5 Important Lessons I Learned From My First Year of Vegetable Gardening

This past year, my boyfriend built us the raised vegetable garden of my dreams and we did our first year of vegetable gardening. Technically, we’d done some small, half-hearted vegetable gardens before we owned our home but I’d count this as our first serious year of vegetable gardening. While overall I’d say it was a success, I have definitely come out of this first year with a few hard lessons learned.

If you are new to vegetable gardening too, planning your first vegetable garden, or just looking to commiserate about silly mistakes you’ve also made, you’ve come to the right place. Here are 5 important lessons I learned from my first year of vegetable gardening.

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1. Choose Vegetables You Will Actually Eat

This one seems super obvious, but it’s worth stating anyways. Personally I got caught up in trying to plant a variety of different plants versus thinking hard about the things we will actually eat. For example, I planted a few different bell pepper plants as well as three corn plants and we didn’t get a good yield or eat any peppers or corn in the end. Some of this will likely be trial and error – our bell pepper plants just didn’t grow as well as some of the other vegetables, and were plagued by beetles and other pests that made it hard for them to mature. Similarly, our corn plants were all killed by corn smut before they could produce a yield. In the end, these just aren’t vegetables that it’ll be worth it for us to try growing again.

It’s also important to keep in mind what will store well over time. If you are into canning and preserving this will extend your options a lot. Based on what we grew and actually used this year, I’ll be focusing more on tomatoes (specifically Roma tomatoes for canning), potatoes, onions, garlic, and carrots next year.

Ada with some of our harvest.

2. Pumpkin Plants Will Take Over EVERYTHING

This is an “I told you so” moment for my boyfriend. I was completely unaware that, given the chance, a single pumpkin plant will literally try to take over your entire yard and I foolishly thought I could keep it contained to a small corner of the garden. So silly. This pumpkin plant grew over the entire garden, it extended to the fence and started growing up it, it grew into the neighbouring cedar trees, it extended into our yard…it was completely out of control. And this is after me chopping it back several times in a desperate attempt to stop it’s path of destruction.

In the end, we got four admittedly beautiful pumpkins from the plant which I proudly displayed on the front porch during peak pumpkin spice season, but it truly was not worth it. Next year I’ll spend the $20 at my local pumpkin farm and save myself the hassle.

The beginning of the end with the wild pumpkin plant.

3. Space Your Plants Accordingly

Again, this seems like such an obvious rule but it gets me every time. I never leave enough space in between my plants when I first plant them and it gets me later in the season. Mostly because the plants compete for light and inevitably some of them lose out and never get the chance to reach maturity. This year it was the poor onion plants that suffered in the shadows of the aforementioned pumpkin plant as well as the potato plants and we only got a couple measly onions at the end of the season. Lesson learned.

4. Maintenance Is Key

Admittedly, I let my garden run a bit wild this year. After the initial excitement of planting and nurturing my plants wore off I let maintaining the garden fall to the wayside a bit. Things like pruning and removing extra plants to prevent overcrowding. This resulted in a tomato plant that was completely out of control – falling over and growing downwards over the edge of the garden and a pumpkin plant that I could not keep in check. Not only was it visually messy, but it resulted in some wasted yield as most of the tomato plant was no longer receiving direct sunlight. Lesson learned – staying on top of regular maintenance is super important and will pay off in the long run.

5. Planning Ahead of Time is Worth It

Between dealing with a tough pregnancy and prioritizing other projects around the house, the vegetable garden was something we didn’t really look at until the early spring. If I could do it over again I would’ve started planning in the fall the year prior, since there are lots of crops that should be planted in the fall for a spring or early summer harvest.

Planning earlier also would’ve given us time to save up for some tools and supplies that we didn’t get a chance to include this past year (for example, installing soaker hoses so that I didn’t need to manually water the garden every day, which I inevitably didn’t do). Moving forward it’s easier for me to start thinking about the vegetable garden earlier since the actual garden is already built and ready to go. In fact, I’ve already planted my first crop for next year – garlic!

Do you have any hard-learned lessons from your first forays into vegetable gardening? I’d love to hear them! Let me know in the comments below.

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