10 Garden Lessons Learned

Last spring my hubby and I decided to rip out our backyard lawn (it was all weeds anyway) and plant a “practice garden”.  The intent was to grow everything from heirloom, organic seed, not use any chemical fertilizers or pesticides, and grow varieties of vegetables that we have never grown before.

The first lesson learned was how hard it is to get pepper seeds to germinate.

Growing Chile Peppers

These Anaheim Chile Peppers were necessary to buy because, as I found out, peppers are not the easiest vegetable to germinate from seed!

I tried three times to get some pepperoncini pepper seedlings, but I could never get them to cooperate with me.  I had a bit more luck with the Anaheim Chile peppers, but not much.  In fact, I ended up buying  a couple of pepper plants from our local nursery.  We had prepared the ground for at least four pepper plants, but I was able to get only two Chile plants to germinate.  We  needed wanted Anaheim Chiles because we adore BBQ cheese stuffed Chile peppers and chile relleno casserole!  You can see the recipe HERE

The second lesson was to not count your zucchini before they grew.  Our squash started out like gang-busters.  We had zucchini and yellow summer squash coming out our ears (and refrigerator) and we were giving them away to family, friends and neighbors!

Squash Mosaic Virus

Nuts! The squash on the left has squash mosaic virus, which is fatal for the plant. We ate them anyway. They tasted the same as the normal ones and we haven’t died yet!

I started freezing the zucchini for use in the winter. But we had so much squash that I became complacent and let some squash get soft and start to mold in the refrigerator.  I thought it didn’t matter because I would have plenty of squash for the entire summer, right?  Wrong!!!  The squash plants got squash mosaic virus, and within a few weeks produced only shriveled, really mottled and ugly looking squash.  We ate some of the better looking mottled squash, and it tasted normal (and we didn’t die), but I wish I had frozen more squash when I had the opportunity.  If you would like to see how I froze the squash, along with a wonderful recipe using zucchini and yellow summer squash, click HERE

Another lesson we learned was to be wary of the soil and/or compost you use in your garden if it doesn’t come from your own yard.

Our local garbage company composts all of the green waste and then gives it away to customers in the way of a coupon.  We didn't even think about the fact that it may carry diseases - such as the squash mosaic virus!

Our local garbage company composts all of the green waste and then gives it away to customers in the way of a coupon. We didn’t even think about the fact that it may carry diseases – such as the squash mosaic virus!

When we were preparing the beds for our garden, we were happy to go to our local landfill which offered 50 gallons of free compost for each coupon! Our son gave us two coupons and we had our own, so we got 150 gallons of the stuff! Wow, we thought that was a great deal!  But then our zucchini got  squash mosaic virus.  I did some research and found that many times the virus is already in the soil and can also be brought in with compost or mulch.  Oh, great.  That compost we got for free may not have been such a great deal after all!  From now on, we will use only the compost that we produce on our own property – and NEVER throw in diseased plants!  Those will be burned.

I think there is an entire village of trolls living in this tomato jungle!

I think there is an entire village of trolls living in this tomato jungle!

The fourth lesson is one that probably every novice gardener encounters – not enough space for too many vegetables!  When I started the seeds for our tomatoes, I assumed that I wouldn’t get 100% germination and would plant whatever came up.  Well, I got almost 100% germination.  I actually planted up to 3 tomato plants on several of the mounds (silly me) and also accepted some volunteer tomato plants from my sister!  Well, now I have a tomato jungle and can’t even get to most of the ripe tomatoes without trampling on, and breaking, some of the vines.  I guess moderation is the key here.

Fifth lesson – don’t plant all your corn at the same time!  Why?  Because they all ripen at the same time.  Seriously!  Stowell's Evergreen Corn  We love roasted corn on the cob, but only got to eat it a couple of times this summer.  I ended up having to freeze most of the corn before it got tough – which will be great for this winter – but shortened our corn on the cob season.  The good thing I learned was that heirloom corn tastes every bit as good as hybrid corn.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t save any seeds from our corn this year because two of my neighbors were also growing corn, which means my corn was more than likely cross pollinated with theirs.  Oh well.

