I Always Follow My Great-Grandma’s 100-Year-Old Gardening Method (It’s Never Failed Me!)

published Jun 3, 2024
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When you’re gardening, a lot of things can go wrong — from too much sun, to not enough light, to random spots on leaves (and you have no idea what they are). Of course, having a quick and easy fix for every issue would be great, but that’s not realistic. As a green thumb myself, I’ve found the best way to set up my garden for success is by using my great-grandmother’s guide for precision planting. 

My great-grandmother, Sallie Grace Gholson, was a force to be reckoned with. Born in 1892, she lived and worked on a farm in southeastern Illinois. Like many of her generation, Sallie weathered The Great Depression while tending to the rows of her vegetable garden, making sure her husband and children had food to eat.

Although Sallie passed 21 years before I was born, her legacy looms large in our family. Stories about her garden, with its clean, straight rows, reflected her affinity for order. No plant was out of place, and no weed dared to appear where she meticulously tended her vegetables. As I grew to love horticulture, I’d often rely on her precise methodology and timeless gardening advice.  

Sallie’s tried-and-true method that my family has used for over 100 years has three main tips: Plant with a plan, be precise, and use the right tools.

Plant with a Plan in Mind

Sallie meticulously planned her planting schedules based on seasonal changes and lunar cycles. She decided what to plant and when based on harvest timing — specifically for late-season crops. To do this yourself, you need to determine your first frost date in the fall before you start planting. From there, follow these guidelines for some common crops.

  • 6 to 8 weeks before the first frost, plant mustard greens and arugula for a harvest within 30 days.
  • 8 to 10 weeks before the first frost, plant turnips and radishes for a harvest in around 50 days.
  • 10 to 12 weeks before the first frost, plant carrots, beets, and kale to harvest in around 80 days. 
  • 12 to 14 weeks before the first frost, plant cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower to harvest within 90 to 120 days. 

While there’s no scientific backing for lunar planting, some farmers and gardeners believe the moon’s gravity, which is the main cause of ocean tides, also pulls moisture in the soil closer to the surface. According to this line of thinking, a waxing moon (growing from new to full moon) is thought to be best for above-ground crops, like tomatoes or beans, while the waning phase (shrinking from full to new moon) is ideal for starting root crops, like carrots or potatoes. 

I also loosely follow this lunar method when I begin planting my flower garden in April through the last round of seasonal planting in August. To do so too, try planting your annuals and biennial flowers when the moon is waxing, as some gardeners believe this can make them grow faster. Planting your perennials during a waning moon is thought to allow the energy to collect around perennial roots, helping them grow strong from the root system up. 

Even if you follow the lunar method for nothing more than a schedule, having a plan will keep you from getting overwhelmed about what to plant and when.

Precision Is Your Friend

Once you know what you want to plant, use stakes and string or a garden hoe to keep your rows straight — no “chaos gardening” here! My great-grandmother could eyeball it, but until you age into that wisdom, tools are key.  

Planting a garden, veggie or otherwise, in an orderly fashion offers many practical benefits. Organized rows simplify weeding, pruning, and watering, ensuring each plant receives proper care. This systematic approach aids in the early detection of pests and diseases. Additionally, clear pathways streamline the harvesting process, making gathering produce quicker and more efficient, as you won’t have to contend with weeds and messy rows.

You also need to create a consistent watering schedule and be meticulous with daily garden care, which will be easier, thanks to your organized crops! If you notice a plant looks off, check for common problems like pests, nutrient deficiencies, or improper watering. For instance, yellow leaves might indicate overwatering or a need for more nitrogen in the soil.

Use the Right Tools

As my great-grandmother knew well, using basic gardening tools effectively makes your gardening experience easier and more enjoyable. And take good care of them! To Sallie, a sharp garden hoe was as essential as watering the plants in the garden. If you’re not sure what you need, start with the basics.

  • Garden hoe: This tool is ideal for breaking up soil, weeding, and creating furrows for planting. Use a push-pull motion to remove weeds and loosen soil around plants. Don’t forget to sharpen your hoe for the best results.
  • Hand trowel: This tool is perfect for small digging tasks, such as planting seedlings and bulbs. It can scoop out soil, dig small holes, and mix fertilizers into the soil.
  • Pruning shears: Trim and shape plants, remove dead or damaged branches, and encourage healthy growth with sharp shears. Make clean cuts at a slight angle to prevent disease and promote quick plant healing.
  • Garden fork: This tool is useful for turning over soil, breaking up clumps, and turning compost into the soil around your plants. Insert the fork into the soil, lift or turn it to aerate, and prepare the ground for planting.
  • Watering hose: A hose is a must-have for a full-fledged vegetable garden. Make sure to distribute water evenly and don’t miss any plants. Water from the bottom, not over the top of the plants. Also, water early in the morning to minimize evaporation and prevent disease.

My garden has benefitted over the years by following my great-grandmother’s time-tested advice, and now, hopefully, it can help anyone who isn’t sure where to start (and wants a fruitful garden!).