Growing Your Own Food & Every Mistake in the Book.

One of the first steps to pursuing my dreams of becoming an organic farmer has been jumping head first into research. I can’t get my hands on enough information: from books, to websites, to conversations with farmers. I submerse myself in every farm term, tip, hint, or idea I can find, drinking it all up as if I can somehow find the way.

You know, the error-free, perfectionist avenue to farming.

Vegetable Seedlings / from

Let’s skip ahead and dash that nonsense away. I haven’t purchased farm land yet, but I can already tell you: there is no perfect way to farm or grow your own food. In actuality, I’ve made more mistakes than I haven’t in the past few months (and this is a common confession from gardeners, homesteaders, and farmers alike!)

Little Gem Lettuce Seedlings / from

No matter how small the seed, don’t plant more than 1-3 seeds per soil block.
Despite reading this tip four million and six times (to be precise), I took one look at my lettuce seeds and decided to drop 8-10 seeds in each soil block. They were so itty bitty teeny tiny! A few days later, I had attack of the lettuce beast on my hands. And now, a few months later, my indoor lettuce seedlings have all bid adieu to this sweet world.

Mushrooms in Lettuce Seedlings / from

When it’s time to transplant / up-pot, choose your location wisely!
Once my seedlings formed true leaves, I was eager to start transplanting / up-potting. I thought I’d be a great seedling mom and bring them outdoors for a bit of fresh air while I up-potted. It was quite the magical day… so magical that mushrooms started sprouting. By up-potting outdoors, I exposed my soil to mushroom spores in the air, and voilà!

Calabrese Broccoli Seedlings / from

Seeds need warmth to germinate, and light to grow.
I created a nice, warm environment for my seedlings, keeping them on a heating pad that cycled on-and-off every 30 minutes. Most of the seeds germinated within 2-4 days, yet I kept the heating pad going for weeks. I started noticing excessive growth in spots, and wilting in others. A quick internet search quickly reminded me: shut the heat off after germination. Sorry, Calabrese broccoli. I got a little cray cray.

Macro Squash Seedling Leaf / from

Always know what your growing plants need.
When my summer squash plants started growing to large heights, I became convinced they needed stakes. I shoved some stakes in the soil, then began to scratch my head a few days later when I noticed wilting and weakening stems. Oh, that’s right… my squash will grow in a bush, not vertically. Talk about a revelation.

Vegetable Seedlings in Peat Pots / from

Always use the right type of soil at the right time.
If you research what soil to use and when for organic farming, you get mixed messages. One message that is clear is: don’t use garden soil with young seedlings. Most books and farm websites promote using seed starting mix, or an organic mix of your own. Once again, my excitement got the best of me and I first transplanted my seedlings into what? That’s right, garden soil. Their once again wilting leaves made me realize my error.

Despite all of my mistakes in gardening so far, my seedlings are beautiful plants that are thriving (for now). This past weekend, I dirtied my hands and made my back sore with a few hours of transplanting to larger pots. The plants have stretched their leaves and brightened up, so joyful to just exist in their natural environment.

Mother Nature, you’re pretty forgiving.

Do you have a green thumb or are you self-taught?
What funny mistakes have you made while pursuing dreams?

{shared on the Jack of All Trades link-up}

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  • The Cutter

    I do not have a green thumb. The wife has a garden, and last year results were mixed

    • Caitlin | The Siren’s Tale

      It seems to be a different game for everyone. Some reap the benefits, some wonder why they wasted the money! Hoping your wife has nice results this spring/summer/fall.

  • Andrea

    Ah, I can relate. It can be hard to do everything the ‘right’ way, and I do so much research that my head sometimes feels like it’s going to explode. I know it’s cliche, but in gardening, learning really IS doing. I’ve had to learn many lessons the hard way! I LOVE the photos in this post. Hope your seedlings keep plugging happily away!

    • Caitlin | The Siren’s Tale

      Andrea, YES! I tend to over-research some of the topics, and my head just spins recklessly. You’re so right about learning = doing when in gardening. At least these hard lessons will result in easier growing, year after year!

