Do Not Over FertilizeMany new vegetable gardeners may get the idea that really slapping on the fertilizer will help the plant grow even more. And the more fertilizer you use, the bigger and better the plant will get. Well, after many a burned and stunted plant I finally learned that when it comes to fertilizer more is not better. Fertilizers should really only be used when there is a nutrient deficiency in the soil. Plants are going to only take up nutrients as they need them, and any others that are added to the soil will only go to waste. This is especially true when it comes to nitrogen. Sure, there are some plants that will benefit from a small dosage of fertilizer, such as corn, and organic amendments like compost are always a good bet.
Do Not Use Synthetic FertilizersStaying with the fertilizer rant, avoid using synthetic fertilizers, such as Miracle-Gro. Miracle-Gro is a chemical fertilizer that is not helpful at all to your vegetable garden. This is especially true if you want organic vegetables. If you have used, or are still using fertilizers like Miracle-Gro, don't poke your bottom lip out. I think every gardener at some point have used the "Blue Stuff O' Death" at one time or another especially when first starting out. I'm not hugely proud of it, but I did use Miracle-Gro when I first started gardening. I used it because Miracle-Gro was all I knew at the time. The problem with the Miracle-Gro plague is you find it everywhere. Walk into a Lowe's, Home Depot, or Wal-Mart Garden Center and the shelves are lined with nothing but Miracle-Gro and other synthetic fertilizers. This is where most of us shop when looking for gardening supplies, so it's easy to think that's what you are supposed to use. It's not. Throw those bottles of synthetic fertilizers away and opt for creating your own organic compost, use earthworm castings, fish and seaweed emulsions, and leaf mold instead. In fact, if you use these amendments you can reduce, or even eliminate the need for fertilizers all together. Your vegetable garden will grow ten times better and be far more healthy.
Do Not Plant In Too Much ShadePlanting vegetables in a shady area is a really big no-no. There are a handful of veggies that do not mind a little shade, such as lettuces and peas, but most vegetables need at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight in order to thrive. Less than that and you could end up with underperforming plants. Shade is something I battle with every year because I have two huge maple trees in my backyard. Luckily, these trees shade a section of my vegetable garden during the hottest times of the day - between 11 am and 4 pm. Unfortunately, I planted my first (and second) 100 sq ft garden in complete shade. It resulted in a rather disappointing outcome growing only three tomatoes from two plants, and two banana peppers from one plant. If you are starting your first vegetable garden make sure to watch the sun throughout the season to find the area that gets the best sunlight. It's better to check the sunlight in the spring, summer, and fall because what is sunny in early spring might be shaded in summer once the trees have filled with leaves.
Do Not Forget to Amend the SoilWe are going to step back a minute to compost. I mentioned previously about using compost, earthworm castings, and other organic amendments for your vegetable garden. There's a saying in gardening that goes something like this, "Feed the soil so it feeds the plants". This is extremely important and should be embedded in your gardener brain. If you start out with vibrant, healthy soil you will grow vibrant, healthy plants. Let me say that again. If you start out with vibrant, healthy soil you will grow vibrant, healthy plants. I just can't say that enough. Amending your soil in the spring, throughout the season, and in the fall with copious amounts of organic matter is the absolute best thing you can ever do for your garden. When it comes to compost and other soil amendments you really want to pile it on. With adding compost, more is better.
Do Not Over WaterJust like over fertilizing, over watering is a very common mistake many gardeners make. When I started my very first tomato plant I watered that poor thing to death - literally. I would grab the water hose and water and water and water. Then, I'd water again. I did this every single day because I thought if I really socked the water to it the plant would grow like gangbusters. It did grow well .... for a little while. Then after a few weeks of the water onslaught it all of a sudden died. I dug it up and took the whole plant to a friend of mine who told me it had root rot. I had watered the thing so much that the roots of the plant actually died. Keep in mind that most vegetables need about an inch of water per week. A good rule to remember is to keep the soil consistently moist, but not soggy. I like to use the "finger check" method to see if a plant needs water. Simply take your finer and stick it in the soil about an inch or two deep. If the soil feels dry to the touch, water the plants. If the soil feels moist, do not water and re-check again the next day. If you want to get fancy you can purchase a soil moisture meter to help determine whether the soil is moist or not. I always recommend mulching around plants. You can use straw, dried grass clippings, unfinished compost, dried leaves, or non-colored bark mulches as an excellent mulch for the vegetable garden. A thick layer of mulch will help conserve soil moisture and even help keep weeds from getting out of hand.