One of the best lessons we learned was how prolific bean plants are!  We planted both black turtle beans and a pole bean named McCaslan 42.  Believe it or not, we are still getting beautiful green beans from the McCaslan plants – and it’s October! Separating the black turtle beans from their pods  The final tally from the black turtle bean plants was a whopping 2 pounds, 3 ounces – from only 7 plants!  That may not sound like much, but remember, these are dried beans!  Right now I am letting the rest of the McCaslan beans mature on the vine.  Apparently they make a really good, nutty flavored white bean.  I can’t wait to make some soup this winter!

Lesson number seven – grow melons vertically!  Our grandchildren helped us plant two varities of melons this past spring and we ended up with five healthy melon plants on three mounds.  Those plants almost took over the entire garden!  Who knew they got so big?  Apparently not me!

Planting melons

Here is Mia, my oldest granchild, planting some melon (cantaloupe) seeds.

The melons, in particular, grew everywhere we didn’t want them to, including under the tomato plants.  Unfortunately, they decided to grow most of their fruit under the tomato plants also.   Well, if you read lesson four above, you know that getting into the middle of our tomato plants is next to impossible.  Unfortunately, we realized a bit too late that most of the melons were forming in the middle of the tomato jungle, and had already started to rot before we found them!  🙁     I saw this cool trellis system for melons where the vines grew vertically up and over, and the melons were supported to the trellis with pantyhose!  We will have to try that one next year, especially since I have a bunch of pantyhose I refuse to wear anymore!   🙂

Peruvian Purple Potatoes

Peruvian Purple Potato harvest!

Number eight is a simple one.  We like potatoes.  Potatoes are easy to grow.  Purple potatoes are fun to eat. Grow more potatoes.

Our ninth lesson is a tricky one.  We wanted to grow all heirloom vegetables in a completely organic environment.  This sounds great in theory, but in truth, the caterpillars got a lot more lettuce than we did.  I kept picking the caterpillars off the lettuce every morning, but it seemed like they were multiplying faster than I could get rid of them. And then the slugs and snails started eating the pepper and tomato plants.  I started wondering about the concept of sustainability regarding growing organic foods.  When does the addition of a pesticide outweigh the importance of organic growing?  Afterall, if we had only the food we grew to eat, I think I would rather eat food that has some pesticide on it than starve to death!  This is a concept I have been struggling with this summer, and something I will have to consider in future vegetable gardens.  I would really enjoy your thoughts on this.

The last lesson I learned was that I thoroughly enjoy gardening.  Give me a plot of weeds to pull any day, rather than washing laundry!  I will tie up bean plants and tomato plants or any other plant until the cows come home (though I’m not very good at it yet) but please don’t make me clean another toilet!  I will admit it:  after preparing several meals for hubby and I that consisted solely of vegetables that we grew, we were quite proud of ourselves!

Unfortunately we won’t be able to plant a garden in the backyard this next spring.  We have to  re-plant the lawn because we are putting our home up for sale! According to the real estate agent, buyers like lawns.  How sad.   But the good thing is that this will be one of the last steps before my husband retires and we move up to our future homestead!  Unfortunately the area where our garden will be on the future homestead isn’t prepared yet, but I will find a few places here and there to tuck in a tomato plant or some pole beans.  I will also continue to research the best way to get peppers to germinate, a better trellis for growing melons on, and how to prevent squash mosaic virus!

Thank you so much for your comments, questions and suggestions!  I try to respond to each and every one!   Vickie

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42 thoughts on “10 Garden Lessons Learned

  1. Great post, Vickie. Just think how much better everything will go next season! Of course as always happens there will be new challenges, but you will face them with a much better sense of knowing how to handle things!

    • Yes, I am still pretty optimistic that I can grow the lion’s share of food for my hubby and I. I forgot to mention in the post how much better home grown food tastes! Picking corn right off the stalk and eating it within 10 minutes is a heaven sent treat! We also ate a cantaloupe that was still warm from the sun, and it was ambrosia! Thanks for your kind words, Jon!