      Thanks so much for your kindness :)

  • jolynnpowers

    whoo I am so proud of you and all of your mistakes.. learning is so much fun even if things do not turn out the way you planed

    • Caitlin | The Siren’s Tale

      Thanks Jolynn! I’ve had a lot of fun with the mistakes because they teach me something new every time :)

  • Sarah | For the Love of Chow

    You seem to be learning a ton! I swear year after year I just throw stuff in the ground and hope for the best. This year I want to focus on feeding my plants. Especially my tomatoes. It’s a tough climate to grow in Texas, and I need to give my plants more love.

    One year I didn’t thin my cucumbers – “they can all live” I naively said. The cucumber jungle ended up killing itself and taking everything else down with it. Live and learn!

    • Caitlin | The Siren’s Tale

      It’s funny, even though I reference this year as my ‘trial year’ with growing food, I’m really holding myself to the standards I will once I have the farm up and running. I’m adding stress to it that I don’t need to, but I keep reminding myself that means when the farm is purchased I’ll be able to start selling to the community that much quicker!

      That’s too funny about your cucumbers — I just purchased materials to make a DIY trellis for them, and am hoping they don’t attempt to take over the whole garden area!

      I’m playing the limbo game with feeding right now. Some of my plants (melon, squash, and peppers) are starting to loose their brightness, so I’m pretty sure they are begging for fertilizer! Last week some of my tomato plants looked a bit “off”… after a dose of organic fertilizer, they are back to growing strong. I can only imagine how hard it is to grow in Texas with all that dry heat. Here’s hoping for calm summer seasons for TX and MA!

  • Michelle at The Green Study

    I’ve been gardening for many years and I’m still learning. For me, this is a boon, because the learning and the process is where the joy comes in. I hope that I never do it perfectly. I’d have to quit then.

    • Caitlin | The Siren’s Tale

      Great point, Michelle! Even though some of the mistakes have temporarily stressed me out, I continue to remind myself that I’m learning every day, and every day I’ll be a bit closer to defining “my process”. And you’re so right, there is no perfect way of doing it — if there was, the fun would be gone!

  • Jennifer’s Journal

    I wish I had a green thumb. :(

    • Kim Fernando

      I want to grow my own food so bad! My husband and I got our first basil plant this year, and it did great until we left town for a week. I couldn’t bring it back to life after that. My next goal is to learn what plants thrive in apartment windowsill gardening and find the right time to give it another go! Also, your post reminded me of something I read today about farmers doing the hard work to till the soil and plant the seeds but the harvest being in God’s hands. So true! The waiting and watching is the hardest part. 😉

    • Caitlin | The Siren’s Tale

      Aww! I definitely don’t have one either. I’ve killed anything I’ve tried to plant up until now, but slowly, slowly, slowly – my thumb is starting to at least be yellow, haha.

  • Emily Grace

    I’m a bit of green thumb and a bit of “learned the hard way.” It makes for a mostly successful garden…which is currently not well kept. I’ve got to get out there and weed!

    • Caitlin | The Siren’s Tale

      Natural talent + learned talent = sure way to be successful :) Good luck with weeding out your garden!

  • Ayu Nurwahida

    I love your post! I’ve always wanted to grow my own food, it’d be pretty fun! Love these tips, thank you very much for sharing. :)

    • Caitlin | The Siren’s Tale

      Thank you, Ayu! So glad the post was helpful. Hope you can grow your own food soon too!

  • Amanda

    I don’t know what type of thumb I have. Ha! I’ve never actually tried growing anything. Although I’ve been thinking about getting some pots and planting some herbs. Who says I can’t grow stuff just because I live in an apartment and don’t have a yard or a useful windowsill?

    • Caitlin | The Siren’s Tale

      Herbs sound like a great thing to plant in your apartment! In my last apartment, I was in the same boat — no yard, no useful windowsill, etc. I started growing a few things from leftovers (celery and green onions are two). You literally throw chopped ends in some water in a cup, make sure it’s getting some sun, and boom — your celery and green onions will act like starfish and regenerate!

