First time gardeners: How to turn a green experience level into a green thumb

2013-07-17T23:06:00Z 2013-07-18T08:39:03Z First time gardeners: How to turn a green experience level into a green thumbBy Christine Bryant Times Correspondent
July 17, 2013 11:06 pm  • 

Gardening doesn't have to be for masters - after all, everyone starts as a novice at some point.

Having said that, gardening can be challenging, even at times for the most experienced gardener.

Have a little patch of earth you want to explore? Here are some tips that will help you produce a bountiful harvest.

Be mentally prepared

Lyndsay Ploehn has a piece of advice for every vegetable gardener - be prepared for the high maintenance.

"If you are one that wants a low maintenance garden, there is no such thing when it comes to vegetables," she said. "They will require weekly attention, and during harvest times, you will need to visit your garden multiple times a week."

Ploehn is the associate educator of agriculture and natural resources at Purdue University Cooperative Extension in Porter County, and has worked with gardeners - novice and masters - for several years.

"Vegetable gardening is rewarding, but it takes a lot of work to get your reward," she said.

Consider your spare time as well, some of it will likely be taken up with gardening. Choose your size of garden based on your schedule - starting small if you only have a small amount of time to give.

Timing is everything

Before starting, know which fruits, vegetables and plants harvest or bloom at what time of the year.

Many of the easy-to-grow vegetables include cool season vegetables - meaning they can be planted both in spring and fall.

Some cool season vegetables include radish, beets, onions, leafy greens, peas and carrots, Ploehn said.

Also, next spring, don't be tempted to plant too soon. Many gardeners ran into that problem this year when unseasonably warm temperatures tempted gardeners to plant their seeds, only to see their crops damaged by the May frosts.

An Indiana planting calendar can be found here:

Look for local resources

The Internet has a vast array of resources for first-time gardeners, but several local organizations also are available to help as well.

Purdue University Consumer Horticulture has a complete list of articles dedicated to help gardeners with all areas of gardening, from flowers and houseplants to vegetables and landscape management. There are also special articles on organic vegetable gardening and specific plants such as tomatoes and herbs.

Local libraries also have collections of self help gardening books. The Crown Point Community Library, for instance, has books on how to get started as well as tips for combating common gardening problems, said Mary Harrigan, head of reference services at the library.

“We have many basic gardening books, so that would be where we would steer people,” she said. “They would have many different ones to choose from.”

Check with local master gardeners clubs as well. Most have regular meetings and classes you can attend to learn more about gardening.


Keep a record

Use a notebook or file on your computer to keep track of when seeds were planted and then harvested, as well as problems you encounter along the way, such as pests and plants that didn't produce.

This will provide a valuable resource for you when you prepare next season's garden. Even if you have already planted your garden, it's not too late to start keeping a record.

A record book can be kept as well for landscapes, noting which plants or flowers bloomed when, and which ones needed more fertilizer or water than others.

Save money

Gardening doesn't have to be expensive. There are several ways to save money while getting the most out of your garden.

The Oregon State University Extension Service, which has more than 4,000 master gardeners across the state, recommends sharing seeds and seedlings with neighbors, as well as saving kitchen scraps for compost.

Use clothes hangers for plant stakes, or Popsicle sticks to mark what is growing.

Planters can be expensive, so try buckets or milk cartons instead - though put holes in the bottom for proper drainage.


Preserve your masterpieces

Imagine taking the time to construct and care for your garden, and one morning, it's gone.

"A major pest to beware of is the pesky rabbit," Ploehn said. "Fencing is necessary if you want to successfully grow a garden."

Insects also can be troublesome, but Ploehn recommends planting nasturtiums as a deterrent.

Ploehn also recommends finding ways to make your harvest last longer into the year.

"You may also want to take classes on canning and preserving so you can enjoy the harvest longer," she said.

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