We planted our first vegetable garden this year. It’s been an incredible journey watching our tiny seedlings and seeds transform into delicious vegetables. I fell so in love with our plants that it was difficult to kill pick them and then *gulp* eat them! But in the end, it was so worth it. The tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and eggplant that we’ve harvested have been — far & away — the most fresh, crisp, and tasty veggies I’ve ever eaten.

I’ve learned a lot through the process. Here are the 7 most important lessons that my first garden taught me.

1. Accept help.
I wanted to plant the garden myself. My stubborn Taurus-streak reared its ugly head. Although Matthew offered to help, I was convinced I could do it on my own. I raised the shovel up high, plunged it toward the earth with all my might, and CRACK! It was as if I’d hit concrete. It took me a few seconds to realize that I hadn’t — in fact — shattered all of the bones in my body. I shook it off and tried a few other locations, hoping to locate a softer spot… no luck.

Eventually, I retreated into the house with my tail between my legs. An hour later, Matthew and his 6’5″ frame along with a heavy construction pick, had made easy work of the garden.

What I realized is that I should have welcomed his assistance in the first place. He has experience digging in our yard and digging in general. I have no experience with either. No matter what you are tackling — be it professional, personal, or anything — never be afraid to ask for help and take it. There is always someone out there who can help. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength! It’s not always knowing the answer (or having the skill) but it’s knowing who to ask. Having the confidence to know ask for help when you need it is both brave & wise.

2. Don’t neglect critical tools. (Even if that means postponing your plans!)
Before planting the garden, we took a trip to the garden center where my uncle works. We got fertilizer (organic manure) and seedlings. We also purchased the one item that my uncle recommended most highly — a drop cloth to keep the weeds down. Unfortunately, while we were loading my truck, we left the drop cloth behind. By the time we got home, I was so excited to start the garden that I decided to move ahead without the drop cloth. What a mistake.

In the beginning it didn’t seem like such a big deal, but a couple of months in and I now realize that this was my biggest mistake. The weeds in the garden got completely out of control. Despite my pathetic efforts at weeding, the weeds thrived — in some places even mores than the veggies!

Lesson: If you forget something important, go back and get it. And, be more careful while loading the truck! Check and double-check anytime that you are acquiring critical tools to accomplish your task.

3. Protect the treasure.
Our backyard borders a state forest. It happens to have the greatest concentration of hiking trails in New Jersey and it also happens to have one of the largest populations of wild animals in the state. We get all sorts of lovely critters around here including bears, deer, rabbits, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, squirrels, all kinds of birds, and much more. It’s always an adventure and we love it! However, when you’re raising delicious vegetables in your backyard, it’s war. It’s you against the hungry animals.

Luckily the previous owners had left a big mess of chicken wire up in our shed. Matthew — the handyman — crafted the wire into a high fence. The fence made getting in and out of the garden a bit more challenging for us, but it was completely worth it! The entire garden existed safe & sound through the summer.

Whatever you’re getting yourself into, take the necessary steps to secure & protect your assets.

4. Protect yourself.
While tending to and protecting your treasure, it’s also important to protect yourself! Since we didn’t lay a drop cloth, the weeds were a constant issue. One day, after it had gotten really bad, I decided to venture into the garden and pull the weeds. The weeds consisted mainly of wild clover & thick-blade grasses. I did my best to pull out each pest by its roots. I felt great when I was finished. Now my precious plants could breathe again.

Problem was, two days later & I was the one having trouble breathing. The red blotches appeared slowly. A couple of small, itchy patches on my arm & cheek. By the third day I was completely covered. Thick, dark, red welts throbbed across my entire face & eyes, my arms, in between my fingers, and even on my thighs! It was the first time in my life that I ever had poison ivy. What a miserable experience! Next time I go “a-weeding” I will: a. use gloves and b. take a hot shower with soap immediately after.

Sometimes, we get so excited or frustrated about the task at hand, that we forget to take care of ourselves during the process. Whatever you are trying to accomplish, make sure that you aren’t neglecting yourself along the way–that means your mind, your body, & your soul.

5. Patience is a virtue.
Just like a watched pot never boils, so it goes with the garden. At first, I was so eager to eat my own home-grown vegetables that I forgot to slow down & enjoy the process. When I stopped focusing on the destination (veggies) and enjoyed the journey (gardening), I was able to truly appreciate the miracle that was taking place. Nourishing food was growing before my eyes, by my own hands, from out of little tiny seeds! Being patient paid off and before we knew it we were harvesting more tomatoes than we knew what to do with.

Success is as much about the journey as it is about the destination. Slow down, be mindful, and enjoy the tiny miracles that unfold before you every day.

6. Create a healthy, stable environment.
Great things require a stable environment to flourish. The most important thing in gardening is to make sure that your plants get enough water & enough sunlight. It’s simple enough, but when you’re exhausted after a long day at work, you don’t always feel like pulling out the hose & watering everything in sight. It’s amazing how much water those things can soak up! But if you want the treasure, you’ve got to work for it. When you take the first mouthwatering bite, you’ll know that it was worth it.

The secret of success is consistency of purpose. โ€”Benjamin Disraeli

Whether you are growing a business, a relationship, or a houseplant, consistency of purpose is critical. Never forget what you are doing and why.

7. Location, location, location.
When I was in high school, one of my favorite teachers said something that I’ve never forgotten. He said that the success of any restaurant or commercial business depends on three key factors: 1. location, 2. location, and 3. location. He was entirely convinced that location and nothing else is responsible for making or breaking a business.

Now, many years later, I tend to think that there are a few other key factors involved, like quality product, customer service, and so on. But, I still believe that location is extremely important. When we decided on the location for our garden we were looking for three things. First, because we are on a mountain, the soil quality is very poor & washed-out in places. So we had to look for an area that had at least decent soil quality. Second, we have a lot of trees in our yard, so we had to find a place that gets lots of direct sunlight. And third, we wanted to keep the garden as close to the house as possible in an effort to keep the critters away.

We considered these aspects and landed on a perfect location for our garden. It’s not always possible to score your dream locale, especially as a young person or a new entrepreneur, but it’s important to aim for the best and prioritize what really matters. Sometimes you have to sacrifice another element of your business or location search in order to secure the location that you’re after. It’s up to you to determine if it will be worth it in the long run.

Having my first garden has been so much fun & has taught me a lot — not just about “green-thumbing”, but also about life. There are lessons tucked away in all of our daily tasks. It’s up to us to seek them out & learn from them.

Have you ever planted a garden? Did you learn as much as I did? ๐Ÿ˜‰

13 thoughts on “7 Life Lessons from My First Garden”

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  11. Dena, I laughed out loud when I read this & it reminds me so much of the first time I tackled a vegetable garden on my own (three years ago now; can you believe I have been with Jonathan for three years?!)

    I am so proud of you. Each year, you’ll expand & learn to grow more & more. It is so rewarding to grow your own food.

    P.S. I wish I was headed to Paris with you ๐Ÿ˜ Have fun & travel safely.

    1. @ Kristin – I can not believe you have been with Jonathan for three years! It is amazing, this winter, Matthew & I will be four years. It’s bizarre.

      Having a garden this year was so much fun. I actually just finished eating dinner with a salad and tomatoes from our garden. There is nothing like it in the world!

      The closer I get to leaving for Paris, the more excited I am but it really would be lovely to have you with me. Perhaps we could still plan something for 2011? Maybe even the four of us? Italy, Belgium, Amsterdam? Possibilities are endless! Love you.

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