As a beginner vegetable grower, you’re bound to make mistakes. However some beginner vegetable growing mistakes can be easily avoided if you’re aware of them.
When you first decide to give vegetable gardening and food growing a try, you’re likely going to feel a bit overwhelmed at all the possibilities and all the knowledge you need to gather to be successful.
Many beginner vegetable gardeners fail the first year because of these 5 common mistakes.
Just being aware of these can make a huge difference in the success or failure of your first year growing food at home.
Starting too much
It’s easy to get excited, especially when you go through seed catalogues in spring and want to grow everything!
So you go and buy tons of seeds or seedlings and setup a few containers or garden beds and plant like crazy.
Enthusiasm is great, but what often happens is that after the enthusiasm wears off, everything is planted that the overwhelm starts.
You’ll soon realize:
- How am I going to water all these plants?
- How do I weed all these new beds?
- What am I going to do with 5 heads of lettuce or 20 pounds of tomatoes?
- What are all these bugs on my plants that are eating everything?
And you might give up. It’s too much work and time to take care of this much garden.
So my biggest tip for beginners is: start small! Maybe it’s just a few containers or one 4’x8’ garden bed.
That’s enough to begin with.
- It will get you started, but without the overwhelm.
- It will let you learn as you go and give you a good idea of what you can handle.
- It will also give you a chance to establish a routine of just a few minutes a day to take care of your garden.
And after one successful year, you can slowly expand by adding more containers or adding another bed or two.
Not doing regular garden walks
A vegetable garden can easily get away from you if you let it.
That’s why I advocate doing what I call a garden (maintenance) walk regularly throughout the growing season.
These only take a few minutes to do if you have a small vegetable garden (so if you followed my first tip above!) and keep you up-to-date on what’s going on.
It is essentially what it says: taking a walk through your garden, looking at everything. But it’s not just random: you do need to look for the following things:
- Does anything need watering? Bring along at least a watering can for spot watering
- Are there any plants that need staking or other supports? Tomatoes are usually the ones that need this but other heavily laden fruit-bearing vegetables such as peppers and eggplants may need this too.
- Do plants need pruning? Pruning off dead or damaged leaves can help avoid certain plant diseases and pests. And keeping tomatoes from growing too much foliage will put more energy into fruit production.
- Are there any pest infestations that need attention? Often you can dislodge many pests such as aphids with a strong jet of water from a garden hose or make some soapy water to spray on the plants. Or simply handpick the larger bugs.
- Any plants that show signs of disease? Again trim off any diseased foliage but be prepared to completely remove a plant that is diseased so it doesn’t affect other healthy plants around it.
- Do you need to do any spot weeding? Keeping on top of weeds before they grow too big or self-seed is key to avoiding longer weeding sessions. And for perennial weeds such as bindweed, keeping on top of at least pinching off the growth will weaken the roots underneath.
- Does anything need harvesting? This is the best part of course! Vegetable gardeners often miss that large zucchini hiding behind the leaves or pick peas too late when they start getting mealy. Pick when everything is fresh and at the optimal ripeness.
These walks should only take 5-10 minutes at most and I’d recommend you try and do them daily during the height of the growing season. If you don’t have time to do all of the above during the week, at least make note of what needs your attention so that you can tackle the tasks on the weekend, when you likely have a bit more time.
I cover some more tips in this article: Why You Need To Do A Garden Maintenance Walk Regularly
Starting too early or too late
Timing when to start seeds or plant out transplants is key to having the most abundant vegetable harvests. Each region has a growing season, which is usually defined by the last frost date in spring and the first frost date in fall.
Those dates can easily be found online if you search for [region] frost dates. Keep in mind that these are average dates. Some years they will be early and some years they will be late. Keeping an eye on weather forecasts is key.
If you are starting your own transplants from seed, check the package instructions or a seed catalogue for how long the seeds need to grow into strong seedlings before transplanting them out. Work back from your last frost date to know when to start the seeds.
It’s okay to start them a bit earlier, but keep in mind that once the seedlings get big, they likely need to be transplanted out. They can be protected with season extenders (see next tip) if there might still be a risk of frost.
Your best resource are seed catalogues, especially growing charts such as those found at West Coast Seeds, local to your area. These will tell you when to seed or transplant as well as if your transplants need protection.
Not using season extenders
In a perfect world, weather would be predictable and you could count on the frost dates already mentioned to be more or less cast in stone.
However that’s not how it is. With global warming and the shift in climates and some crazy weather at times (snow in May or June here in Canada!), you need to treat any dates with a grain of salt.
And that’s where season extenders come in. If you’ve just planted out your transplants and then see that your area is expected to get a late frost overnight, you can protect your plants from being wiped out.
Or if you plant late in summer for early fall harvests and you get an early frost, again season extenders can come to the rescue.
They come in all shapes and sizes, some great for containers while others are more suitable for garden beds. Here are just some examples:
- Cloches – you can either buy these or use recyclables such as clear plastic packaging such as cake domes, salad tubs and large juice bottles
- Plastic bags – larger clear bags can be put over a smaller container as long as the bag doesn’t touch the plant (frost could damage any leaves touching the plastic)
- Row covers – these work best on garden beds and may require some sort of support (wire or PVC hoops or a wooden frame). They can be made from spun polyester or clear plastic sheeting.
- Polytunnels – usually considered more permanent and can span several garden beds
- Greenhouse – usually a permanent structure that is an investment! Although you can get smaller greenhouses that are moveable. Can be used to start seeds in a controlled environment and grow veggies in containers that need the extra heat and protection from cold nights
The key is to have season extenders on hand before you need them. And to keep an eye on forecasted temperatures, especially overnight.
Also keep in mind that the hot sun can raise the temperature under one of these protection measures very quickly. So make sure you have a way to vent these during the day. Some cloches for instance have vents on top you can open.
Learn more in this article: Row Covers: The Best Way To Protect Your Crops
Following information from the wrong sources
The final tip is be careful where you get your food growing information from.
With the advent of the internet, anyone can give advice on any topic and gardening is no different.
You’ve probably come across some of the viral videos, either on social media or on YouTube. These usually show food growing hacks that look neat, but in reality have been proven to not work.
And there’s a lot of advice out there still that is based on how we used to grow food. Including needing to till or double-dig each spring to prepare the soil. Or using non-organic control methods for pests, weeds and diseases.
But the best tip I can give you is to get your information from someone who has a similar space as yours and a similar amount of time. While there is some value in getting information from someone who has acres and acres of growing space, either on a traditional farm or rural homestead, their approach to growing will not necessarily match your needs to keep things simple and easy to control.
That’s why I teach methods that fit into the busy lifestyle that most families have. I understand you don’t have much space or time to devote to acres and acres of garden beds. Instead my approach is to keep things simple and manageable.
So if you can avoid these 5 mistakes you’ll be well on your way to having a successful vegetable garden.
Do you struggle with any of these 5? If so which ones? Leave a comment and I can give you some additional information on how to overcome them.
If you enjoyed this article, have something to add or have any questions, please leave a comment below.
Wishing you all the best!
Tranquil Urban Homestead, Victoria, BC