People being people.. some may get nailed by bad luck, lack of information, pests, diseases.. you name it and the lack of rewards for their efforts effectively can squash enthusiasm. It is a shame when that happens.
I do happen to think it is important that people at least give gardening a try.. it seems to make many more aware of their surroundings and more aware of their food. In the end it seems to have a chain effect.. yard waste and kitchen scraps are suddenly a resource instead of landfiller.. kids are more likely to eat fruits and veggies they got to grow.. chemicals often are looked at more closely rather than carelessly applied.
Someone I helped earlier this year with their first garden has pulled his harvest and is very proud of his success. "This is the first successful garden I have ever had, and I can't wait until next year!" Yes, there was a learning curve.. like when the labels washed off and they ate the cosmos thinking it was dill.. and a friendly neighbor telling them the hops were mint.. resulting in some rather nasty tea made from it. However.. it did inspire them to make a compost pile and add another raised bed.
When you help someone start gardening, there are somethings that you can help remind them of when it comes to getting a good start. One of the primary things that is overlooked by the beginner is exposure. How much sun the area gets is pretty important, but someone new to gardening often forgets this and is just imagining the perfect little pristine vegetable patch tucked right under the big tree. Reality check.. aisle 9.
He thought he had "just the spot" but while the area was out of traffic, it was also well out of light. My husband helped him select the location and build the raised bed (the best light actually being in the front yard right off the driveway.. so some of the front lawn was ripped up.)
Something else to gently remind them of.. cool and hot weather crops, diversity.. and time until harvest. Basically.. I am not so subtle. My husband reins me in, otherwise I am about as stealthy as using a semi to play bumper cars.
Now one of the things I tend to encourage are those few lovely plants that are somewhat newbie proof. I say somewhat.. because as our dear friend just proudly announced.. he "harvested" the chives. Yes.. he pulled 'em up like spring onions instead of trimming the tops. I swear.. he's actually a pretty bright fellow.. just a bit too urban around the edges. I politely shoved the phone under the pillow while I laughed like a madwoman.
If there is something to pick.. a reward for their efforts.. it keeps the motivation going. Perennials like chives and mint are easy, extremely hardy, and chives are something that once established are one of the first things you can collect.
This is a list of good starter veggies and herbs
- zucchini/ summer squash
- cherry & grape tomatoes
- green beans
Small tomatoes, like grapes and cherry varieties mature more quickly. They also tend to be quite flavorful as well as many of them are quite hardy. Avoid ones like "Yellow Pear" that are heirlooms, but quite prone to cracking. Early fresh eating slicers are also a good beginner tomato, like Siberian, Silvery Fir Tree, and Stupice.
Basil makes me giggle as it is my sure-fire way to tempt them into the possibility of propagation. First thing is to show them where to trim so they don't go back too far and so the plant as well is encouraged to get more bushy. Having them place the basil in a glass with a little water not only keeps the herb fresh, on display, and ready to use.. but as well basil very happily sets out roots. Our friend fell prey to this.. and went from the dozen plants I gave him to a LOT more as he planted a ton that rooted. More than half survived his first attempt and the result is a quick how-to on drying herbs.
Easy wins are key and start small.
Avoid vining plants if they don't have the room, or show how to grow them in containers. The thought of growing squash like Butternut is appealing.. but if there is limited room an alternate option would be a better choice. For how much space they take up, their production isn't that great. Several I know also thought you could just trim back the vines and it wouldn't have an effect. Large winter squash need a lot of energy to produce these fruit, and they have a relatively shallow root system. Trimming off the rambling vines is like rerouting a river that a hydraulic power plant needs to produce electricity.
The variety I helped him with was enough to get his feet wet, have a decent amount of success and definitely sparked enthusiasm to try harder next year. It makes me smile as he posts pictures of pasta simply dressed with sauteed onion, garlic, bell peppers and cherry tomatoes in olive oil and basil, parsley and parmesan.
I am digging up one of the huge clumps of chives for him to replant. It is a huge, established mound that he'll be able to easily gather more than enough from to satisfy his family of 5. He was so excited about his peppers that he dug them up and transplanted them in to pots to over winter in a south facing window.. right along with one of the last batches of basil harvested from the garden that are setting roots. The success inspired determination and the drive as well as some basic know-how to get antsy about next year. He didn't think they liked beets, until he tossed the baby beet thinnings into a salad.. now he wonders what else they are missing.
The gardening thing right now is a trend for many.. that will probably fade for most. Every year there is a new challenge, a new experiment, a new success, a set back. Some things will never change, and unpredictability is the norm in the garden.
A helping hand can not only save a new gardener from a lot of unnecessary expense, but also troubleshoot potential problems.
I'll miss my gardening converts. I wish them luck with starting their own transplants and I look forward to their 8 million pictures of their first pickings, and dishes made from it!