    • Thanks, LuAnn! Growing a vegetable garden in our backyard has certainly taught us a lot! BTW – save me a reservation for your back porch – your property is beautiful!

    • That is my plan exactly! You read my thoughts! Hubby and I are building a dehydrator using our soda can heater and the racks out of our old oven. Hopefully it will all work well, because I have a lot of dehydrating recipes I have been saving! I stepped over to your blog – love the Bambi sheets! Thanks, Deana!

  2. Oooh! You have to share your diy dehydrator! We are thinking of diy’ing one, because the darn things cost so much! But we haven’t gotten that far yet.
    Your tips are all very good. I really hear ya on the one were there is too many plants and not enough space!

    • I will show pictures of the dehydrator when it’s done – which probably won’t be anytime too soon! Between trying to get our house ready to sell, building an outhouse up on the property and everything else that goes with life, we don’t seem to have any time to finish some of these little projects we have started!

    • Yes, I will have to remember some of my own lessons. I knew better than to plant so many tomatoes in one area, but I just couldn’t resist! Those little itsy, bitsy plants looked so small and vulnerable – I just HAD to give them lots of company! Teehee! Actually, in hind sight, I overplanted the summer squash also. That didn’t become too much of a problem, though, because the plants died of the mosaic virus way too soon. Thanks for stopping by Steph!

      • I too am a new gardener and have tried various ways to detract those pesky bugs. I concocted a recipe of garlic, hot peppers etc. I found online and it did well, but I will say that I never dealt with caterpillars so don’t know how it would work there. Then I read that if you take those pesky bugs and put them in all in a bag then blend them in a blender and put them back in your garden it will keep them away. Sounds gross I know but supposedly works. I didn’t have too much trouble after the juice detractor with my first garden but with this next one my biggest problem is the constant weeds. Eucalyptus mulch worked well in the first garden and we omitted it in this one and we’re inundated with weeds. Time to run back to Lowes.

        • One thing I realized after we pulled out most of our squash plants that were covered with aphids: there were lots of ladybug larvae all over the place! It was too late for this year’s crop, but we should have tons of ladybugs for next year! Also, I saw the green caterpillar eating the leaves of my bean plant, so I was hand picking them off and I think I was losing the battle. Lo and behold, one day as I was searching for more caterpillars I saw a wasp flying very loudly and it was struggling to carry something – and it was a caterpillar! Nature was taking care of my garden! I never did see one tomato hornworm, and I suppose the wasps must have taken care of those also??!! Thank you so much for your comment. The bug soup sounds kinda gross, but it just might work! I may have to think about this one for next year. 🙂

  3. Great list, and I admit to learning many of the same lessons over the last few years. I think the most important, though, is #10. Good luck next year, and best of luck selling your home!

    • Thank you, Nikki! I think there are just some things you can’t learn in a book, but instead have to learn by doing! Thankfully, I enjoy gardening, as we plan to raise and grow the majority of our food!

    • Well, you know, I have had a lot of questions about whether it was safe to eat the squash when the plant had a virus!! And, yes, it is perfectly safe. Humans cannot contract the squash mosaic virus. However, who knows what those crazy scientists at Monsanto and the like will think up next – perhaps someday the vegetable/human barrier of viruses will be unleashed by those creeps!

  4. Hi, Vickie
    I don’t know if I’ve introduced myself yet, but my husband and I have built a green home (www.thisgreenhouse.ca) and I blog about the process, costs, and lifestyle (www.thisgreenlife.ca). You (and I) are kind of unique in the blog world, because, unlike 90% + of bloggers, we are looking toward retirement. An unusual demographic.
    Interesting posts. Thanks.

    • Wow, Gail! I just spent the better part of the last 3 hours reading your blog. I started at the first post and now I am at 100 and have to stop for the night! This is a wonderful resource for anyone who wants to build green! Thank you so much for introducing yourself! I will be following your blog now. Again, thank you!

    • Sadly, we don’t have our garden area ready for planting yet. We still need to clear out a lot of wild blackberry bramble and poison oak, which will be a major chore! The clearing of the garden area and the building of our chicken coop are the two projects we have planned for this next spring up on our future homestead.

