Growing 101: Skills to Garden By
Here is an extended list of what every grower new and seasoned alike should—but might not—know. Following these few very basic guidelines will eventually help us to grow bigger and better flowers, fruits or vegetables with ever increasing yields.
Veteran gardeners know that skills, effort and knowledge undoubtedly help to form a hearty, plump green thumb. Experienced growers also know these fundamental lessons aren't learned in college or on a web site.
Rather, these are tiny tidbits of proficiency and information gathered together over several years of observing plants growing in Mothers Nature's own backyard. In Growing 101, there is no soil test to analyze and no water test to review. There is no pH to monitor and no nutrients to add. There are only the plain and simple lessons every grower should know and hold close to them.
Lesson #1: Spend more time than you think working the garden
It could be said it many different ways: "Be a fertile and dedicated grower." "Avoid in-season couch-potato-itis." However, all the points are the same and everyone needs to learn the lesson as soon as possible!
Unfortunately, we can't turn to a website to get this lesson accomplished—reading teaches us how to grow by providing a knowledge base, but it won't do the backbreaking work for us.
No, it's our plain, old-fashioned shovel and dirt-encrusted hands that produce amazing results. And it's extremely important to spend lots of capital in the form of sweat equity.
Sure, planting, growing and harvesting a garden is difficult, muscle taxing work... but an extra hour spent weeding in early summer is often worth more in additional yields in September. So, become enthusiastic and invest our skills and knowledge in the many laborious chores all season long.
Here are three ways to impart this lesson into the patch:
- Match your skills level with desire and availability. Each year, newer growers set lofty goals their skill set and commitment level cannot match. So, start smaller and strive to improve your skills and efforts with determination. Taking the time to build better soil or provide a healthier, stress-free growing environment is a better influence on your plants in the end.
- You must earn it. If we want grow something that thrives, we must work at it. Due diligence in the garden works wonders; our knowledge and skills will build with each passing day, but we must pay for this with the price of time and experiences.
- Tend fewer plants in adequately sized areas. One of the biggest mistakes growers make is growing too many plants in an area that is too small. That means growers will spend more effort or more time doing chores on too many plants; thus, diluting care. Also, the plants will only be smaller, more unruly to control and more likely to become laden with disease. To avoid becoming "time poor," consider these guidelines:
- Don't become over exuberant. We shouldn't plant anything unless we plan to devote the entire growing season to it.
- If we are doing something we don't find that is plant productive, we're swimming against the tide. Stop and rethink the process.
Lesson #2: We are our own best resource
These days, many people ask, "What can I do to become a better gardener?" The short and quick answer is become focused at what you do best. The key here is to become a fervent lifelong learner. There are ways to apply this:
- Read and study. It could be about seeds or soilor whatever you choose, but become interested and devoted to the many different aspects of this hobby by reading! The fact is that mental awareness can lay the foundation to a great physical garden.
- Learn to love growing for the long haul. The most difficult garden problems tend to be multidisciplinary and they typically are not solved quickly. (Soil issues particularly can be difficult to grasp and slow to resolve.) It takes time to learn growing techniques. Growing teaches us to be patient, to organize our thoughts on paper and to think logically while recording everything we do for future reference.
Lesson #3: Build a plant and seed portfolio
Growers need not enter the poorhouse chasing the latest and greatest seeds, but building a modest collection of plants allows for diversity. We should also know something about every seed we fling earthward; each holds its own story and each might need a special kind of care as it grows. Golfers call this local knowledge; gardeners call it understanding our conditions and what our plant's specific requirements are.
Lesson #4: Become dedicated to the plants needs and its chores
Growers don't come predisposed to be great growers. We have all kinds of psychological baggage that prevents us from propagating for the best yields. In short, we form premature conclusions while trying to resolve plant growth problems. Growers become overconfident in their own abilities and are prone to take inappropriate action in times of plant stress.
In particular, growers will sometimes forget the past and becoming a "more-on". However, we need to ignore our urges to treat plants with over care, as adding more is often the wrong thing to do. Instead, we must identify, correct, learn and remember our mistakes so they are not repeated. In fact, we should guide our growing decisions by these two rules:
- Be patient. Don't spontaneously add any supplements either by foliar or soil. Nature tends to nurture plants along and so should a grower. Go light on the application while testing products and experimenting, and test and wait at least a few days before broadly applying questionable new products. This allows you to introduce new untested products in a safe manner. It also nullifies your emotional more-on impulses.
- Be committed. We need to tend every seedling we plant until the end of season. This commitment will likely assist us in carefully considering and researching the myriad of growing problems we will encounter. Learn to read the leaves and what the plants require. Gaining valuable experience over the seasons pays dividends in growing better crops.
Lesson #5: Learn the lingo and master it
A common adage holds that it takes four hours a day, seven days a week, for 10 years to achieve mastery—assuming of course that you actually spend those hours wisely, get feedback and track your performance. Learning the language of gardening will help on this road to mastery. Not only will it assist you in understanding the gardening information you gather from books and the Web, but it will help you communicate with others. With the right language, it is possible to leave no stone unturned in searching for solutions to the problems you encounter.
Lesson #6: Network
Join in and don't be timid. Networking and mentoring are great ways to analyze plant skills and help develop new connections. A great place to start looking for other growers is the Internet (i.e. message boards, chat rooms and blogs); but it doesn't stop there!
Join a club or contribute to the collective of growers in the area another way—plan to attend shows, groups, conventions, seminars and garden tours. The most important part is that we surround ourselves with those who are the best at what we want to become great at. As they say, it is hard to soar like an eagle when you hang with a bunch of turkeys.
Lesson #7: Invest wisely
Do not delude yourself into thinking that those expensive seeds will grow to magical Jack and the beanstalk proportions. When it comes to the garden, time and equipment are much more valuable than supplements and seeds.
Resources are better spent on reliable equipment then chasing every new-fangled thingy. In the end, this will save time, which in turn allows the grower to grasp hold of the finer details.
One final piece of advice from a master grower who, after growing the world record pumpkin of 1,446 lb., commented, "There is no silver bullet in growing these things."
In a nutshell, there is simply no shortcut in the growing the best garden possible. But follow these few rules and assuredly as the autumn's chilly nights begin to arrive, you'll be well down the garden path of a much deserved and hard-earned bountiful harvest come fall.
Written by Russ Landry | President
Russell Landry is the former vice-president of the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth and its many competitive weigh-off sites held worldwide. He is now the current president of the Giant Vegetable Growers of Ontario. Russ publishes the GVGO Growers’ Vine newsletter.