I’ve been thinking about failures a lot lately.
Two weeks ago, I noticed a strange and unpleasant odor coming from our enclosed porch. Since my brother had just come to stay with us and was sleeping in that room, I (unkindly) assumed the odor had something to do with him. I made him wash all his laundry again and check through all his stuff for that container of old, uneaten food I thought I smelled. And for the first two days that week, I scoured the house for the source of The Smell, puzzling as the sickly, rotten food odor grew stronger almost by the hour.
Suddenly, on the afternoon of day 2, I stopped. With nausea worse than that induced by The Smell washing over me, I walked slowly to the big upright freezer that lives in the enclosed porch, and opened the door.
As the putrid scent of rotting meat washed over me, I stared at my carefully collected stockpiles. Grass-fed beef and lamb, sustainably raised pork, all bought in bulk from local farmers, carefully stored, and lovingly cooked, stretched, and savored. Ten gallons of strawberries, picked with two young children in the hot sun, patiently processed and frozen, waiting to bring sunshine in the form of crepes or smoothies to some dark winter day.
So as I’m picking blueberries to put into my (now very clean) freezer, I’m thinking about mistakes, and about lessons learned.
But this post is about gardening, not about my freezer incident or any of the other smaller failures in my life since then.
See, as I was writing my last garden update, I realized that I had some gardening failures to air out. Enough of them to merit a whole separate post. So without further rambling, here are some of the mistakes, unexpected issues, and failed experiments that have come along with this year’s journey of learning in the garden.
Last year, my peas did fantastically. I sowed the seeds right on time, and they pumped out masses of beautiful, succulent peas for a solid month.
This year, despite a bizarrely warm spring, I was pretty slow to get my seeds in the ground. But they did eventually get growing, and by the second week of May, they were about 5 inches tall.
By the second week of June, they were… 5 inches tall. In fact, they never got above 5 inches tall, and we (obviously) never got a harvest out of them. Which brings me to the my next point:
Wabbits. Wascally, wascally wabbits.
Yes, it was the bunnies this year that kept my peas meticulously mowed short. They also managed to destroy all my brassicas and early-sown lettuce, and nearly crippled my sweet potatoes and cucumbers before we managed to get a fence up to stop them. It’s just a 3-foot high roll of chicken wire with the bottom 6 inches folded outward along the ground, but it seems to be keeping them out so far. It won’t do a darn thing to stop the deer if they get a taste for garden veggies, but our budget didn’t allow for a deer-proof fence, so we’re crossing our fingers.
And I’m empathizing with Elmer Fudd and Mr McGregor like never before.
I can’t completely blame the rabbits for our brassica failures, either. I had very poor (as in, maybe 10%) germination out of my cabbage seeds this year. Looking back, I probably sowed them too late and watered them too sparingly. Cabbages germinate best in cool, damp conditions, and I gave them neither.*
I also had an entire raised bed of carrots fail on me. Honestly, I really should have known better. I filled the bed entirely with mushroom soil (compost), since I didn’t have a good place to dig soil from, and didn’t want to go to the effort of mixing soil in with the compost. I sowed my carrot seeds into this very quick-draining, absurdly over-fertilized planting medium, watered them in, and then barely watered them at all for the next two weeks. Not one seed germinated. Um. Duh. Not one of my smarter gardening moves.
Oh, and those wildflowers I was so excited about this spring? I haven’t seen a single one. I broadcasted wildflower seed mixes in three different places, each with a unique set of growing conditions, and absolutely nothing happened. Following the directions on the seed packet, I prepared the soil, but didn’t give the seeds any supplemental water, figuring that whichever flowers were adapted to that site’s growing conditions would flourish. I’m not really sure what I did wrong here. We didn’t have any crazy weather, and the whole idea behind wildflowers is that they shouldn’t require any special treatment. Right?
Maybe I’m being naive… Any experienced gardeners out there willing to offer advice?
I mentioned this in my garden update, but I wanted to reiterate it. Water water water. Water might have saved the cabbage seeds. Maybe even the carrots. We delayed our first harvest by a solid week because we let our plants get too dry. We’re thankful that that’s all the damage we did.
Water is so crucial, especially in the dry heat of summer. I don’t care if my lawn gets crunchy, but I don’t want to waste all the time and energy I put into my vegetable garden by stunting the productivity of my plants, or worse, killing them.
Okay, here’s the big one. Remember how I was so excited about the potential of winter sowing? Well, I’m not sure if the method as described would have failed, but I certainly failed. In my not-so-careful reading of the directions, I thought the purpose of the plastic tote was to hold water for the young plants, so I carefully selected totes without any cracks or holes.
As those of you with brains might have guessed, leaving a water-holding device out in the rain and snow for months does not create a nice little puddle to refresh your plants. It creates a lake. In which plants are drowned. And had I read the directions more carefully, I would have seen the reminder to poke drainage holes in the bottom of the totes.
So yes, I drowned most of my winter-sown plants and stunted the rest.
I may give winter-sowing another go next year, or I may just switch to sticking seed trays in a cold frame covered with heavy-duty row cover fabric. If I get around to building some cold frames, that is.
One thing I did notice in the period before I drowned my plants – the seeds I planted were (understandably) slow to germinate. While this wouldn’t have been a problem for my perennial flower plants, I did wish my lettuce and kale had gotten a quicker start on life, since I was counting on them for an early spring harvest. So next year I will probably try a combination of overwintering hardy greens in cold frames and starting my early spring transplants indoors with the rest of my veggies.
Well. After all that failure, here’s a reassuring photo of a frog. I found him under my garden hose. That is all.
*Interestingly, my sister-in-law had the opposite issue. She sowed most of her seeds about 2 weeks earlier than I did, and while her cabbages did great, her corn (which likes warm conditions to germinate) did about as poorly as my cabbages. We’d split a seed order this year, so we were planting the exact same stuff. But timing is everything.