Encouragement for gardeners

Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
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Sometimes a gardener needs fertilizer, sometimes they need compost, sometimes they need better weather, and usually they need fewer weeds. But sometimes what a gardener needs is encouragement. Why, you may ask, do some gardeners need encouragement? Mr. Potato Head will tell you why. I received a series of e-mail messages this week from a discouraged gardener. It was a good reminder of how it feels when a garden project goes badly. I offered my usual advice about how to keep things simple, lower the work level and enjoy a few fresh veggies. The person seemed grateful and hopefully their garden will be a positive experience for them this year. I certainly understand discouragement. Much of the little bit I know about gardening comes from my doing it wrong. Learning from mistakes is a difficult but effective way to learn. The wise among us are able to learn from others' mistakes. So, I offer you the story of my first garden. Please learn from my mistakes.

I was 22 years old and living in a low-rent apartment. It had been a long winter, when spring arrived I was ready to be outdoors. A group of folks from the apartment complex got together and decided to plan a community garden. We each could have a small garden plot. Great! I immediately began to buy seeds. I wanted flowers, peas, radishes, lettuce, beans, sweet corn and watermelons. I had a 10- by 14-foot plot and I planted enough stuff for a garden ten times the size of mine! I thought that if fertilizer was good, lots of fertilizer was better. And everything was planted so close together that it was impossible to tell the weeds from the vegetables. It soon became a nasty, over-grown, weedy mess. And I didn't have time to fix it. What did Mr. Potato Head do next? I gave up!

What did I do wrong? It is a long list. Basically I tried to do too much. I wanted too many things, I didn't have enough space, and I ignored all the directions on those little packages of seeds. My garden started with a burst of energy and enthusiasm and ended with a weedy mess. I was discouraged. Dear readers, don't make the same mistake.

Plan a small garden, plant your favorites, keep it simple and minimize the hassle. Know that what a garden needs is a little bit of work, not too much. But it will need it on a regular basis. "Set it and forget it!" may work for the cookers that they sell on TV, but it isn't going to work for your garden. The time to plant is now. The soils are warmer and dry enough to prepare a seed bed. Try to make it fun and include the kids if you have kids at your house. Remember, Mr. Potato Head is pulling for you. We're all in this together! Write if you have questions, comments or want to brag about your garden.

If you have gardening questions or suggestions for Mr. Potato Head please e-mail him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Mr. Potato Head is Stearns County Master Gardener and Kimball resident Rick Ellis.