I come from a long line of fantastic gardeners, and a few years ago, I wanted in on the fun. My nonno on my dad’s side kept a lush garden full of tomatoes, beans, and cucuzzi gourds, which gracefully dangled down from his arched trellises. I have vivid memories of standing underneath his homemade trellis and staring at the lush, green jungle around me.
Nonno Luigi's backyard is a tropical paradise. He has a lemon tree, pumpkin patch, and 100 varieties of peppers all living and thriving under his care—and how he does all this at 81, I'll never be sure.
With that, my dad always followed suit and kept a small, manageable garden at my house. There are so many tips I learned from not only him, but everyone who came before him. Here is what I learned from my dad that helps me achieve a gorgeous garden year after year.
“Good Soil” is a Real Thing
Now, there is dirt—and then there is soil. Soil is alive and rich with nutrients, and this is what your garden wants to be living in. My dad believes that because he fertilizes and amends the garden soil in our bed year after year, that soil is extra capable of growing wonderful veggies.
He was totally right—my yield from that garden bed over others is far greater, and my plants grew much bigger and stronger. My dad’s favorite way to fertilize is mushroom compost, and I definitely recommend trying that if your soil is lacking nutrients.
Mulch and Weed Paper Are Your Friend
In nature, soil is rarely uncovered, when you think about it, it's usually shrouded by leaves or other organic matter, which is why you should mirror this in your garden.
To avoid weeds spreading, my dad and I lay weed paper over our garden and splice holes where we are dropping in plants. This keeps the soil beneath moist and stops weeds underneath from reaching the light, stunting their growth.
Be sure to cover your soil in a layer of mulch as well, whether it is wood chips or straw, to keep the soil moist and nourished. This leads to happy and healthy plants.
Grow What You Eat
In my spare time, I admittedly watch a lot of gardening videos on YouTube. Something about seeing other people’s sprawling gardens and greenhouses really brings me joy. But, my dad reels me in and remind me to only grow what we are going to eat.
As curious as I am about growing hot peppers, not one person in my household can handle the heat, and I’ll have an abundance of fruit that no one can enjoy. Stick to your household staples to begin growing first.
Do you eat a lot of lettuce, tomatoes, and summer squash in your home? Add those in your garden first before adding too many other varieties.
Roll With the Punches
One of the hardest lessons I’ve learned as a novice gardener is that nature is totally out of our control. For example, at the height of growing season last August, we were hit with the tail end of a hurricane, with winds and rain knocking over my plants and their supports. I went outside in my muddy flip flops to try and stand my corn stalks upright again, but to no avail. Several of my plants—the ones I have been nurturing since they were seedlings—were beyond repair.
My dad reminded me that while gardening, you have to be easygoing. Sometimes, external forces set back your progress, whether it's pest pressure or crazy weather. Though a lot of work goes into building a beautiful garden, just know it is okay to accept a few setbacks that are out of your control.
Though a lot of work goes into building a beautiful garden, just know it is okay to accept a few setbacks that are out of your control.
Remind Yourself of the Reward
There were so many times that I visited my garden, stared at my unripe tomatoes and tiny eggplants, and wondered when in the world they were going to flourish—allowing me to make them into a delicious eggplant parm. I spent many sweaty days showering, pruning, and tending to the plants, feeling like the reward was miles and miles away.
But, it’s important to remember that the reward is coming, and it comes with patience and dedication. Actually, gardening has taught me a lot of patience. As life can be all about the rush and the completion of projects, gardening is an ongoing process that you are always learning from. Plus, having your hard work pay off and enjoying fresh food alongside the ones you love is pretty great, too.