Gardening Tips from a Florida Girl: What NOT to do!

I’m talking about what NOT to do because I have yet to figure out what TO do. You see, I knew very little about gardening as a child. I knew that people grew flowers, like my grandparents, who had the most beautiful rose bushes growing in their front yard. I also knew that the neighbor down the street spent the start of every summer digging up row after row in his backyard and sometime later, leafy plants would appear. I also remember being at a particular friend’s house and seeing canning jars full of veggies swimming around in icky wetness but I just assumed her mother shopped at some kind of fancy grocery boutique.

Fast forward 25 years. Now living in Northwest Georgia, such ignorance is simply unacceptable. Walking the aisles of Wal-Mart about this time of year is when you start hearing things like,

“Have you got your tomatoes planted yet?”

“Naw, I hope I can still get a good bunch of em’ before the first freeze this year.”

I am completely lost in a conversation such as this and find myself hiding behind my canned tomatoes. Or a casual church conversation which goes about like,

“I sent some corn over to Betty. I had way too much and you know once that stuff starts poppin up, it just keeps on comin.”

“Yeah, I know. My garden was overrun with squash and beans last year. I darn-well couldn’t keep all the critters out for the free food layin around out there.”

Now, I can honestly say that I’ve never had free food laying around in my backyard but being a thrifty shopper, this sounded heavenly! Thus, I decided that if I wanted into this way of life, I was going to have to dig in and learn some stuff. I started asking my friends questions, visiting garden centers and local feed stores, and stopping by Farmer’s Markets to listen in on conversations to see if I could pick up any free tips. I have tried everything from a raised garden, to container gardening, to just throwing out a bunch of seeds to see what pops up. I have yet to pull anything edible out of the ground but I have learned a lot about my methods and why they don’t work. Here are some of my gardening life-lessons…

1. Seeds like to be babied.

I have tried starting seeds and have discovered that this takes way too much effort for me. My first attempt at growing seeds into plants was a disaster. I bought a cute little seed-starting greenhouse. All I had to do, according to the directions, was throw in a few seeds and watch em’ grow. I carefully placed 2-3 seeds into each little soil lined compartment and made sure they were nice and damp. I then was to spend the next month transporting these seeds out onto my back deck for the proper amount of sunshine each day while being sure they did not receive too much or too little water. Now, this doesn’t sound difficult but take a container which holds lots of soil and soak it all in water and what you have is a very heavy container. By the end of my treacherous month, I had dropped it twice and most of the seeds were eaten out of the container by birds who spotted them as they rose to the surface of the soil. I finally chunked the entire thing over the side of the balcony one day and made the hour-long trip to Costco to stock up on canned veggies.

2. Bugs suck.

I think that I could have had a good bit of something growing a few years back but my season-long toil quickly turned into an all-you-can-eat buffet for bugs. This wouldn’t have been so devastating had they eaten everything before I began to see some signs of life in my garden but they did not. They let me get my hopes up for almost an entire month. I started to see green leaves with little buds forming. I even caught a glimpse of a yellow pepper peeking through its little green flower petals. I sat back in my chair and marveled over my yummy success. I started planning my meals and preparing my dishes for all the vegetable goodness that was to come. But those meals would never appear on my table. Instead, they would fill the belly of a greedy insect and allow him to go on for another day.

3. Onions like to breathe.

I love onions. Despite my children’s protests and picket signs, I put them into everything I cook. Last year, I decided that I needed to learn to grow them. With my previous seed experiences, I chose to forgo that route and just bought bunches and bunches of plants. I figured that I would like to have about 30 onions to put away in the freezer so I would need 30 onion plants. I figured this one was easy. A no-brainer. I dug 30 holes, about a half-foot deep each and tossed in my onion plants. I was about a month away from the most glorious crop of oniony goodness anyone had ever seen.  Later that day, a friend stopped by to see my work.

“Where are the plants?” she asked.

“In the ground,” I replied.

“In the ground?”

“Yes, in the ground.”

“All the way? Like, you buried them?”

She assured me that they would pop up eventually. I waited and waited. I watered and watered and waited some more. The soil began to move and crack and my hard work and dedication began to pay off. I started to see the tops of my plants, poking through reaching for sunshine. But the onions never came. Days passed, weeks passed, months passed.

Winter seemed to take forever so when spring rolled around, I was ready for some sunshine. I decided to give this gardening thing another go. I would need to dig around a little, let my soil breathe and enjoy some sunshine before throwing in something new to kill off. But, much to my surprise, there was more than soil sitting under the top surface of my garden. In fact, there were 30 somethings sitting in there and boy did they stink! I knew growing onions would carry a smell through the neighborhood but 30 rotting ones was so much more than I could have prepared myself for. Three bottles of Febreeze later, I’m pretty sure nothing is going to grow in there again….and all of my neighbors hate me!

So, if you are thinking of starting your own garden this year, by all means, consider taking a class first. And if you have some great tips to share, email me!

Now, if you’ll excuse me…..I’m off to Costco….