When the chaos dies down and you're sick of canned food, what will your long term plan be?

Adjust Your Expectations to Make Your Garden A Success

Posted on March 11th, by Kathy in Becoming a Farmer. 1 Comment

Adjust Your Expectations to Make Your Garden A Success

It’s the Zombie Apocalypse, so failure is NOT an option!  The best way to make sure your garden doesn’t fail this year is to adjust your expectations, AND what you choose to grow.

You will not have this garden!

You will not have this garden!

We know you, because we are you, and the first thing we all do is decide that we’re going to grow every vegetable we can find seeds for.  In addition to the typical green beans, peas, lettuce and corn, some of us will choose veggies just based on the fact that Hopi Indians grew them, or that they were first available in the 1800s, or because they’re purple instead of the normal color for that particular plant.  We’ll imagine the harvest meal we’ll have, where, just like the pilgrims, everyone will come and be amazed at our green thumbs, and they’ll vow to plant their own gardens next year because we are so inspiring.

And then, reality will hit.  Reality is that maybe you don’t have enough sun to grow tomatoes, or that it gets too hot mid-summer to keep a constant lettuce crop, or you don’t really know when a Hopi squash is ripe or what to do with it if it is, or maybe you can’t grow a zucchini to save your life.  That’s when you’ll be tempted to feel disappointed with yourself and your garden.

So before we get there, let’s start by adjusting our expectations.

First, different plants need different amounts of sun, and that’s going to have a big impact on what and how much you can grow.  So check your fire escape, patio, balcony, or yard and see what kind of sun you’re getting.  An easy way to figure this out, is to take a picture of your site every hour or two.  At the end of the day, pop a beer or pour a glass of wine and look over your pictures.  You’ll be able to track the sun and where you get the most sun for the longest time.  Full sun is considered 6+ hours of sunlight, partial sun is 4-5 hours of direct sunlight, partial shade is 2-4 hours of sunlight, and shade is less than one hour.

Next, choose what you want to grow, based on the sunlight you have.  Don’t do what I did my first year.  See, I’m an overly optimistic person and I tend to see the glass as overflowing with water.  So after measuring the sun in my first garden, I thought, “No, really, I have more than 4 hours of sunlight.  I can grow tomatoes here!”  WRONG!  I had fine plants but not enough sun to ripen the fruits.  So do yourself a favor, and trust the sunlight data you get.  Then plant accordingly.

My purple green beans

My purple green beans

If you find yourself with about 2 to 4 hours of sunlight, choose things like lettuce, spinach, arugula, kale, broccoli, swiss chard and peas.   Herbs are also a great choice.  Green beans do well with about 4 to 5 hours of sun as do most of your root crops like beets, carrots, radishes and turnips (I LOVE turnips!!).

If you don’t have full sun, don’t plant melons, cucumbers or tomatoes.  Instead find a buddy with the right amount of sun and have them grow those for you.  Too much sun means that it’s harder to keep a steady harvest of lettuce and greens growing.  Sun and shade gardeners can make successful trading partners!

So, let’s say you do your best, just like I did my first year, and your harvest doesn’t live up to your dreams.  If you’re even a little bit like me, life is always better in my imagination than it ever is in reality, so my garden will probably never live up to my expectations.  I imagined hauling sacks of zucchini to my neighbors doorsteps at midnight because I had so many I couldn’t figure out what to do with them.  The reality – I can’t grow a zucchini to save my life.  But  I’m really good at potatoes, edamame, peas, green beans and eggplant.  Every year I figure I’ll try again next year on the things that didn’t work out, and celebrate whatever I was able to accomplish!

Still not satisfied?  Here’s your consolation prize.  Researchers have found that the simple act of being outdoors in nature boosts our self-esteem, and the biggest boost comes in the first 5 minutes.  So enjoy how great you are for just having tried!  You’ll also get a stronger immune system – all the better to fight off that zombie virus!  And don’t think, “Well, I could get all that without planting veggies.”  Turns out plants produce airborne compounds called phytoncides as a defense against fungi and harmful bacteria.  When we breathe them in, our bodies’ defenses are helped too.  Last but not least, researchers have found that people who spend time outside, like gardeners, have high levels of brain activity in the regions associated with altruism and love.  So as a gardener, you’re going to be a kinder, more loving person, and the people around you are sure to appreciate that!

See, you’re a success already!



One thought on “Adjust Your Expectations to Make Your Garden A Success

  1. Good article, Kathy! My vegetable garden is in full sun (first time in my gardening life!), and I grow snap peas in a circle using the trimmed tops of saplings as a fence (using the poles for beans…). Lettuce grows nicely adjacent to the peas. Also, grow what you and your family like to eat best!! Nothing like a productive vegetable garden.