Photo: Malino, depositphotos
By Laurie Fourniaudou
When you start gardening, slipping your hands into the soil can be very exciting. We tell ourselves that we are going to sow, plant, water and then harvest abundantly. Growing vegetables seems so simple at first sight. However, many novice vegetable gardeners make a few minor mistakes. I mean, who doesn’t? To help you avoid these pitfalls, I’d like to point out 7 mistakes to avoid in the vegetable garden.
1- Starting a Vegetable Garden Without Planning
Gardening is a fun activity, but it does require some organization. Striking out blindly on this adventure in planting may not prove successful for you. And it would be a shame to have to wait until the next season and have to start all over again.
So, you need to know what to plant and when. Not all vegetables can be sown at the same time. Generally, the first sowing begins early, in March/April in the Northern Hemisphere, but can continue until the end of summer. That’s why it’s worthwhile taking an interest in each plant and getting to know the season (or months) most favorable to its cultivation.
For that purpose, there’s nothing better than creating your own vegetable planning calendar. Take a piece of paper, a pen and write down which vegetables you’ll be planting in April, May, June, etc. But also, how often you’ll resow. Sowing and planting the same plant at regular intervals often allows you to stagger your harvests.
So, basically, it’s best to get organized before gardening!
2- Planting Monocultures
Monoculture consists of devoting a large space to the same plant and repeating that planting over and over on the same plot for several years. It’s a method largely used in intensive commercial farming. So, what’s wrong with it?
This type of planting is harmful to the soil. Over time, it loses its initial quality. Indeed, the vegetable grown always requires the same nutrients to grow well. The problem is that over the years, the soil becomes depleted and can no longer provide the proper minerals and microorganisms, necessary for the proper development of the plant.
Monocultures also usually leave a lot of space between plants that could grow smaller vegetables, which is a shame.
The solution? Diversify your crops, planting varied vegetables next to each other and optimize space. Take nature as a model: most natural ecosystems are mixed ones.
3- Not Taking into Account the Needs of Plants
Each plant has specific needs and properties. It’s essential that you take those needs into account!
If you overwater a plant that doesn’t need it that much moisture (like onions, shallots or garlic), it may rot and die. That’s because constantly wet soil allows little oxygen to reach the roots. On the contrary, if you don’t water enough, the plant withers, dries up and dies.
Spacing is exactly the same situation. If certain plants take up a lot of space in the vegetable garden (such as squash), don’t plant them too near other vegetables. On the contrary: give them enough space, both in the ground (for root development) and above (in height and width). This will allow them to grow properly.
4- Sowing and Planting Too Early
Before growing vegetables, the soil must have time to warm up. And that won’t be the case at the end of winter. In earliest spring, the soil is wet and sticky. Your boots will tell you that! And you can easily test if it’s still cold: just stick a finger into it. You’ll find you know instinctively whether your soil is ready to be worked or not.
Sowing and planting too early means the seeds remain in the ground for a long period, waiting to germinate. Too long! There are many consequences: poor or irregular germination, rot, disease and more.
So, a word of advice: don’t rush into your vegetable garden and start sowing on the first fine days of the year. Be patient and let some time go by. While waiting for your soil to warm up and dry out, do some research into when to plant this or that vegetable (planning, as in tip 1). Depending on how hardy that plant is, that can be as early as March in some climates.
Warning! Be wary of late spring frosts. Depending on the region and climate, the cold can last a long time. Or come back abruptly for a few days after several weeks of warmth, threatening to destroy your crops. This’s why little comes of planting certain tender, heat-hungry plants before the end of May.
However, if you feel that you have the soul of a great garden adventurer and you can’t wait to get started, at least sow the seeds of tender plants under cover. If you don’t have a greenhouse, you can sow the seeds in pots and then start them in a room in your house. Then transplant them into the garden when spring really has taken solidly hold!
5- Gardening Without Taking into Account Your Region and Its Climate
Not taking into account the climatic conditions of your region is another error. It’s always important to choose varieties adapted to your environment.
For example, gardeners living at altitude should stick to growing the more cold-hardy vegetables (cabbages, carrots, black radishes, leeks, turnips, lamb’s lettuce, etc.). Tomatoes, eggplants and cucumbers, on the contrary, grow much better in warm temperatures.
6- Underestimating the Time Gardening Requires
Depending on your goals, gardening is an activity that can take you either a small or a large amount of time. Just don’t underestimate it!
Growing vegetables in a vegetable garden is a long-term job, requiring sowing, planting, watering, maintenance and harvesting. Plants are living beings, so it’s essential for you to take care of them regularly. Especially if you want to get a good return on your gardening investment.
7- Not Looking into The Nature of Your Soil
Depending on where you live, the type of soil (as well as its quality) differs. Finding out about the nature of the soil is a good way to know how to work it.
• Loamy Soil:
Advantages: easy to work, stimulates good plant development
Disadvantages: fragile structure, mulching needed.
• Sandy Soil:
Advantages: easy to work, well aerated, heats up quickly
Disadvantages: needs lots of water, organic matter and fertilizer.
• Clay Soil:
Advantages: retains water and minerals
Disadvantages: difficult to work, compact, heats up slowly. Microbial life needs stimulation.
Each soil has its specificities. You have to profit from the advantages they offer and overcome their disadvantages by providing the plants that grow there with what they need. Taking care of your soil allows seeds and plants to develop properly.
Now that you know these 7 mistakes to avoid in the vegetable garden, you are ready to garden!
About the Author
After moving to the French Pyrenees, Laurie Fourniaudou is working with her boyfriend to develop a farm producing organic vegetables.. It is for this project that she created the French-language blog Le Potager d’Aillou which deals with self-sufficiency and growing fruits and vegetables, but also their simple and natural life in the mountains.
Translation and adaptation from French by Larry Hodgson.