  5. I love your post Vickie – thanks for sharing! I can relate because last summer my husband and I bought a house with a backyard full of lumpy and weedy grass. In the fall we covered half of it with black plastic, and now its in the process of becoming a prolific veggie garden and a pleasant outdoor space. This summer we did manage to build five 14′ long raised beds. Two of them got planted and I also learned that growing sprawling vines upright is a good idea, and over planting tomatoes simply creates a jungle that makes ripe tomatoes almost impossible to get to!
    FOR BUGS… I’m an organic heirloom gardener too and here’s the good news… I’m able to control everything for pennies with doTERRA essential oils!! In general bugs don’t like Peppermint so it works great most of the time. For squash bugs Clove works well, and spiders don’t like Lemon oil so I spray them with that. It’s super easy to make bug spray from essential oils… just put about 4-8 drops of essential oil and 2 cups of water in a spray bottle and spray it on your plants. For spiders I have a big sprayer (like most people put chemicals in) that i fill with Lemon water and spray all around my fences and the foundation of my house etc. Best wishes with your new garden!!

    • Actually, I did try some rosemary oil on red spider mites – and it worked! I didn’t know about the clove oil, but luckily I didn’t have any squash bugs this year – just squash mosaic virus! I haven’t had much of a problem with spiders around my house this year. It seems like they all stayed in the garden, which is where I like them to stay! 😉 We will be building permanent raised beds from concrete block for our garden up on our future homestead. I know some people think we are nuts to go through so much trouble, but as we get older it will be so much easier to sit on the walls while we are weeding, seeding and harvesting, than to have to kneel or squat! Thank you so much for your advice!

    • Yes! I think I get it from my grandma also! Actually, my grandma and grandpa! They had a small “truck farm” when I was growing up, and were famous for their torpedo onions and Ollalieberries! I can still remember “helping” to pick the berries when I was 5 or 6 years old. I would eat one, then put one in the basket. Eat another, then put one in my pocket for later! I always had purple pockets when I visited my grandma and grandpa! That’s also when I learned about the “green poop” conundrum! Anyone who has eaten a lot of blackberries know exactly what I mean! Sadly, my grandma suffered from alzheimer’s disease and passed when she was 96 years old. Thanks, Becca!

  6. I am somewhat of a beginner gardener. We tried to grow a garden the first year we were in our current house, but it didn’t go all that well. We had some success with broccoli and herbs, but my tomatoes didn’t do well, and something took off with my lettuce withing 2 days of planting.

    I do plan on doing a garden next summer, and I am gathering information to do it right this time. Your advice about compost was very helpful! It will save me a little bit of time to learn from what you went through!

    • You might just need to amend you soil – just don’t use compost or mulch unless you know where it came from! Perhaps I should trade you some tomatoes for your broccoli! Hahaha! Thanks for stopping by, Ashley! Good luck on your garden next summer!

  7. Great post! Very helpful, especially for someone starting out like myself. I definitely know a lot of things I’m going to differently next year, including staggering the planting of several things so they don’t all ripen at once. I have to agree, too, potatoes are awesome! We had a similar problem to your zucchini with our pumpkins, tons of blossoms and little ones but by the end, only three pumpkins. Better luck next year.

    • Isn’t it funny how most gardeners are such optimists!? We are always looking forward to doing it again next year, righting our wrongs, and trying new things – always striving for a better garden! Here’s to next year’s gardens everywhere! Thanks, Kirsten!

  8. Great post…Since we just moved here, we did not get to plant a garden this year, but are already planning next year’s garden! I will keep all of your “lessons learned” in mind for sure! We just moved to our homestead…and we just recently got our first chickens. I will be anxious to hear about your new homestead!

    • I read your post about getting your chickens! The name Eggo is hilarious – but for good reason! Your son is clever. I also think Little House On the Prairie was the best show ever made for TV! I think it is high time for another series like this! I also wish they would revive Frontier House and make it into a series! We can watch each other build our homesteads – but you got the first jump! Thanks for stopping by!

