Live, learn, grow

Story by Jill McSheehy

Photo by Johnny Sain

Summer looks different this year, doesn’t it? In my household, there were no “last day of school” hurrahs and end of the year parties. Summer camps and sporting seasons were all canceled or indefinitely delayed, and vacations were put on hold, canceled, or changed.

While summer certainly brings a slower pace for most, this year many families’ typical summer lives came to a screeching halt months before summer even began.

But do you know what never changed? Nature.

Oblivious to the chaos surrounding it, flowers bloomed, seeds sprouted, and gardens grew.

As our lives started to play out like a movie in perpetual slow motion, many of us decided to take on vegetable gardening — some for the first time.

Hopes soared high in March as we planned, and excitement tickled our fingers as we planted in April and May. For the first time ever, many watched rain totals and forecasts for more than whether or not rain would impact our plans. Instead, we viewed weather changes like a farmer does.

While millions in America found themselves out of work, employees in many sectors began working harder and more than ever. As an online garden communicator, my work demands increased substantially. I’m not complaining, of course. I couldn’t have been more thrilled that so many people have embraced the passion that has fueled my life for the past several years.

As more and more people began to garden, I was asked one question more than any other: “What advice would you give to beginning gardeners?”

You know what? That answer probably differed in April than in July.

I know from personal experience and from hearing from other beginning gardeners that during July and August, many first-time gardeners are met with unanticipated frustrations and disappointments. They didn’t plant some crops at the right time. The excessive spring rainfall spurred diseases they didn’t know how to deal with. Insects threatened their hope for an organic garden. The weeds grew more rapidly than they could stay on top of.

If asked this question now, how would I answer? What advice would I give beginning gardeners in July 2020?

Don’t look at 2020 as the year you grew a garden. Look at it as the year you started gardening. You see, what I rarely hear experienced gardeners say to beginners is this: your first year will be a lot of learning.

Yes, hopefully you’ll see more successes than failures. Hopefully those successes will spur you on to continue or even expand your garden in 2021 — with or without a pandemic (without, please!). And if you use your first season as a learning year, you will find your 2021 garden may just explode in successes, production, and satisfaction.

Use your 2020 garden as your test run, your field trial, so to speak. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What worked well? What did I do right?
  2. What completely failed? Do I know why?
  3. What diseases affected my crops, if any?
  4. What pests did I see? What did I do about it?
  5. Did I plant at the right time?
  6. What weather factors may have affected my crops?

As you go through this list, make notes of what you learned, and research what you still don’t have an answer for.

Then — and this is the most important — don’t think your garden season will end in a few weeks. You still have time for a fall garden.

Many of the crops you may have planted too late in the spring are prime crops for a fall garden. In our area, my favorite fall crops are lettuce, greens, spinach, broccoli, carrots, snap peas, radishes, and beets. If you’re reading this article before the end of July, you can still get a new crop of zucchini, squash, and bush beans in the ground for a late summer harvest!

It’s now July — the peak of the summer. If your garden hasn’t fulfilled those March expectations, know that you’re completely normal. None of our gardens goe precisely as planned. Use what you learned, make adjustments, and look forward to finishing strong this year and preparing for an even better garden season in 2021.

While none of us knows the details of our upended lives or what 2021 will bring, there’s one thing we can count on. Gardening won’t be cancelled.l​