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First Time Gardener: Lessons Learned

I grew up in an area where everyone had a garden.
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Every man, woman and child could tell the difference between the sprout of a weed and that of a tomato.

Maybe I’m exaggerating. Maybe.

My husband is not a gardener. He ran over the watermelon plants taking over our backyard with the lawn mower.

The lawn mower killed my watermelons.

So far, I’ve ended up with tons of basil, tons of cherry tomatoes and six very strong (and very tall) heirloom tomato plants.

Being a DC gardener has been fun, but filled with a learning curve. Anytime you try gardening on the other side of the country for the first time, there are bound to be bumps in the road. Although we’ve lived in the area for several years, this is the first we’ve been able to plant an actual garden in a backyard.

This year I also did something I’d never done before– I grew tomatoes from seeds. I babied those seeds. Turns out I planted them inside too early. My babies got super tall, had few leaves and then died. Poor leggy things searching for sunlight.

So I tried again, and ended up with 7-9 feet tall tomato plants.

Here are my other, not-an-expert, tips for anyone else considering getting their hands dirty next planting season. And for those looking for a laugh.

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Plot it out: I thought it would be a good idea to group my raised garden beds together to give me an extra box with leftover boards. Bad idea. That corner box proved wasted space. I didn’t plant anything there when I realized I wouldn’t be able to get to the plants in the adjoining boxes. Next year I’ll separate them. Even if it means losing an extra cedar box.

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Give ’em space: My tomato plants overtook my basil, oregano and rosemary. I don’t think a few plants have seen the light of day thanks to five cherry tomato plants.

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Watch ’em grow: This is where it gets good. My plants grew like chia pets, or weeds… Just a bit tastier than dandelions.

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Eat it fresh: My tomatoes, cilantro and basil taste much better when fresh from the back yard. Tomatoes lose their flavor if refrigerated and get mushy/moldy if they sit on your counter for a week. Don’t let that happen. Find a way to eat (or can) them pronto.

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Lessons Learned for Next Year from the Non-Expert Gardener

  • Check your dates when you plant your seeds. And keep them somewhere warm with LOTS of light if you’re keeping them inside. Otherwise they will get long and leggy– and die. Planting tomatoes in February will mean nothing if you can’t move them outside until April. Those poor babies will die before getting a permanent home.
  • Animals are real. Make sure you actually implement a plan to keep them out before it’s too late, and something’s taking bites out of your tomatoes and making your super angry every morning.
  • If you see a beetle, kick it out. I saw one in my garden one week and left it (mostly because I didn’t have gloves on, and was too afraid to touch it barehanded). The next thing I knew, I had holey basil for a couple weeks.
  • Weeds grow fast. My flower garden looked like a jungle thanks to the Virginia humidity and a long vacation on my part. It took several very long days of clearing weeds to get it back to workable.
  • Enjoy the process. Gardening takes time, but like raising a child, is worth everything you put into it.


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