Gardening Tips for Beginners with McKenna Chatterley

By Samantha Gleave | Aug 13, 2021

Gardening Tips for Beginners with McKenna Chatterley

By Samantha Gleave | Aug 13, 2021

A year and a half ago I had never gardened. Not once. Knew nothing about it. In fact the closest thing to it was buying succulents from Home Depot and throwing them away six months later because I would forget to water them HA. So when I say anyone can garden, I truly mean ANYONE CAN GARDEN.

My husband and I bought our first home last May, it was built in 1930, and came with a 20x20 foot in-ground garden that practically had my name written all over it. I had always been fascinated with vegetable gardens and knew I wanted chickens one day, but it wasn’t until we moved in that I really dove in to learn what it takes to prep, grow, and maintain a thriving garden. I am still learning so much and frequent my google search with an array of questions, but from one beginner to another, I’ve got some tips to help you start your very own garden!

McKenna Chatterly in her garden

Tip #1 : Prepare your soil 

A successful garden will always trace back to good quality soil. Before I plant anything, I fill my soil with organic materials that help the plants to not only grow but to be fruitful. Compost is our best friend. I have a compost bin that I’m adding to all year but you can buy compost in bulk at nearly any garden center or even the Facebook marketplace. There’s different types of compost, some are predominantly food/landscape waste and some are manure. I’ve used both and haven’t noticed a huge difference between the two, but then again it’s only my second year gardening so maybe I just need more time to assess.  I load my in-ground and raised garden boxes with compost each spring and mix it in the top 6 inches of my soil. This is where the feeder roots of your plants will be, so you don’t need to till compost any deeper than 6 inches.

Tip #2 : Choose a spot in your yard that gets full sun 

Your vegetables need the sunshine! My garden gets about eight hours of direct sunlight a day which is ideal. Too much shade will stunt your plants and will diminish your harvest so if anything, it’s better to have too much sun than not enough when it comes to your vegetables. 

Tip #3: Plant your seeds according to their season

As you dive into gardening, you will begin to differentiate spring crops from summer crops. Plants like spinach, arugula, beets, peas, carrots, broccoli etc. are early spring crops that need cooler weather to survive. Tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, peppers, corn, watermelon, etc. are summer crops that thrive in the heat and will be planted in your garden in mid-late spring once there’s no chance of frost. You can start some of these indoors, but I prefer to plant directly in the ground and in my raised beds. 

Tip #4 : MULCH 

I cannot emphasize enough what a difference mulching my garden has made this year vs. last year. I mulched between all of my rows in my in-ground garden and around all my plants in my raised beds. It not only keeps the weeds down but it keeps your soil cool and holds in the moisture. I found myself watering far more last year because the water was evaporating so fast since most of my soil was exposed to the sun. You can buy wood chips in bulk at local garden centers or find local farmers in your area who will drop off an entire shredded tree for free. I plan on doing this next year and splitting the bark with my neighbors who also garden because it is A LOT of wood. 

Tip #5: Water 

“How much should I water my garden?” is probably the most frequent question I get, but a question that doesn’t have a definitive answer. I’ll share exactly what I do to help give you an idea of the time commitment a garden requires if you choose to water by hand, but it may be different for you depending on the drainage of your soil, if you’re in a dry or humid climate, and the amount of rain your garden is already receiving. 

In the early stages, seedlings need constant moisture, so if we aren’t getting rain I’m out there every day/every other day making sure the soil is damp. Once roots begin to form and the plants are a bit more established, I give them a slow, heavy water every three-four days in late spring/early summer. It is better to water heavily less often than to lightly water every day . Even if the first few inches of your soil feel a little dry on day two or three, if you water long enough the moisture will reach deeper into your soil, which then causes your roots to grow towards that source of moisture and strengthen your plants.

As far as what time of day you should water, watering in the morning is prime time. The second best time would be in the evening once the temperatures have cooled. But most importantly midday watering is just a no no. The heat evaporates the water at a much quicker rate and it’s just not ideal for your garden. 

McKenna Chatterly gathering eggs

So there you have it, my top 5 tips to grow a successful garden! There is so much fulfillment in growing a garden, everyone should experience it to some level. Even if you just start with pots or a single raised bed, start small and increase a little each year as you feel more confident. Good luck friends! 

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