Gardening Lessons Learned for 2013


As we wind down the 2014 growing season up here in Minnesota (and one could make a case that I am gardening on borrowed time in October), it is good to take a step back and think about what worked, what didn’t work, what you would do again, what you would change….After all, I am not perfect and I make lots of mistakes along the way.  We might as well have a laugh or learn from it.  To be honest, I prefer laughing!

In civil engineering world that is my full time career, we call documenting those things that did or didn’t work “Lessons Learned.”   I have learned a lot this year, but I thought it might be fun to look back on the Gardening Lessons Learned for 2013 as a warm-up before I talk about what happened and what I learned in 2014.

So, without further ado….

Gardening Lessons Learned for 2013

2'x4' Raised Planter from 2013

2’x4′ Raised Planter from 2013

The following are my Gardening Lessons Learned for 2013.  I had a much different operation back then: two 2’x4′ raised beds (like 3 feet off the ground) and one 1’x4′ raised bed.  I had just moved from Illinois where I left my square foot gardens and a nice, big yard that I owned to a renting a house.  I had to make due with what I had and with what could construct cheaply.

If you have been following the blog for a while, you will notice that some of these were violated this year, so obviously I needed to review this list at the start of the year.

  • Start seeds early in grow boxes or Red Solo Cups inside. This will save money in the long run rather than purchasing plants at a big box store or nursery.
  • Don’t start planting your plants in June! That is just too late in Minnesota.
    • Plant seeds early, so the plants are ready to be planted in May.
    • Try to get plants in the ground by mid to late May.
    • Plants take 60-90 days to have ripe fruit. If you plant in June, fruit will not be ripe until September.
  • When purchasing seed packets and plants, READ the labels and make sure you have the right stuff. Sometimes you grab the wrong packet or plant and are surprised when things don’t turn out the way you expected.  It is like the old saying: “measure twice; cut once.”
  • Make sure your planters and containers drain excess water. Too much standing water in containers will cause your plants’ roots to rot.
  • Find areas with at least 8 hours of sun.
  • Implement an automatic water strategy. This will reduce your workload and help the plants grow.
  • The trellising system described in the Mittleider Method ( and works well for a number of different plant varieties. Continue this method in future gardens.
  • The strength and health of your seedlings or purchased plants are very important.
    • Pick healthy seedlings or plants from the store.
    • Use the strongest plants; cull the small and weak plants from seedlings.

Looking Back while Looking Forward

1'x4' Planter from 2013

1’x4′ Planter from 2013

Looking back on the Gardening Lessons Learned for 2013, I see areas that I improved and areas that I, once again, fell short.  Areas of improvement included starting my seedlings inside with grow lights and trying the Hybrid Rain Gutter Grow System (semi-automatic watering system that can be improved).

Areas that I fell short include not planting early enough (since I still have a number of green tomatoes on the vine), putting planters in the shadows behind a curtain of tomatoes and cucumbers, and casually mislabeling Red Solo Cups and planting several of the wrong pepper plants.  Oops….I am getting ahead of myself!

Overall, 2013 was a good year considering I had just three small raised beds, and that experience inspired me to expand my operation and start this blog.

I will continue to reflect on these lessons while developing my Gardening Lessons Learned for 2014.  I will post those lessons on Thursday of this week!

Until then, let’s grow together!

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