Season Finale: Reflections On My First Garden

by Christina Brown · 18 comments

in Frugal Living, Gardening

flowerI did it!  The girl who kills all kinds of easy-to-care-for houseplants, had a garden.  And the garden produced FOOD.

I started the garden very modestly because I didn’t want to invest a lot of time and money into something that I was going to kill.

My kind step-mother-in-law gave me 2 tomato plants, a green pepper plant and a banana pepper plant that she had started from seed.  She also gave me some yellow marigolds (which I put in pots around my deck) and another plant which I thought was a different kind of marigold, but turned out to be these beautiful pink flowers that I don’t know the name of. (If you know what these are in the photo, please let me know in the comments… I’d ask my step-mother-in-law, but I’m a little embarrassed to admit I thought it was a marigold!)

In addition, I bought 4 zucchini plants and 3 broccoli plants from a nearby greenhouse.  I used a coupon to score a deal on some gardening soil from Home Depot.  My most expensive purchase was the vinyl square foot gardening kit I got at Lowe’s for about $40.   In total, I spent about $67 starting my first garden.

The first harvest

Here’s what I was able to grow for my small out-of-pocket investment:

  • 2.5 pounds of broccoli
  • 7 pounds of tomatoes
  • 14.5 pounds of zucchini
  • 3 banana peppers
  • 1 small, gawky-looking green pepper

I also picked 3.5 pints of raspberries from a wild raspberry patch near my house.  Not too shabby for a first attempt at gardening!

Lessons I learned from my first garden

Next year I’m going to move the tomatoes to their own pots.  My mom has some big nifty self-watering pots that I think would work great for me.

I’m going to do a better job of supporting my tomatoes.  I bought a couple of wimpy supports and by the end of the season, my tomatoes were falling all over each other and laying on the ground where they were assaulted by critters and bugs.  One of the reasons you will not see a garden photo from the middle of the growing season is because I’m a little embarrassed over how unruly my tomatoes got!

I’ve also learned that I can’t plant peppers in the shadow of everything else. I had no luck with my peppers because….

The zucchini just took over everything… It started climbing out of the garden bed and reaching out into the lawn.  I now know that zucchini should have a little more room. I am also now better prepared for the prolific zucchini harvest, thanks to all of you!

Who knew if you don’t pick broccoli at just the right time it will turn into pretty little yellow flowers?  Now I know to pay more attention to it!

I have no idea what to do with banana peppers.

I need to be better prepared to use my harvest.  A lot of the produce started showing up at a particularly busy stretch in our lives.  I was completely unprepared for what to do with all of it, and it was too much to eat quickly.  Next summer I’ll have a better game plan for freezing and canning my harvest.

There’s always next year

It was very inspiring to grow my own food – it felt good to grow something on our land.  I’m already looking ahead to next year.

Taking the lessons, I’ve learned, I’d like to expand on my little square foot garden by adding some new vegetables and perhaps some herbs.  I know that starting from seed will be the most economical, but I’m not sure yet, if that’s a project I want to tackle.

The bottom line is this: I tried something I knew nothing about and was afraid to try, and I didn’t completely bomb out. And I saved money on our food bill doing it.  That is encouraging!

How did your garden grow this year?  What things did you learn?


{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kari Knudson September 28, 2010 at 9:29 am

I believe that plant is a cosmo. It will self seed and you will have cosmos next year. To be very cheapskatey – dead-head your marigolds and you will have marigold seeds for next year. Next spring, sprinkle them over a patch of dirt, work them in with a rake, water, and six weeks you will have a bed of marigolds. Beautiful!

I love, love, love having a garden. I feel great pride that I am able to feed my family today and in January. I also love opening the hall closet and seeing all of my canned goods. One of my volunteers calls these “My Little House on the Prairie” projects. The first few years is always the hardest – it will get easier. Especially, if we keep having summers like this one – 1/2 inch of rain ever other day and lots of sunshine.

Great job Christina!

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2 Paula September 28, 2010 at 9:52 am

You are so right about the peppers. I have had terrible luck and decided this year I would put them on the end row of my garden. I had several peppers this year on each plant. In the past I would only get one or two pepper.

I also plant green beans on my garden. I got several batches of beans this year. Once I picked the beans more came on in their place.

My garden fail is the honeydew melon. The is the second year I’ve tried melons and this is the second year the vine dried up before the fruit got large enough to pick.

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3 AnnMarie September 28, 2010 at 10:05 am

Very nice job. I often wish I could have a garden. I suppose I’ll start one my first year of retirement when I’m back in MN? By then you’ll be such an expert I’ll be coming to you for advice. =)

I’m curious how you’re storing all of this for the winter? Canning, freezing, drying?

I like to throw banana peppers on homemade pizza or even a frozen pizza. Sometimes throwing a few fresh ingredients on top of a frozen pizza can really jazz it up. They’d also be good in scrambled eggs with some other veggies.

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4 Cora-Sue September 28, 2010 at 12:33 pm

It looks like a Hibiscus. If it is a small bushy plant. I have one in front of my apartment same color flowers,but they come in different colors too. The flowers will close up at night and open again in the morning. And it will come back next year.

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5 Lisa G. September 28, 2010 at 2:33 pm

I agree, I’m fairly sure it’s a cosmo.

