There have been, in my experience, a number of gardening lessons that I had to learn the hard way. Not that someone didn’t mention it somewhere, just that if it was mentioned either my hubris or their lack of emphasis meant it didn’t lodge in my brain. I’m going to share those things with you newer gardeners to possibly aid in your Victory Garden efforts.
This is seemingly counterintuitive, but it isn’t. Plants harvested often will continue to produce more fruit/veg. This is particularly true for beans, peas, tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers. Remember, the things we harvest to eat are actually vehicles for that plant’s seeds. If you harvest them, the plant will want to make more, meaning more veggies for you.
Bigger is not better.
This applies mostly to cucumbers and summer squash, but also root crops, because they are edible when very young (unlike tomatoes or melons). Don’t wait until that cucumber or zucchini could double as a baseball bat. Harvest it early on when it is tender and flavorful. Huge veggies tend to be overly seedy at best and woody/inedible at worst. This isn’t a contest to grow the biggest ones, you just want the tastiest ones.
Support you plants early or pay the price later.
Pole beans, peas, and tomatoes are all going to need support. Any kind will do, just so long as it is sturdy enough and tall enough to suit the plant. Tomato plants get bigger than you think and most tomato cages are flimsy, buy the sturdiest ones you can find! But the key here is to get that support in place when you put the plant or seeds in the ground. Do not wait until the plant looks like it needs support because it will be too late. You’ll damage the plant and the future veggies in the process and it will be a general mess.
Also I’ll advise that these plants will sometimes need a gentle, guiding hand to get them growing in/on those supports as intended. Remember when I told you to give them attention? This is one of those times. Keep an eye on them and use twine to gently and loosely tie the stems into place if need be. Do NOT use zip ties, wire ties, anything stronger or sharper than the plant stem itself or your plant will resemble Marie Antoinette, post revolution.
Crowded plants are unhappy plants.
Your seed packet or plant label will tell you how to space them in your garden. Do pay attention to this! It is false economy to try cramming extra plants or seeds into your space. The result will be wimpy plants, poor production, and/or a tangled jungle straight out of Jumanji. Yes, when you plant your baby tomatoes they will look tiny and you’ll wonder what the harm is in planting them a bit closer and getting an extra plant or two in… and then you’ll end up with something you have to hack through with a machete to even get to a ripe tomato. Follow the guidelines. They are there for a reason!
Bunnies are smarter than you think.
Rabbits will find your garden. They will eat indiscriminately and break your heart, mowing down every beet top and lettuce head in site- usually in just one night.
Unless your yard or area is already well fenced in (or you are using containers close to the house) you are going to need to protect your plants. Be it a small fence or a big one I’d advise to use metal or wood, as plastic fencing will pose no real defense to bunny teeth. And bunnies can get through some awfully small spaces- keep that in mind when shopping for fencing. Deer fall into this category too, so if they are an issue, you’ll need to make sure your fence is a bit more robust and taller. There are so many options, just use the Google Box to research what will work best for your space.
You probably aren’t watering as well as you think you are.
Watering with a hose is easy, but it is also super hard to judge just how much water each plant has gotten. It always seems like a lot of water, but in my experience, it rarely is. I’m not telling you not to use a hose, but I am telling you to be aware of exactly how much water is actually getting down to the roots.
Try an experiment: water an area that doesn’t actually have a plant in it. Water it for as long as you think is a good soak. Wait 5 or so minutes, then dig down into that area and see just how far down the water has gotten. If you’ve only really wet down the top inch or two of soil, then you’ve not actually gotten water down to where the roots of your plants are.
Watering cans are, I find, a much easier way to know how much water is going where. Either way, just be sure when you do water, its going to the roots and not a) staying on the surface or b) just getting on the leaves.
Succession planting is your friend.
The name sounds complicated, but it is very easy and prevents a big glut of some veggies. Better yet it ensures a steady supply of deliciousness.
The concept is this: Plant about 1/3 of what you want to grow one week, wait a couple of weeks to plant the next 1/3, and another couple of weeks for the last 1/3. This means when your first batch of whatever is ready to be harvested, you still have another 2 batches in the works. This isn’t a technique that works for things that take most of the season to get ready (melons, tomatoes, squash, etc) but it works like gangbusters for your salad mixes, radishes, and other leafy greens. It also works well for herbs- particularly parsley and cilantro. You can play around with this technique for root crops too if you know you want to preserve a whole bunch of carrots, beets, or turnips. Here’s a link to a helpful chart if you are interested.
Hopefully these tips will help you out as your gardens grow and don’t hesitate to ask questions! Stay safe and happy gardening!