Friday, March 22, 2013

Garden Planning and Lessons Learned

I’m planning the layout of our gardens for this growing season. We’ll have three sites this year – a pumpkin/watermelon patch, a Children’s garden, and our traditional garden. Last year I extensively planned our garden, however in reality we threw it together rather quickly a month late, in the evening, and in the rain. I learned a lot from my mistakes…
1) Always pay close attention to the sun and large tree location when choosing a site for your garden.
Last Spring was our first spring at Magnolia Holler. We decided to use the same garden site as the previous owner. It was a 40x40 sq ft area with several (overgrown) raised beds. It was apparent they hadn't been used in a long time. We didn't want raised beds anyway, so we removed them, all the debris, and went to work tending to the soil. We tilled it, limed it, and amended it. I planned my whole garden. I had BIG plans. I divided it into a quad with center walkways. I grouped like veggies together, with companion planting. It was going to be a masterpiece! In March we planted our lettuce and peas. Then in April the unthinkable happened! The large oak and hickory trees leafed out, shading the ENTIRE site! I was devastated.


2) Pay close attention to the required days for maturity.
I picked a new site, it was only 10x20 sq ft, but it got full sun for most the day. We only had a week to get everything else in the ground before I had to left town for a couple weeks. We tilled and limed (no time for amending). And as it turned out, due to weather, I still wasn't able to get everything planted until the end of May. (The suggested planting for most out stuff is mid April.) Some of the plants didn’t have enough time to fully mature. The three pumpkin vines grew about 8 ft each, we had about a dozen beautiful blooms each morning, however they were all male - no females, so we didn’t get a single pumpkin! The two musk melons produced one melon each. And the cucumber only produced about three! (Those were really disappointing.)


3) Watch the weather.
One night I said “I NEED to get these planted!” So I went out after dinner and planted everything. Then it rained for a week straight! The tomato and pepper seedlings I started indoors and transplanted did well. The pumpkins, melons, and beans survived. The okra never sprouted (I even replanted two weeks later, so it may have been the seeds or soil condition.) And most of the corn seeds rotted. My husband planted an entire field of corn (about 200 seeds) however only about a dozen sprouted!


4) Check on the garden daily.
I checked on our lower (traditional) garden most every day. However, the corn field was in the back and we didn’t check on that every day and we can’t see it from the house. Well, one day we checked on it and only about six stalks were left out of the dozen that sprouted! They had grown about 4ft tall, and something had eaten them! Then, a few days later, the surviving stalks were completely knocked down, laying flat on the ground! Err. We assume it was either a raccoon or bear. So ALL our corn was now annihilated!


5) Weed everyday!
Since we didn’t amend the soil, I used an at home soil test, which said our soil was:

  • K (potash) – surplus

  • P (phosphorus) – deficient

  • N (nitrogen) – depleted

  • pH 7.0-7.5 neutral-alkaline (we did lime)

So, we knew we needed to use a fertilizer. Well, the tomatoes are hungry little guys. And, the weeds thrived off the fertilizer too! I was so busy at my day job on the weekdays, and on the weekends we were always doing something fun for our son, so the weeds just kept on growing! One day I went to grab a handful of basil and cilantro to discover I couldn’t find them because the weeds out grew them! Same with the carrots!


Learning from our mistakes.
This year we have doubled the width, of our traditional garden, it's 20x20 sq ft. The bulk of the planting will be here. We planted a cover crop for the winter, mainly a clover mix. For the field in the back, we planted a combo of clover and radish for a cover crop over the winter. This is where we had our corn last year, but this year we’ll plant the corn closer to the house; and use this field for our pumpkin/watermelon patch – it’ll be perfect because it’s slightly sloping. And we’re tilling in organic matter to amend our soil. So (hopefully) we’ll get a better yield this year.

Conneticut Field Pumpkin blossoms

 Do you have any lessons learned to share?


-Live Simple, Be Happy-

Magnolia Holler


  1. Great tips and advice! This is only our 2nd year gardening at our new place and we are trying to learn from our mistakes last year. We had a horrible time with weeds, so we planned out our garden beds and are going to put down some plastic to kill the grass then some gravel to hopefully stop weeds from growing in the first place.

    We are pretty good about checking on our garden nearly every day, so that's a plus. Sometimes I am too lazy to water, though, so I need to work on that!

    1. We are pretty good about watering, my son won't let me forget, because we turn it into a water fight on the hot summer days! Though we are creative about our water source, our well isn't very deep and we always worry it'll go dry! We have rain barrels, but no gutters on the house yet. But we empty the dehumidifier water into the barrels for a start!
      Good luck this year!

  2. I am getting floating row covers this year, and putting down the black plastic stuff to hopefully deter pests and weeds. Last year my squash was overrun with squash bugs - ie I was very sad and gave up on half of my garden half way through the season. This year, I am determined to make it work. We shall see! Oh, and putting a fence around my garden will be up there as well, considering my chickens continuously ate my tomatoes last year!

    1. We didn't have too many pests (other than on our corn) last year, but our tomatoes all had blossom end rot, going back to our soil condition. Though, this year I need to figure out how to keep our cats out of the garden!
      Good luck this year!

  3. Last year was our first garden as well. I guess considering how we started out we were lucky, but we definitely learned ALOT. I think you have to start somewhere and if you are dedicated, it can only get better each year. Good luck!

    You can check out some of our misadventures at:

    In the Garden

    1. That is right, everyone can't start out as a master gardener! Keeping records each year of what worked and didn't, what grew well and didn't, etc. will only help us all get better!
      Good luck to y'all this year! Let us know how it goes.

  4. The weeding and the squash bugs are my biggest battles.

    1. Luckily we didn't battle with squash bugs, but we did have flea beetles! I found a powder, Diatomaceous Earth, which helped deter them.
      Good luck this year!