There are more bush type zucchini plants…they still will need a fair amount of room, but will grow more in a circle instead of spreading out all over. Also, with your tomatoes, if you pinch off the “sucker” shoots it helps to keep them a little more under control, and the plant’s energy is focused into producing bigger tomatoes and hardier plants. Hope that helps a bit :)

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6 Christina September 28, 2010 at 8:30 pm

I think Cosmo sounds right… I remember it sound like a “c” sound when she told me. :-)

So is a Cosmo an annual? I’m a little unsure what Kari means when she says it will “self seed and I will have Cosmos next year” – sounds perennial???

And I really don’t want the Cosmo where it is, so should I move it now, or move it in the spring?

Thanks for all the support! (Can you tell I need it? :-))

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7 Christina September 28, 2010 at 8:31 pm

And to answer your question, AnnMarie…

We ate most of our bounty fresh! The exception was the zucchini and the raspberries which we froze. I haven’t tried canning yet. Maybe next year! :-)

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8 Lisa G. September 29, 2010 at 6:33 am

Hi! Cosmo is considered an annual, but as in many annuals it depends on your zone. I live in northern NY (zone 4-5) and it doesn’t self sow…marigolds must be a little hardier, some of mine will come up the following year if I’m lucky (as will snapdragons and an occasional tomato!!!) Go figure!!!

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9 Kari Knudson September 29, 2010 at 8:31 am

Perennials vs Self-Seeding Annuals

I believe that the difference is that for perennials the actual root ball stays intact and the plant grows from that same root ball, tuber, or bulb every year. Self-seeding annuals – the seed from the flower drops to the ground, hibernates, and voila you have cosmos or marigolds the next year.

This happened to me this year: I didn’t plant my marigold seeds but ended up with a beautiful marigold border around my flower beds because they self seeded. I also save my zinnia seeds.

You can also save the seeds from your jack-o-lanterns and dry them on the counter. Next spring, test a seed in a small pot in the house before planting (to see if they are good seeds). I did this last year and I have 5 pumpkins out in the garden. This year, I’m also going to save other squash seeds.

Gardeners are the ultimate cheapskates!

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10 Corinn September 29, 2010 at 10:25 am

Wow! I could have written this post myself! I had the EXACT same experience with my first garden this year… down to exactly the same plants!!!I was able to turn a little bit of my produce into some homemade salsa and freeze a little more but now I am looking forward to next year when I can be better prepared with what I have learned from this first try! Better yet, now my husband has seen how productive, economical and personally fullfilling it is to grow your own food and wants to chip in and help next year… he also wants to triple the garden size so he BETTER help! :-) I hope to continue to add to my little garden year by year…I love playing in dirt! Thanks for sharing your experience! What do you plan to plant next year?

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11 Christina September 29, 2010 at 9:05 pm

@Corinn – Yay for husbands who help out! Mine wasn’t very happy with me when I asked him to help dig my garden bed when it was 90+ degrees out. :-)

I’ll definitely do the broccoli, zucchini and tomatoes again. I’ll probably try green peppers again. I’d like to do some onions, carrots, and maybe some fresh herbs. We’ll see. I’ve got lots of time to decide!

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12 Cathy @ Chief Family Officer September 30, 2010 at 10:14 pm

Oh wow, I am so jealous! I have got to learn a lesson from you and start a garden of my own next year!

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13 Karen @ Abundance on a Dime October 2, 2010 at 7:28 pm

Good for you, Christina, for trying something new – you did pretty well for your first ever garden! I’ve been at it over a decade now and I’m still learning something new every year and adjusting my strategy slightly every new growing season.

You might want to try growing some greens next year. They’re all pretty easy to grow and will give a good yield for your investment because you can plant them from seed. I highly recommend arugula – it is very vigorous and grows quickly, much faster than lettuce or spinach. Greens like cooler weather so you should plant them in early spring.

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14 Christina @ Northern Cheapskate October 3, 2010 at 12:16 pm

@ Karen – I think some greens would be a nice addition. I almost bought some arugula to plant, but then at the last second decided on the broccoli instead. Would be nice to have something growing that likes cooler weather!

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15 Shelly @ Coupon Teacher October 3, 2010 at 1:06 pm

Gardening is definitely an art, and I haven’t mastered it yet. The fact that we tried is definitely a success story. Thanks for sharing!

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16 Michele October 5, 2010 at 6:22 am

I have the same flowers at the house we just bought. I almost pulled them out when I was weeding this summer…I am so glad I didn’t. They are the only thing flowering now and I am enjoying them so much. What it means by self-seeding is that when the plant dies, the seeds drop to the ground and a new plant grows there next year. I am not happy with the placement of the two flowers I have, so I will capture as many seeds as I can and scatter them in another location. They are in the front of the bed and are hanging into the sidewalk, so I want to put them at the back because they are so tall. Then pull the dead flower plants from where they are now. I’m glad someone knew the
name, Cosmos.

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17 Shannon July 28, 2011 at 3:10 pm

We just planted our first vegetable garden this year too, but we opted to lease a space in our community garden since our yard is much too shady (which I love, but budding veggies would not!). Because the community garden was SO sunny, we had pretty good success with most of our plants, but critters kept coming along and eating our tomatoes before we could get to them. (I should have planted to jalapenos with them! :)

In any case, I would HIGHLY recommend the book “Starter Vegetable Gardens: 24 No-Fail Plans for Small Organic Gardens” by Barbara Pleasant — it’s very easy to read, it has lots of good pictures, and as the title says, she gives you specific plans you can follow (or alter to your liking) to help get started. She even does plans for the first, second and third year as your garden starts to grow!

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18 Christina @ Northern Cheapskate July 28, 2011 at 9:02 pm

Thanks for the tip on the book, Shannon! Sounds like the perfect book for me!

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