Ever since I started gardening, I have had SO many people tell me either that they tried gardening but can’t do it or that they wish they had a garden but they have a “black thumb”.
Let me let you in on a little secret. A black thumb is a great way to start because it probably means that you’re digging your hands in the soil. Gardening involves getting a little dirty and playing around in the soil. Those folks out there with “green thumbs” I mean what are they really doing? If their thumb turned green it’s most likely because of some toxic chemical they used on the garden and nobody here wants food like that anyway. I really don’t know where the saying comes from, and it might have a very legitimate reason for being called green (and for being a thumb) that I don’t know about. Either way, for now, I’m thinking that having a black thumb is a great gardening start.
So, for all of you out there who think you have a “black thumb,” you’re in the right place! Now, let’s talk about some ways you can ensure you will stick with gardening once you start. Some ways to help you persevere when your plants look tired and sad. Some ways to be proactive so you are set up for more success than in the past. Let’s garden!
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Here are the FIRST steps to follow to ensure you stick with it! This is one of those times that you don’t want to jump around. Be sure you go in order!
1. Begin With the End
Ask yourself WHY you want to garden. This could be to save money, show your children where food comes from, have the convenience of not driving 20+ minutes to the grocery store, to learn and have a new hobby, to improve the nutrient density of your food, and the list goes on and on. Whatever the reason may be, really think about your WHY behind it.
Despite all the “Five Easiest Vegetables to Grow” and other similar Pinterest images you may see, gardening is not for the faint of heart. I won’t lie to you. You will most likely encounter challenges, especially at the beginning, and you will have times when you don’t have an immediate solution.
If you garden organically, and I highly recommend you do, then you WILL have pests eat up some of your crops and you will have to problem solve along the way. This is a learning curve, and when you get discouraged, your end goal is what will keep you moving forward in the right direction despite any obstacles in your way.
So, before deciding what to grow, where to grow it and how to have high yields, write out WHY you want to garden. This is what will encourage and inspire you to stick with it regardless of any problems you encounter.
Share your reason for gardening in the comment section below. I would LOVE to hear it!
2. Set a goal AND create action steps
Now that you have established the WHY behind having a garden, set a goal for the what and by when. To stay motivated, your goal should be realistic and achievable, yet challenging. When I set my goal, I gave myself five years to keep it realistic because I knew I had SO much to learn. It was challenging because I barely had any gardening experience. Above all, it was clear. I had a specific goal with a timeline. Having a clear goal will allow you to stay focused on which direction you are going, so you can continue to grow in the future.
After writing out your goal, list specific action steps for achieving your goal. You are most likely going to need to do some learning and acquire some skills. These are the exciting parts! This is what shapes you.
For example, some of my action steps included volunteering at a local farm, reading about specific fruits and vegetables and attending a Mother Earth News conference.
Put first things first by planning ahead. Taking the time to sketch out your garden on paper or online will save you some headaches down the road. After setting a goal based on your reasons for gardening, the LOCATION of your garden is your priority.
Some gardeners out there will advise you to simply observe your land for a whole year before planting. If you’ve just moved to a completely new climate, a much larger piece of land or if your end goal (see, you’re already using it!) is to have a homestead with several design elements (livestock, fish pond, solar panels, fruit guilds, vegetable beds… you get the idea) then I guess a one-year observation period could be helpful.
However, if your end goal involves something on a smaller scale in a location you have knowledge about (or if you are just ever so slightly impatient at times, like me), then I recommend taking a few days to observe your space at sunrise, midday and sunset. Take notes of which locations are in full sun and which locations are partial or full shade.
Additionally, think about how the sun and shade will change throughout the seasons. Sun Surveyor Lite is a free app that shows you the path of the sun year-round on your property if you have a smartphone. It’s super cool, and you should be forewarned it might take a chunk out of your day once you start playing with it. This won’t replace your own land observations but it will allow you to see the sun’s path at different times of the year to fast-track your garden plans. The app shows you the path but you will be the one seeing that your pecan tree, when it has leaves in the summer, will provide shade, and when it is bare in the winter, more light will come through.
Once you’ve determined sun and shade, think about other elements such as wind, rainfall and pests. For example, ask yourself questions like these:
- When it rains, does the water pool anywhere in the yard?
- Do we have any drainage problems on our property that we are aware of?
- What animals are we going to attract if any? (For some, this might be gophers, deer or simply neighborhood cats.)
- Will the garden be shielded from heavy winds?
You are probably starting to see the benefits of observing your land for a longer period of time, but don’t let that hold you back. If you are a rule follower, note the date, observe your land for a year and grow as much food as you can in containers until the date arrives. If you are ready to get your hands in the soil, take a few days or weeks and use online tools, websites and ask gardeners in your area to help you answer the types of questions above.
Another super important element to consider in terms of location is utilities. Make sure you know where your gas, power, and sewer lines are so you don’t disturb them if you are doing any digging. If you aren’t sure, call your city. Ours came out to our house and marked areas with little flags for free. This is crucial for safety!
The last two areas you might want to consider are access to your garden and views. You will most likely want easy access to your garden as well as room to be able to move materials in and out and possibly a path for a garden cart or wheelbarrow. You can worry about paths later, but you might want to consider accessibility sooner rather than later.
If you are planning to include a compost pile – which you should – consider the placement of this as well. You will want it to be close to your garden.
Finally, think about your view. Can you see the garden easily out windows you frequently look out? Do you want to?
It might sound like a lot to consider, but it’s all worth it. Remember you want to stick with it, so make it easy for yourself and do the planning now to save you time and stress later!
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Once you have determined your WHY, set a goal with action steps and researched the best location for your garden, you are ready to take the next steps. Head over to Part Two of this series to find out what’s next.
Want some support along your gardening journey? Or maybe just a place to share your garden success? What about a place to show images of your garden design and get ideas from others? Join our Facebook group for Beginner Gardeners. When you visit the page, request to become a member and I will add you! While I encourage you to find a gardening group in your local area as well, I am a big believer in the support that comes from communicating with others who are learning right there with you, which is why I am so excited about this group!