Gardening is one of the top prepper skills needed for survival. Learning how to grow your own food is not something you want to do after a disaster has happened. I can speak from experience when I say there is a lot to learn and you will make a lot of gardening mistakes.
It’s far better to make these mistakes now when your world is pretty stable than when you’re just trying to survive day by day following a worst case scenario. This is also a great opportunity for you to take our gardening self-assessment! This short evaluation is going to help you understand where you’re at with your current gardening skills and resources so you can identify areas where you need to grow (pun intended).
If you count my first year (which I often don’t), this will be my fourth year gardening. In those three years of growing and trying to grow food, I have made a lot of mistakes. I am very glad for each and every one of those mistakes because otherwise, I would not have found out what I didn’t yet know. Let me share those mistakes with you and maybe you can avoid them!
Year 1 Gardening Mistakes
Where to begin?
- I planted too much.
- The bed was too big.
- I started all the seeds on the same day.
- There wasn’t enough water.
My first try at gardening was in a fairly large raised garden bed in the corner of our backyard. I planted pumpkins, tomatoes, carrots, green peppers, strawberry plants, peas, and some herbs – all by sowing seeds at the same time.
Now I know that each part of the country has a planting zone and there are many charts to tell you when to plant, what to plant, and what to start indoors. These tips about starting plants from seeds are very helpful.
I learned about Preplanning
As things started growing, I soon realized that the pumpkin vines were going to wind their way through everything. I also couldn’t tell the plants from the weeds. There was so much in the garden that I had to wade through everything to get to the plants in the middle!
I still had hope even after I realized the garden was a bit crowded – and then a drought hit the area. We tried watering for a few weeks, but our water bill was outrageous. We let the garden go and besides a few strawberries, we got nothing from the garden but lessons to take with us into Year 2.
Year 2 Gardening Mistakes
Again, my mistakes were many:
- Some seeds were planted late.
- I planted too much, again.
- Checking for predators every day is important.
- I wasn’t prepared to succeed.
The next time we tried gardening, we had moved to a different state. My husband built four 8-foot by 4-foot beds and we filled them with dirt. I researched everything we wanted to plant to see when and how we should plant them. I created a timeline so I could check off what we needed to do.
So far, so good.
However, we barely got the seeds in the mail in time to start the tomato seeds inside, which meant the pepper seeds started inside were about a month late. Consequently, we did not get a lot of peppers in year two.
I had a lot to do and check on during that spring and summer for a first-time gardener (I still don’t count that first year.) I still had young children to tend to, activities to get us to, and vacations to take. Each plant had something different to teach me, but I didn’t have time to learn from all of them.
Prepare for Predators
We didn’t find the hornworms until they had devoured several tomato plants. The Japanese beetles attacked the pumpkin plants severely. We beat them back once we found them with Neem oil, but the damage had been done.
In hindsight, we should have checked the plants every day, but we didn’t. It’s very humbling to watch so much of your hard work undone by a little beetle!
Prepare for Success
Overall, the garden was a success that year, despite my mistakes. That, in itself, led to another mistake – I wasn’t prepared for success. I knew we’d learn a lot, but I didn’t realize we just might grow a lot.
I failed to think about how I would use the fresh produce coming so quickly out of the garden, and I didn’t have the recipes or equipment on hand to harvest and preserve everything we grew.
That meant I ended up giving a lot of the food away to friends.
Overall I learned that it was stressful trying to not waste what we grew. My plan for next year was to stock up on mason jars and cookbooks so I will be prepared for the next harvest!
Year 3 Gardening Mistakes
By this time, I had learned a lot but made new mistakes. This time:
- There was too much water.
- I didn’t weed enough.
- We didn’t know about cross-pollination.
- I didn’t save some seeds correctly.
- I wasn’t prepared to fail.
Too much of a good thing can be bad. The first year, we didn’t have enough water. In year three, we had too much and our tomatoes suffered. Turns out a little bit of mulch would have saved them, but I didn’t know that at the time.
The overabundance of water also affected our squash, zucchini, pumpkin and melon plants. Powdery mildew would have been nipped in the bud if we had caught it early, but we went on vacation and it was in full force when we came back.
The weeds had also overtaken parts of the garden in the week we were gone and I found that I hadn’t marked the location of plants well. I’m considering hiring a garden sitter in addition to a dog sitter when we leave on vacation next year!
I knew nothing about pollination. Have you learned about pollination? You should if you’re going to plant a garden. Some plants are self-pollinators and can go anywhere in the garden. However, others need help from insects and bees to pollinate and produce fruit.
If you put two of those plants next to each other, the insects and bees will cross-pollinate them, and you can end up with squash that looks like a zucchini or a melon that looks like a pumpkin. Honestly! At harvest time we opened up what looked like a pumpkin and it had a melon smell and taste. We won’t make that mistake again.
Planning and Building a Bee-Friendly Backyard is essential for pollination, and also helps with cross-pollination issues.
We had to buy some pepper plants because when I saved the green pepper seeds from the previous year’s garden, I apparently saved them from immature peppers because hardly any of the seeds I started indoors sprouted. Note to self: be sure to save seeds from fully mature plants if you want the seeds to germinate.
Set for the Harvest
I was all set for a great harvest in year three with all my canning gear and recipes. I planned for a fully stocked pantry of tomato sauce and salsa. I forgot to think about what we would do if we didn’t have a big harvest – and we didn’t. The only things that flourished that year were onions and jalapenos. I canned plenty of jalapenos, but our salsas and tomato sauces only lasted a few months.
Year 4 Gardening Mistakes
This growing season has just started and already I’ve made one mistake: I started seeds too early.
I don’t have anything in the ground yet, but I planted our tomato seeds too early indoors. This should easily be remedied by getting some bigger pots as planting time gets closer, but I found out tomato plants like to shoot out long roots and I hope I don’t stunt their growth.
I wish I had found that out before I tried getting a jump-start on nature. I’ll be buying pepper plants again this year as I must have harvested seeds from some more immature green pepper plants that really looked mature.
I’ve realized that saving seeds is a bit of a science AND an art. Knowing just what to save, how to clean certain seeds, how to store them. This article explains how to combine seeds in miniature “seed vaults”, which I think is an awesome idea to give as gifts, for barter, and just to have the best selection of your saved seeds all in one place.
Mistakes are for Learning
Mistakes are how I’m learning and I expect to make many, many more as I continue my gardening journey. Be sure to take our quick gardening self-assessment so you can see where you are on your own journey! When you are starting out make sure to find experts that can help you along in your gardening endeavors.
I highly recommend Melissa K. Norris, who has a blog, podcasts and a book full of gardening tips and know-how. Also, check out the other gardening articles on this website, The Survival Mom. The gardening page is just what you need to get started.
- All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew
- The Backyard Homestead by Carleen Madigan
- Mini Farming: Self-Sufficiency on 1/4 Acre by Brett L. Markham
- Grow Your Own Groceries website
- Seeds of the Month Club website
- The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Edward C. Smith
- The Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook by Jennifer Kujawski