Defying the Rules of Gardening

Seedlings in the greenhouse

One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone tells me “you can’t do that.” Haha yes, I know that makes me stubborn, but it has also fueled so many things I’ve accomplished in my life. The garden is no exception. There are so many rules of gardening out there that when you really dig into them, they contradict each other. That is really frustrating for a new gardener and often it stops them before they even get started. Do you feel this way about gardening? Are you afraid to try a new plant or variety because people say you can’t? Keep reading to find out why I say throw away all of the gardening rules books and just start planting.

The market garden vs. the kitchen garden

I like to define my garden as a kitchen garden. Some day I might have a market garden, but that is not on the books for the time being. What is actually the difference? Well, the kitchen garden is meant to be exactly what it states, the extension of your kitchen. In old homesteads it was actually attached to the kitchen, you could walk out your back door straight into the garden to collect all the herbs, lettuce, tomatoes, peas, beans, etc. you needed for dinner that night. Our garden is not attached to the kitchen, but being able to gather everything you need for a single meal in one basket is so satisfying. The only “rules” I follow in my garden are for the purpose of creating quality produce.

We make it a game at dinner time to list all of the things we grew or raised ourselves that are on the table. The kids love it and it teaches them to appreciate where their food comes from.

A market garden also describes itself, it is a garden for the purpose of marketing. Market gardens definitely have rules to follow because production, growing what the consumer wants, and quality are important. Market gardens are important for the world and I do not deny that by following the rules they are more successful. My focus here is on the home gardener that just wants to grow a little extra for their family.

Why don’t I follow the rules?

Simply put gardening rules are meant for production. While I do like my garden to produce, a lot, I also enjoy experimenting. If I had followed all of the rules I would not have

  • tasted my first fresh okra,
  • successfully direct sowed my entire garden for 3 years,
  • tasted fava beans,
  • grown dahlias for 4 years without ever digging them up,
  • grown cranberries,
  • and so many more things that are unusual for my area.

It’s about enjoyment.

The biggest reason I choose to “defy” the rules of gardening is that I just want to be able to enjoy my garden. All too often I see people who don’t plant a garden because they start doing the research and realize it’s just way too complicated. They don’t have the time to read all of the gardening books and blogs. The reality is it’s as simple as seed, soil, light, and water. If you want to grow it then just give it a try. Seeds are relatively inexpensive and are a great way for you or your kids to learn. MIGardener is one of the best-priced and small family-owned seed companies I know of, go check them out here. A household with a kitchen garden no matter how big or small should feel happy about what they are growing. If you get too bogged down by rules you won’t feel ready to get started ever and often feel defeated when things don’t produce as much or as soon as others.

How do I know what’s the right thing to do?

The simplest way to be sure you will get seeds to grow and be productive is to read the seed packet. I highly recommend sourcing your seeds from a reputable seed company like MIGardener, Baker Creek, Uprising Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange, etc. this way you know you are purchasing a good quality seed that will germinate. Germination is never 100% so planting a bit more than what you need is usually a good idea (not a rule). Seed companies put a lot of effort into the descriptions on their seed packets and they of all people know best how that specific seed should be grown. Although remember a seed needs light, water, and soil to grow.

* Old Frontier Family Farm is a participant in some affiliate programs, these programs do not charge you extra but allow us to make a small commission to help support our small family farm, we thank you for your support.

Remember that your first garden is a classroom as much as it is a place for your groceries to grow.

-Jessica Sowards, The First-Time Gardener: Growing Vegetables

What do I plant?

Plant what you like to eat! Start by just thinking about those things that you and your family love and purchase regularly from the store. I know some families who grow nothing but kale because they love green smoothies and buying pounds of kale weekly adds up quickly. Lettuce for salads is often a great way to start, and herbs that you use regularly can easily be dried and stored over winter. Tomatoes are one of the big ones everyone wants to try because there is nothing that compares to a homegrown tomato, but I caution that tomatoes are not the easiest plant to grow (depending on where you live). Grow them if you want to, but if you are looking for simplicity try thinking outside the box.

Gardening rules do have a purpose

I absolutely believe rules in the garden do have a place. There are many rules I follow myself, and I have even created myself because gardens are as individual as their owner’s DNA. You can find my list of favorite gardening books on (*affiliate link). I LOVE reading gardening books, I love absorbing new information and using it in different ways to make my garden successful. I think if you are passionate about gardening you should research as well, but experience will always outperform book knowledge.

The Solution to Gardening Rules

Do not let gardening rules, books, blogs, videos discourage you from planting a garden. Everyone should experience the joy that comes from eating produce you have grown yourself. Even if you cannot grow enough to fulfill your family’s grocery needs it is worth the satisfaction of growing some of your own food. Make it simple, if you are looking for simple guidelines, then find guidelines you can easily follow within your budget, time allowance, and space available. Growing the perfect garden is not as simple as light, soil, and water, but all great gardeners will tell you they got started by embracing that kind of simplicity. So get out there today and plant something!

What are things you are afraid of in the garden? Ask questions below!

Link to Jessica Soward’s book The First-Time Gardener: Growing Vegetables. (*affiliate link)



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