Whether you’ve been gardening for decades, or you’re still figuring out which end of the hoe to use, everyone can use some expert advice from time to time. In Wisconsin, there is a UW Extension horticulture educator or agriculture agent  serving each of the state’s 72 counties. Erin LaFaive  is the horticulture educator for Eau Claire County, and she especially enjoys working with people who are just getting started as gardeners. “I really like to walk them through the process,” LaFaive says, “and encourage them to keep trying, even if things don’t go the way they expect the first time around.”
But what do first time gardeners need to keep in mind? LaFaive says the biggest piece of advice she can share is to start much smaller than you think you want to. “It’s just like when we’re eating and our eyes are bigger than our stomachs,” she says. “Sometimes that happens when we’re putting in gardens, too. We have these great visions of what we want to do, and then we put them in, and we realize that we didn’t take into account [the rest of] our lives.” Family duties, our work, and a variety of other commitments may mean less time in the garden than we thought we’d have. Tasks like watering and weeding can be time consuming, and need to be done regularly. So LaFaive says “Start small. You can always expand if you feel that you were successful, and you can handle that in terms of your time and the money needed.”
While growing your own vegetables and fruits can be a money saver in the long run, there are some expenses up front. Some basic tools and equipment are necessary, and you’ll need seeds of transplants to get started. Raised garden beds  can save you some time because they are a more controlled area, but you’ll need to either buy or repurpose lumber and hardware to build them. A timer on your watering system carries a small price tag but is a great addition, and you don’t have to have as good a memory. LaFaive recommends networking with others in your area to see if they have extra soil or materials to give away, or maybe equipment to loan out.
The people gardening around you can be a great knowledge resource as well. People near to where you’re growing, “your micro-environment,” as LaFaive calls it, can help you find out what pests are active in that season, what varieties seem to do well or not, and if there have been any diseases circulating as well.
Even if you take advantage of time-saving gardening tricks, you still want to be out there every day if possible. LaFaive says for an average garden, you’ll want to plan on about five hours a week of maintenance. But besides that work time, she spends about twenty minutes every day just walking through the garden and seeing what’s going on. Besides watering and weeding as needed, you’ll also see the first signs of disease or pests. That gives you a better chance at fixing the problem before it gets too serious.
There are many resources available for both experienced and novice gardeners. The UW Extension's Learning Store has over two hundred lawn and garden publications  covering a wide range of topics. In addition, the services of the UW Plant Disease Diagnostic Lab  and the UW Insect Diagnostic Lab  are available to gardeners.