Gardening Lessons Learned - Garden Planning & Starting Seeds

2014 Lessons Learned – Part 1

As I discussed in my Evolution of Garden Design Part 1, I radically upped my game for the 2014 Gardening Campaign.  I put in several new garden beds and on the whole did very well, even though Minnesota has a shorter growing season than other places around the country.  In addition, 2014 had an incredibly wet spring and cooler summer.  Frankly, I am surprised my new grow beds and plants did as well as they did.

I learned a lot from my gardens in 2014.  I have pulled together some of the most important Lessons Learned in 2014.

Garden Planning

As discussed in the recent Garden Trellis article about Garden Planning, starting with a plan and site study are critical to success. Here are some tips on garden planning.

  • Start planning early! You are already on the clock, and once that snow is gone, you need to be building grow boxes and clearing spaces.  We will be frost free soon (if you aren’t already), and that means you can start planting outside.
  • Evaluate all of the spaces that are planned to be planted in 2015. Develop a site map and perform a site study (link).  This will help determine where to place new planters to maximize growth of plants.
  • Future Potato Box - Early Garden Planning

    Early Garden Planning of a Future Potato Box (1:1 Scale) – January 2015

  • Be aware of shading in the yard: trees, fencing, buildings, lilacs and other garden plants. Tomatoes and cucumbers that grow over 10-feet tall will create shadows for other planters and could stunt the other plants’ growth.
  • Be aware of roof drip lines and other features that may impact garden placement (fences, terrain, aisles, walking areas, etc.).
  • Automatic watering – Figure out how to make this happen in 2015 with raised beds, Hybrid Rain Gutter Grow Systems. These should be passive systems that use gravity and do not rely on power and timers.  Turning valves will still be required on the traditional raised beds.  Automatic watering will be critical with more time away from home due to busy schedules.

Starting Seeds and Seedlings


Tomato, Pepper, Broccoli and Cucumber Seedlings

Starting Seedlings – May 201

This is the time of year that all of us are starting to plant seeds indoors.  There were a lot of lessons learned last year when I started a ton of tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, cucumbers, and bean plants.  I find that I am learning again this year, but we’ll save that for another day.  Here are some of the key lessons learned from 2014.

  • Plant seeds earlier in the spring (February or early March). In my neck of the woods, I am shooting for starting seeds and hardening seedlings so they are ready for the local plant show by early May.
  • Mark and label seeds/seedlings as you plant them. Mislabeling or missing labels are a problem later on in the garden season.  Knowing what you are planting is basic and really critical.  After all, you don’t want a garden that is like a box of chocolates where “you never know what you’re gonna to get.”
  • Inexpensive UV bulbs and shop lights work! I bought my UV bulbs at Menards for under $10 a piece, and I have successfully grown seedlings two years in a row.  Other suppliers will try to have you buy very expensive lights and set ups.  It really does not need to be complicated or expensive.
  • Be aware of the temperatures in the space where you are going to start seedlings. You should put a thermometer in the space to check the overall temperature.  You may need to add heat in a cool environment (i.e., basement), especially for peppers and other warmer-weather-friendly plants.  In a cool environment, they might germinate very slowly or, in some cases, not at all.
  • Keep starting seeds simple! After trying seed trays and trying red solo cups, I actually prefer the seed trays to start seeds (BONUS: this is a lesson I am actually learning in 2015).  The domes provide a “greenhouse” effect by providing a humid environment for the plants.
  • Adding heat pads under the 11 inch by 19 inch seed trays keeps the soil warm and helps with germination (particularly peppers).
  • Tomato Seedlings - May 2014

    Tomato Seedlings – May 2014

  • Keep the UV lights close to the seedlings. This will help to prevent seedlings from becoming “leggy,” or spindly.
  • Seedlings grown inside are a bit wimpy since they have not experienced the elements like plants growing outside. You can set up a fan to blow on the seedlings after a week or so.
  • To help seedlings “harden” for life in the world, take the seedlings outside once the temperatures warm up. This will expose them to wind and sun.  Use small doses at first as the seedlings are not used to outside conditions.
Tomato seedlings

Hardening Tomato Seedlings – May 2014

I really recommend taking a look back at what worked and what did not work too well.  It really helps to write these things down in a diary and review them before the next season.  That way you will not repeat the same mistakes, but you will have a better chance to repeat your past successes (or even improve on them).

I am actually learning some of these lessons this year (i.e., red solo cups versus seed trays with domes and heating pads).  As I have said in the past: I am not always perfect or know it all, but I am willing to try!

Your Turn

What are some of your gardening lessons learned in the past?

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