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  • griperang

    Stopping by from Jack of All Trades – I really enjoyed your post. My husband and I are in the process of starting our own aquaponics garden so I totally understand what you are saying, thank you for sharing

    • Caitlin | The Siren’s Tale

      Thank you! Best of luck to you with your garden :)

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  • thesimplylivingblog

    Caitlin this is amazing! I’ve been contemplating for the longest time to start living a more self sustained life and growing my own food! I’ve only started with growing my own herbs and seeing how that goes, but I would love to start having vegetables that I grew myself! (I’m terrified that I won’t grow anything right though!) I will definitely be coming back to some of these tips you have for advice! :)

    • Caitlin

      Thank you so much! Herbs are a great place to start with becoming more sustainable. I started growing indoor herbs a few years ago, and it’s wonderful using them in recipes + home remedies! It definitely can be scary when growing your own veggies, I’ve been convinced I’m ruining everything. But yesterday I spotted my first squash growing (organically), so it can be done + easily! I’m going to do a post soon about what steps to take to “set-up” an organic growing area… hopefully that will be helpful :)

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  • the dune mouse (CybeleMoon)

    sweet photos Caitlin and some good advice. I only have a littledeck garden ton which to grow a few edibles, herbs and tomatoes!!!

  • Susannah

    Thanks for these tips. They’ll definitely come in handy when I FINALLY have a garden!

  • Green Door Hospitality

    We are TOTALLY on the same page (as before popping onto the blogging world today, I was busy creating my “Homesteading Curriculum” One Note Binder. I have finally decided that I need to tackle this like I would school. Study different subjects, take careful notes, build a plan.

    If you haven’t already, check out Geoff Lawton. He has a series of free Permaculture videos — as well as a not-free course you can take that also includes them helping you with your farm plan.

    Jess :-)

  • Charley

    The best part about gardening is that all the lessons you learn can be applied to life :) No, really 😀 You are doing a great job and even the best gardeners learn that plants never read those books you did and will do their own thing anyhow!!

  • the Painted Apron

    I look forward to learning from you, I tend to kill everything :)

  • Chantel Klassen (@aharvestofbless)

    I have zero tips to add to this cause I kill everything but you totally inspire me!! We have our house up for sale right now, it’s impossible to grow anything in our clay soil so I’m really hoping next year I can start a nice garden in some beautiful soil. Then I will come and steal all your knowledge. :)

  • Caitlin | The Siren’s Tale

    So true, Charley! Gardening has definitely taught me patience and faith, which are things we all can use in our day-to-day lives :)

    Thanks for the kind words and support!

  • Caitlin | The Siren’s Tale

    Thank you! Herbs and tomatoes, yum :) I tried starting some herbs indoors and they quickly perished. Any tips for growing nice herbs? So far they seem to be my weakness.

  • Caitlin | The Siren’s Tale

    Hope you can have a garden soon, Susannah! Originally, the plan was to have everything in raised beds, but now I’m switching to container plants for this year. (I share a backyard and can’t set-up enough space for the raised beds.)

    So far, things have been thriving well in the containers! That might be an in-between remedy until you have a bigger backyard :)

  • Caitlin | The Siren’s Tale

    Oooh, a homesteading curriculum binder? That sounds amazing! Once you have it compiled, you should make it into an e-book and sell it through your blog :) I’d definitely purchase a copy!

    I have never heard of Geoff Lawton. Thank you for letting me know about him! I’m going to check out his website now :)

  • Caitlin | The Siren’s Tale

    LOL, that’s been my track record up until this growing season too. Here’s hoping I can continue making these little organic seed babies thrive, and continue to pass on messages that can help others!

  • Caitlin | The Siren’s Tale

    Chantel, your comment made me laugh so hard (the bit about zero tips)! Thank you for the kind words :)

    I am going to keep my fingers crossed that you find a nice new home, and get everything you need from the house sale. I will gladly give up any knowledge / tips I have to help get your new garden started!