With all of this uncertainty looming over us, gardening is a tranquil pursuit that can help you partly untangle yourself from the inherently unstable just-in-time modern food system that we use to meet our most basic need. There could come a time where we have to rely more on ourselves and our skills to put food on the table, as in the Victory Garden times of yore.
If you've got dirt, seeds, water, and sunlight, you can grow your own food, and plenty of it. But a lot of people think that you can just throw some seeds in the backyard and in a no time you should have an entire smorgasbord of food waiting for you. When they inevitably fail to produce much more than a couple tomatoes, they give up.
We'll go over the most common reasons why people tend to fail with gardening and what you can do to make sure you're giving your new living backyard pantry the very best chances for success.
#1. Planting the wrong things for your zone
A lot of new gardeners seem to think that they should be able to plant anything and have a bounty of delicious food within a couple months. The pictures on the seed packets look so plump and nice!
It doesn't work like that. The U.S. is divided into various climate and plant hardiness zones. These zones are determined by numerous factors like average rainfall, temperature, typical soil PH levels and various other criteria.
Sunset's 24-zone climate system is an even better tool than USDA's plant hardiness chart pictured above. Sunset's system is based on winter minimum temperatures, but also includes other factors such as summer high temperatures, length of growing season, humidity, and rainfall.
If you try to plant something that is not approved for your zone, you're going to have problems. Be sure to do some basic research on the plants you're wanting to grow to make sure they will thrive in your zone. When in doubt, opt for native plants. Try to get heirloom seeds when possible.
#2. Planting in the wrong area of your home or property
Plants require varying levels of sunlight to be productive and each plant is pretty specific with its lighting needs. You can't just start putting seeds anywhere. You need to take into consideration how much sunlight the plants will typically get throughout the season and pick plants that will do well with that level of sunlight.
If you try to plant something that requires a lot of sunlight, but you plant it on the shady side of your house or in an area covered by tress, chances are those plants are just going to die or have a very low yield because they're not getting enough light. On the same token, if you plant something that doesn't require a lot of light into an area that gets constant sun throughout the day, chances are the plants will be overexposed and won't be successful.
#3. Planting at the wrong time of the season(s)
Every area has a different "sweet spot" for when to start planting. Some plants do well at the very beginning and end of the planting season while others grow better during the heart of the summer. Be sure to do some basic research on the plants that you want to grow to make sure that you're not planting them at the wrong time of the year.
#4. Over- or under-watering
Too little or too much water will kill plants. Plants are the most productive when they're hitting their "sweet spot" of water intake. It would be nice if every plant could just come with directions on how much water is ideal but unfortunately that's just not possible. It could be an especially dry or wet season in your area and some plants just need more or less water than others depending on how you set up your garden bed.
This is one of the main areas where experience comes in. After a few growing seasons, you should be able to get a good idea for how much water it will take for your usual plants to thrive.
Gardening isn't extremely hard by any means but it does take experience and planning to get it right. Don't give up! If you're having trouble getting your garden to be productive, take some time to really research the plants themselves. As long as you stick to it and keep learning, you'll be well on your way to supplementing a lot of your own food in no time.
Do you have any tips or tricks that could help new gardeners? Let us know in the comments!