself these questions, you will be able to narrow down the list of what you will grow in your garden. In addition, your pre-planning will help you have a rough timeline of when things will need to get harvested and how much work will be needed for each plant. Honestly, this should not take you too long to do but I would highly recommend spending some time before ever planting a seed or visiting a nursery to buy plants so that you do not over buy. With some pre-planning you will be able to be very successful in your garden and grow exactly what you want.
3. Adding Edibles Throughout Your Yard.
For novice gardeners, keep almost all your edibles designated into garden beds. You can have fruit bearing trees or berry bushes somewhere else but keep everything else contained and organized. Although you could add more production throughout your yard, you would never remember to harvest it nor would remember to maintain it throughout the season. Garden beds allow for you to have a designated spot for all your edibles so even on weeks when you are super busy, you can easily pop out to take a look at how things are doing and harvest what is needed quickly and easily. They also give you the peace of mind that everything is organized and therefore your garden doesn't feel overwhelming. Raised beds don't always look amazing. Not that they aren't producing but a well producing tomato is not necessarily a pretty, organized plant. Instead the plant is putting all its energy to the production of fruit. However, when it is in a nice neat garden bed it looks to be in place even when looking wild.
4. Forgetting About Irrigation
This is a big one. I have visited so many yards in the past with no irrigation to their garden beds. Seriously! What happens to all that time and energy you put in to grow these plants, if one long trip causes everything to die (you can't necessarily trust your preteen neighbor to know when or how to water while you are on vacation). You need to make sure that all your garden beds are put on a drip system. Each bed should have its own shut-off valve so that if you are not growing anything in that bed or want to stress a plant (i.e. tomatoes fruit better when stressed), you are not needlessly watering it. In addition, all wine barrels, horse troughs, pots etc. should also have irrigation to them so that you can adjust water as needed. The best part is that setting up the irrigation will allow your beds to be more hands off so a win-win for anyone's time strapped life.
5. Being Too Hard On Yourself
This is frankly the most important advice I can give. Please oh please don't be too hard on yourself. Even seasoned gardeners will have things fail on them. Also seasoned gardeners take time off sometimes when things in their life change. So if last year, you were able to have a lush, full garden but this year, it doesn't look to be the case don't worry. Instead pop in some flower plants/seeds and enjoy having your raised bed garden different this year. There are no rules when it comes to what needs to be grown in a garden bed so just have fun. They are a place to experiment when you can but also left fallow when needed as well (don't worry the boxes make them look clean year-round). So above all else just enjoy yourself!