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September 05, 2023

5 Lessons I Learned As A Novice Gardener

By Heidi Herald, Public Services Librarian

In 2019, HEPL (Hamilton East Public Library) opened the Seed Library, which allows patrons to select seeds to grow in their gardens or in pots. The Seed Library has flower, fruit/vegetable, and herb seeds available that are carefully selected and include many native plants. Many library patrons have been inspired to start a garden and have developed a new skill! Whether you are a seasoned gardener or starting your first garden, there is something for you. It is a little too late in the year to start a garden, however there are some fall crops you may still be able to start and some seeds (especially native plants) that can be planted in the fall and will come up the next spring.

My family had vegetable gardens when I was growing up, however, as an adult, I have had flower beds and have raised vegetables in pots. I decided to put in a raised garden bed in 2021 and have been trying to grow vegetables (with very mixed results) over the last few years. Here are some of the things I have learned as a novice gardener, some things that worked and some things that did not.

1 – Fence your garden

If you have rabbits or other small animals around, I highly recommend a fence around your garden. The first year I had my garden, I did not have a fence, and many of my crops were lost to animals. Unless you are planting a garden to feed the local wildlife, find a way to keep them out of your garden! You can buy fencing at any local home and garden store for reasonable prices.

2 – Planning goes a long way

Plan your garden carefully and do not grow tons of viny things at the same time—especially without trellises! I grew zucchini, spaghetti squash, gourds, and pumpkins all in one year. It was out of control and grew over my fence halfway across my neighbor’s yard. Luckily, they were good sports about it and wanted to see what would grow. The harvest was bountiful, but it was a viny mess! I just got so caught up in the idea of growing beautiful pumpkins, squashes, and gourds that I did not stop and think through the implications of planting all of it at once!


3 – Try winter sowing

This year (inspired by my coworker Kathy Sasseman’s winter sowing program), I tried winter sowing, and it was a game-changer! The first year, I tried to start seeds inside but did not have much luck. Winter sowing was so easy! I collected milk jugs and then was able to get quite a few from a local coffee shop. I have a potting bench in my garage that made this process much easier. I recommend setting up a potting bench or old table in your garage to help put your winter sowing jugs together. I started this process around the end of February. Here are some of the 44 jugs I put out this year.

I just followed the directions from Kathy’s program and put them outside in my garden. I let them be for most of the winter and when it warmed up in spring, I gave them a little water from time to time when they felt light. Almost all my seeds sprouted and grew well!

4 – Experiment carefully

If you want to, experiment–but do your research first. I love to eat things from my garden, but I also love to experiment with new plants. This year, I randomly planted some artichoke seeds I found in my cabinet. They grew, but I do not think I will be getting any artichokes this year, unless they grow extremely quickly. There is a way to grow artichokes in Indiana, but it is a little difficult, and I failed to do my research and just planted the seeds to see what would happen.

5 – Watch out for pests

Finally, treat for pests or disease when necessary! This year, I lost all my zucchini and spaghetti squash to squash bugs or beetles. I did not notice the damage until it was too late and then lost my favorite crops. It has been a busy year for me, and I have not found the time I need to devote to my garden this year! So, I am hoping for a better gardening year next year.

Fruits of My Labor

I have had exciting successes as well this year. My eggplants, okra, and assorted peppers and tomatoes are doing great! I also have a lot of native flowers that I winter sowed and planted in my flower beds.


I sautéed one of my Ping Tung eggplants and seasoned with garlic, red pepper, and soy sauce. I also fried okra with a recipe from one of my cookbooks. In addition, I may try out this recipe for my Ping Tung eggplant harvest or this recipe for fried okra. I have also included a picture of spaghetti squash and basil from my garden last year.


One of the natural outcomes of gardening is sharing with others. Over the past few years, I have shared vegetables with my neighbors and coworkers. Because I winter sowed so many seeds this year, I was able to share plants with friends and neighbors. Here are some native plants on my porch, ready for my neighbor to pick up!

One last thing – have fun, enjoy your bounty and knowing that what feels like a mistake is a learning opportunity–knowledge that you will use in all the gardening years to come! Happy Gardening!