  9. You may want to look at which herbs you can plant near certain vegetables to deter the bugs. Cilantro near potatoes works great and some companion planting may be in order to help certain veggies. Thanks for posting your lesson on Tuesday Greens!

  10. Hi Vickie, you really learned a lot of lessons this year. You will be so much more the wise next year. I bought a bag of roasted chili’s from a man and froze them. He told me to leave the skins on until I use them. I will be making your casserole. I have a recipe that I have used with canned ones that is yummy, but fresh is always best! Thanks for sharing with SYC.

    • Hello, Jan! Yes, I learned a lot of gardening lessons this year, and have a lot more to learn! I was hoping to get enough chiles frozen this year to have the chile relleno casserole every other week, but I didn’t get that many. Instead, I have about 14 packets of frozen roasted chile peppers in the freezer. Each packet makes one recipe of the casserole! I guess I will have to just plant more chile peppers next year! Ah ha- another lesson learned!

  11. We learned a lot with our first garden too. The main thing is that you get out there and start trying. Of course a little research goes a long way, but there is nothing like learning from experience. I think it sounds like ya’ll did great!

    I just wanted to stop by and let you know that your post will be featured at Thursday’s The HomeAcre Hop. I will also tweet, facebook, and +1 your post. Please stop by and grab the featured button at:



    • Thank you so much for the feature! How exciting! I did learn a lot this year by gardening in my own garden and also reading all the wonderful gardening blogs out there! I can’t believe how much information is out there waiting to be discovered by newbies such as me! Thanks in part to The HomeAcre Hop, I have found quite a few of these blogs! Thanks!

  12. Great lessons and so very true! The great thing about gardening is that it is forgiving and you can learn as you go! I am delighted that you shared with Home and Garden Thursday,

    • Home and Garden Thursday is a wonderful blog hop – so many wonderful recipes, how-to’s and inspiring stories! I am more than happy to share with you!

  13. Check out this web site to learn all about peppers and how to plant them. I never had much luck growing peppers till I found this site.
    http://www.echoseeds.com Redwood seeds company is heirloom seeds and they have lots of seeds at very reasonable prices.
    We have had two years of bad luck with squash bugs and this year we lost literally more than 50 plants to squash bugs (we had 4 different ones attacking) and NOTHING we tried organic even slowed them down. Next year ALL our squash seeds will be fully protected because we had to buy winter squash this year after all the work we put into trying to save them. Normaly we try to be as organic as possible but not with the squash. My email is down so….dont send any comments that way.

    • I am so glad I didn’t have a problem with squash bugs! I hear they are serious trouble for a lot of gardeners and it sounds like you had the worst of it! Maybe my time will come. I will check out that website – thanks Rachelle!

  14. We too tried growing the bulk of our own veggies this last year. I can say it was a disaster. We had the wettest spring ever so many of my starts ended up just soaked and rotted.

    The tomatoes got blight, the squash never really produced, and except for green beans my pinto beans and black beans were a waste of time. Even the corn didn’t do well due to the rain.

    My peppers and tomatoes were eaten alive by stink bugs and those crazy big green catapillers. I’ve been making a homemade bug spray with Shaklee basic H, garlic and chili peppers. It seemed to help, but you have to spray a lot if it rains.

    All I know is I have increased my respect of the growers at the farmers market 1000% and if we had to live off of our harvest we would starve to death!

    • Isn’t that the truth! Kind of gives you more respect for our pioneers too! I remember reading in the Little House On the Prairie series about how they ate fish every day and were glad to do it because it meant their bellies were full! I know that we, as a modern day society in a first world country, are spoiled! We go to the grocery store and buy whatever we choose. The problem is that what we buy what usually hasn’t been grown in our region, or many times in our country! Oranges in July – sure! Grapes in January – why not! I think if I had to rely on what I was able to produce from my garden or starve, I would probably be eating beans every day, because that is what did best in my garden. But it certainly wouldn’t last until the next growing season! So, I will try, try again. A bigger, raised box garden next year. And not so many tomatoes!
      Thank you, Heather! I appreciate your thoughts!