Do Not Plant Seedlings Too Deep... Except TomatoesTomatoes are the only vegetable that you can actually plant deep. I made the mistake of planting some cucumbers deep so only the top two leaves were above ground. A week later, I was re-planting cucumbers because the first two died. Every vegetable except tomatoes should be transplanted so the soil line of the seedling is level with the soil line of the garden. Tomatoes are the rare exception because the tiny hairs found on the stem of the plant will actually form roots. Planting the tomatoes deep will cause the plant to grow a bigger, stronger root system. So, when transplanting vegetables into the garden make sure to keep the soil lines the same, except for tomatoes.
Do Not Start Out Too BigOnce you get the gardening bug it is difficult to restrain yourself from wanting to go full bore and plant an expansive vegetable garden. The temptation is great. The temptation was so great for me that I went all out my third year of gardening, and it was too much. I was completely overwhelmed by everything. Keeping up with weeds, watering, mulching, tending to the plants, trying to figure out what bug was eating this and what's these yellow spots on the leaves, and what do I do about this powdery mildew ....on and on. Stop the insanity! I was in way over my head. If you are just starting your first garden resist the urge to plant a huge garden right off the bat. Start with a few easy plants like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, green beans, or lettuces. Once you start getting comfortable growing those vegetables, expand on to a couple more vegetables. As your experience and confidence grows, start diving into more difficult vegetable to grow, like broccoli or Brussels sprouts. Avoid growing a huge garden during your first at-bat. Doing so can lead to you becoming overwhelmed and frustrated.
Do Not Use Broad Spectrum PesticidesInsect pests can be down right trifling when they start their endless pursuit of destroying your precious vegetables. You spend a lot of time, blood, sweat, and tears just for some little winged thing to come along and mess it all up! That's when it becomes far too easy to run to Lowe's and buy the most potent pesticide known to man and just start spraying it around like Rambo. The problem with this is that you may end up killing the nasty insect that wreaking havoc, but you are also killing the beneficial insects like bees, ladybugs and lacewings that might be visiting your garden. You could also be coating your plants with the awful chemicals and ingesting them later down the road when you are enjoying that first fresh salad from your garden. When ever you come across a pest issue it is important to identify the culprit first. Once you have the pest named then you can come up with selective means of deterring, or eliminating, the pest from your garden. You want to use a method that targets that pest and that pest alone so that you do not harm any potential helpers in your garden. Many times there is an organic solution for dealing with a pest that is much better for the health of your garden, and your family.
Bonus Tip: Do Not Step On SeedlingsNot stepping on your seedlings sounds simple enough, doesn't it? Once you get your vegetable garden filled to the rim with new plants it can actually be easy to accidentally step on a plant behind you. Well, at least it's easy for me. While planting my tomatoes last season, I stepped on a tomato. I had just finished transplanting a Cherokee Purple tomato and went on to the next spot to transplant the next tomato plant. I kneeled down, transplanted the tomato, then took a couple steps back to admire my newest member of the garden. CRUNCH! I heard that all too familiar sound of a stem breaking. I felt a bit queasy. I swayed from the dizziness. I was too scared to look down to find what had made that sickening sound. After a few minutes of praying that I had not done what I think I had done I looked down. Sure enough, my foot was on top of the Cherokee Purple I had just transplanted, and it was in a couple pieces. Luckily, I was able to salvage the plant, but it goes without saying to watch where you are stepping while working in the garden.
Better Me Than YouI hope my mistakes will help you avoid some doozies in the vegetable garden, and provide you with some tips on what to avoid when growing your awesome vegetables!
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