Results from a recent survey conducted by the Garden Writers Foundation found that about 7.7 million Americans grew their first food gardens last year. A similar trend is unfolding in the UK, where up to 100,000 would-be gardeners are on allotment waiting lists. (For my fellow yanks, an allotment is similar to what we call a community garden). To ease this gap, the Royal Horticultural Society’s Grow Your Own Campaign is encouraging the creation of new allotment plots at the workplace. What a fabulous idea!
Along with all this good news are dropout numbers which I find disturbing. After trying edible gardening for one season, over 70,000 people in the Garden Writers survey were ready to give up. Their reasons were far from new. Writing in 1975, the county agent for Richland County, Washington summed up the problem like this: "beginners tend to plant too large a garden, lack a garden plan, and fail to commit to regular maintenance."
The Advantages of Starting Small
When I came across this gem a 2006 thread in GardenWeb’s Pennsylvania Gardening forum, it made me laugh:
Me + large vegetable garden = failed experiment
This is an all too common equation! At the same time, if you’ve never grown a food garden before, how can you know how much is too much?
In my experience, the first year of gardening is best used as a learning year. One season will teach you truckloads about your soil, weather, and how plants grow. If you think of each crop as a college course, it’s easy to see why new gardeners should not try to juggle more than five or six subjects in their first season. Or, simply limit your space. In my new book, Starter Vegetable Gardens, the basic layouts for nana-newbie gardeners include only three beds.
Making a Plan
From crop choices to where and when you plant what, GrowVeg is all about creating a sound garden plan. If you’re a new gardener, you also need local information about which vegetables are especially easy to grow in your climate. For example, growing tomatoes in Louisville, Kentucky, is much easier than growing them in London, but the opposite is true of carrots and spinach. This is where allotment and community gardeners have an advantage, because you can watch other people’s plots to see what grows especially well. If you build your plan around veggies and herbs that are proven performers in your area, you can look forward to a successful season.
Winners Never Quit
As the saying goes, winners never quit and quitters never win. If you abandon a garden to weeds and never bother to thin, water, or mulch, you will not have a pleasing harvest. Why a person quits or fails may be related, but they are not the same. Failure can be due to many factors beyond your control like bad weather or hungry rabbits, but one must decide to quit. This is the right choice for people who discover that gardening is not in their blood, but for the rest of us it’s important to pick up your spade and try again. Keep your first garden small and commit to a spending a few hours each week keeping it up, and you will get a handsome return on your time and trouble.
Would you like to do your part to lower the gardening dropout rate? If you have words of wisdom for new gardeners who need a gentle push to get their gardens going, please take a few minutes to share them below.
By Barbara Pleasant