The Top 6 Gardening Mistakes from our First Year

Have you ever done something for the first time, then looked back on it a while later and thought “What was I thinking?” In the fall of last year I was definitely saying that when looking at the garden. With the ridiculous amount of corn and tomatoes, not to mention other issues, I wanted to take a different approach this year.


The Top 6 Gardening Mistakes from our First Year
Our garden in August 2016

Here are the top 6 mistakes we made last year.
Mistake #1: Not marking the plants

Marking where the plants are planted may seem like a no brainer, but it wasn’t something that crossed my mind at first. Why not? In the past, when I did have tomato or pepper plants, I grew them in pots on the patio. And I didn’t need to mark where you planted it because it was obviously planted in the pot. So marking the plants slipped my mind.

After the seeds were planted in the garden, and the plants started to pop through the soil it was obvious where they were. Then the weeds came. It seemed like the weeds popped up overnight, and before I knew what was happening, they were taking over the garden. It was hard to tell the weeds apart from the vegetable plants.

Solution: Toward the end of the summer I was looking around on Pinterest and saw a pin about garden markers made from paint stir sticks. This was the perfect solution. I bought a couple packs of stir sticks at our local home improvement store; spray painted them white, and wrote the plant names on them. I put them in the garden next to the plants, but at that point they didn’t do very much good. But I have them all ready to go for when we plant the garden this coming year.

The Top 6 Gardening Mistakes from our First Year
One of our massive tomato plants
Mistake #2: The plants were too close together

The tomatoes were really small at first, so planting them about a foot apart seemed like plenty of room. But by the end of the summer, the plants were massive. Some of them were taller than me, which might not seem very big because I’m 5’1”, but that’s pretty tall for a tomato plant.

The tomato plants were so close together they became what looked like a tomato hedge. Walking around a single plant was impossible, so picking the tomatoes off of the plant when they were ripe was pretty difficult. The onions, potatoes, and green beans were also super close together so it was impossible to walk between them.

Solution: This year the tomato plants will probably be 5 to 7 feet apart. I imagine this will look ridiculous when they are first planted, but it should make it easier to pick them at the end of the summer. The onions, potatoes, peas, green beans, and everything else will also be pretty far apart to give it room to grow.

Mistake #3: The weeds got out of hand

I admit I hadn’t really thought about tackling the weeds potential weeds. It wasn’t something I had to deal with when the plants were in pots on our patio, so again it slipped my mind. But when the weeds started taking over the garden I knew I had to do something. So each day while the little monster was napping, I would go out into the garden and pull weeds.

This might not seem like a big deal, but when the garden is half an acre pulling weeds can be pretty overwhelming. I would get finished pulling weeds from a row, which would take several days, and there would already be tiny ones popping up in their place. And because everything was planted so close together, it made our secret weapon useless. What is our secret weapon you ask? Our tractor.

Solution: This year the tractor will play a much larger part in keeping the weeds under control. This is another reason that the plants will be further apart, so the tractor will fit in between. I know there will be times when I will still be out in the garden pulling weeds by hand, but we spent the money on the tractor so we might as well use it as much as we can right?

Mistake #4: Bending over to pick beans and peas hurts your back

We loved having fresh peas and green beans this past summer. So much so that this year  we plan on planting at least twice as many plants so there will be enough to freeze and enjoy during the winter. The only problem with this is picking all of them. Last year picking green beans and peas meant being either bent over, squatting, or crawling around on hands and knees trying to get to each bean or pod. Because they needed to be picked at least once a week, it was starting to take a toll on our backs and knees.

Solution: This year we plan on planting a different variety of green beans and sweet peas that will climb on trellises. This should cut down on the amount of bending required during picking.

Garden Map - The Top 6 Gardening Mistakes from our First Year
Garden Map for 2017
Mistake #5: Not planning out the garden

Last year we didn’t have a plan for our garden so things were planted in random spot, and were too close together. There was also a huge space that was left empty.

Solution: I have been thinking about planting this year’s garden since last fall. I’ve been reading articles online and one thing that kept coming up was making a garden map. All the articles that I read suggested drawing out a map. This sounded easy, but I can’t draw. However, I can color code a spreadsheet like a pro. So I made a spreadsheet that shows a not to scale representation of our garden and where I would like to plant everything.

Mistake #6: Not planning ahead about what to do with the harvest

When we planted everything in the spring, we didn’t plant anything with a specific purpose in mind. Unless you count my partner in crime saying that he was excited for the tomatoes to ripen so we could have bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches. So when all the vegetables started to ripen, and I thought to myself “What are we going to do with all of this?”

The Top 6 Gardening Mistakes from our First Year
One weeks worth of vegetables from the garden   
I realized quickly that I was unprepared for the amount of food that the garden produced. I started looking up recipes so I could try to use everything before it went bad. I made multiple batches of cream peas and potatoes, fresh salsa, green beans with bacon, and of course we had corn on the cob and BLT sandwiches. But we were only able to eat so much of it per week and more and more of it was ripening. The vegetables were slowly taking over all the space in our refrigerator, and on the counter tops and the kitchen table.

I decided I would have to can and freeze what we couldn’t eat so our hard work didn’t go to waste. But I had never tried to freeze fresh vegetables before. And we didn’t have any canning supplies. So I popped over to Amazon and bought a canning set and a canning cookbook. 

Luckily for me, my parents had done a lot of canning in the past and they were willing to help. Because of this, I was able to can whole tomatoes, salsa, pickles, sliced jalapenos, jalapeno jelly, and tomato paste. The canning set I bought came with a blanching pot, so I also froze corn, green beans, and carrots. I was also able to freeze bell peppers, multiple batches of marinara, and minestrone soup.

Solution: I don’t want to be caught off guard again this year so I am already compiling a list of recipes that I would like to make, and I’m sure the freezer will be fully stocked with frozen vegetables, sauces, and soups when fall comes around again.

Overall, I would say I learned quite a bit from having a garden last year. I’m sure I will make more mistakes this year too, but it never hurts to try something new.
What gardening mistakes have you made? What would you do differently?

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