Our First Year Gardening, Mistakes and Accomplishments

My wife and I purchased our first home in August of 2016 located in Fairbanks, Alaska. The property included 10 acres of land. Most of the land is treed but the backyard area included a cleared space that is large enough for a garden. This was our first opportunity to create our own organic garden. We had an open canvas to create the garden that we dreamed of having for years. The potential was very high, but it didn’t take long for us to realize that building our dream garden required a lot of time and effort. We completed several tasks this past summer, but next year we hope to be more prepared and efficient with our efforts. I hope this blog can be a helpful resource for other beginners by offering references to useful information and by acknowledging some of our accomplishments and mistakes. I assume that our mistakes are likely common, so hopefully this blog can serve as an inspiration to beginners that may feel discouraged or overwhelmed. After experiencing a somewhat disappointing first year gardening at our new home, we continue to remind ourselves that there is always next year!

Mistakes

We made many mistakes this past summer, but our biggest mistake was that we overcrowded our raised bed with too many plants. We put little time into planning the layout of our garden, and because we only had one raised bed to work with, we made compulsive decisions and planted too many plants into this small space. The results were less than desirable. A couple of zucchini plants basically overgrew everything else. This situation caused our other plants to struggle and created an environment that allowed for aphids to flourish. The only plant that we grew successfully was lettuce. We had a lot of lettuce. Next year, we plan to come up with a better strategy for our garden’s layout that includes giving adequate space for each plant, and optimizing the space in our hoop house.

Another mistake that we made was purchasing unhealthy and diseased plants. We purchased several varieties of plants from a local gentleman that was set up on the side of the road. The plants did not look healthy when we purchased them, but we had hoped they would still survive. We purchased several varieties of basil and some beets. None of them survived the summer. They mainly looked sickly and pathetic for most of the growing season. The only positive was that we didn’t lose too much money! I highly recommend being picky about which plants you decide to purchase. You will be much more successful and happy if you purchase healthy plants.

Accomplishments

Our two biggest accomplishments were constructing a 30’ x 18’ PVC hoop house and setting up a rain-water collection tank. For some reason, we thought we would easily fill the space in our hoop house, but we only managed to find time to install one 4’ x 8’ raised bed. In hind sight, I would recommend a smaller hoop house (e.g. 8’ x 12’) unless you are confident that you will have the time that’s necessary to fill a larger hoop house. By building a smaller structure you would save time and money by purchasing less materials and constructing a smaller structure. If you are struggling to decide which hoop house is best suited for your needs, check out this link here. If you want to build a large 30’x18’ hoop house, here is a good reference.

We were also successful in constructing a rain-water collection tank to collect runoff from our garage’s roof. Our garage has a metal roof which is ideal for collecting rain water. For a reasonable price, we purchased a 500-gallon tank from a local farmer that I discovered through Craigslist. After acquiring the tank, I painted it black to avoid the potential for algae to grow in the stored water. I also placed the tank on the north side of my garage, as opposed to the south side, to minimize the direct sunlight hitting the tank. If the tank is clear (or opaque) and left in direct sunlight, it will surely become an ideal environment for algae to grow. We then purchased and installed gutters along the north side of the garage, and routed them directly to the tank. Once it was setup, it didn’t take long for our tank to be filled with water. I was amazed at how quickly our tank filled up!

We are fortunate that there is a down gradient slope in our yard between the water tank’s location next to the garage and the location of our hoop house in our backyard. This served as an ideal set up for creating a gravity fed watering system for our garden. The time that we saved watering our garden with this new system was significant. I recommend it. Here is a link to installing a gravity fed watering system for your garden.

Photo taken by Seth Robinson

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