If At First You Don’t Succeed, Keep On Planting

I wish I had a nickle for every plant I’ve ever killed, or every gardening mistake I’ve made. Just when my ego convinces me I’ve got everything figured out, the garden reminds me that I don’t, usually humbling me in the process.But I don’t dwell on my failures, and I don’t always share them here unless there’s a lesson to be learned. Here are a few recent blunders I will share, in the hopes that others might avoid them.

For instance, last year it was the carrot disaster(s). I got all of about one pound of them, according to my records. That is not a very good return for 4 packets of seed! For the spring crop, I made the mistake of covering the seeds with some sifted homemade compost I had on hand. Big mistake! Carrot seeds take a fairly long time to germinate, generally 1-3 weeks. But the weeds in the compost were up in record time, smothering the little emerging carrot seedlings. I tried weeding, but it proved nearly impossible to tell the good guys from the bad. By the time this fiasco played out, I decided it was too late to plant a spring crop. So much for summer carrots!

I tried them again last fall. This time I worked compost into the bed early, and covered the seed with some Pro-mix BX, which is a peat-based potting mix with no weed seeds. But for some reason I decided to add some radish seeds along with the carrots to help mark the row. That was a trick I remembered from Jim Crockett, my first gardening guru and the original host of the long running PBS Victory Garden series.

China Rose radishes are huge (click on any image to enlarge)

I used China Rose radish, and I sowed the seed way too heavily. According to my well-worn 1977 copy of Crockett’s Victory Garden (a companion book to the TV series) Crockett liked to sow “a few radish seeds in the furrow” along with the carrot seeds. Oops – too bad I didn’t check out the book first! That word “few” is the key to his strategy. I’ll bet he used a petite little radish too, something like Cherry Belle. My giant radishes wound up crowding out the carrot seedlings. On the plus side, I got a great harvest of China Rose radishes! But not many carrots. 2011 wound up being truly A Year Without Carrots (cue the violins).

Mokum and Yaya carrots (spring 2012)

This year I got it right on the carrots, at least for the spring crop. It took some reseeding and persistence to get a good stand of carrots. And it took a lot of watering to keep them going. But we wound up with 10 pounds of lovely tasting homegrown organic carrots, all from a fairly small amount of space. And I’ve got a pretty good stand of seedlings coming up for a fall crop. I used the Pro-mix again to cover the seeds, and I have kept the radishes far, far away in another bed.

fall 2012 carrots are coming up nicely and weed free so far

However, this year it was the onions that humbled me. They’re never one of my best crops, but usually not my worst one either. Until 2012, that is! My overwintered Walla Walla onions didn’t do squat, and the spring planted Redwing and Candy varieties weren’t much better. I guess the early heat and drought were just too much for them. I thought I was keeping them watered, but obviously not enough to their liking.

Red Torpedo Tropea onion

Fortunately I also planted some Red Torpedo Tropea (aka Lunga di Firenze) slips this spring, and they made some lovely onions. Perhaps they liked our Mediteranean weather conditions more than the other varieties. Redwing has done well here in the past, and Candy made some big sweet-tasting onions last year at the Impact Community garden. Oh well, hope springs eternal in this gardener, so I guess I’ll try again next spring. Hmm, I wonder if Alexander Pope ever tried to grow onions?

The cucumbers have also humbled me this year. How hard can it be to grow them, right? Last year I hauled in over 50 pounds of cukes! We had pickles galore, and I still had plenty to donate to the kitchen where I volunteer. But this year is another story. It was way too hot for the greenhouse cucumbers this spring, and the deer have kept eating the vines I planted in the unprotected kitchen garden area. So far we have only gotten about 3 pounds of them. The vines are trying to recover from the deer, but it’s doubtful they will produce much of anything. I waited too long to replant outside, though there’s still time to try a couple of vines in the greenhouse. Maybe we’ll have cucumbers for Thanksgiving! Or maybe not.

deer are loving the cucumber vines

I have no idea what the garden will throw at me next year, but you can bet it will be something. And it will probably leave my shaking my head, questioning my sanity AND my gardening ability. Please feel free to share any of your humbling garden experiences in the comments here. And trust me, this is one place when misery really does love company!

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14 Responses to If At First You Don’t Succeed, Keep On Planting

  1. Daphne says:

    Gardening is like that. Every year it is something else that doesn’t grow. But on the other hand there is always something that grows fabulously. I’ve yet to have a year where something doesn’t fail in some manner.

  2. Patsy says:

    Oh my, I am humbled every season! I have yet to get a truly good carrot harvest though I try and try. They just never size up well. This year my onions were less than impressive and like you, my cukes are just barely giving me anything compared to last year’s glut. But some things that failed me last year are doing great this year, so it seems to me to always balance out somehow. Jim Crockett was my first gardening guru too. Though other books have displaced his when I need advice, I still have and refer to my well worn copy of Crockett’s Victory Garden!

    • Dave says:

      It does seem to balance out. We always seem to get plenty to eat from the garden, it just may not be what we hope for!

      I’m guessing our Victory Garden books are collectors items. I have the cookbook too, and I know it is out of print.

  3. peggi says:

    I live in Las Vegas and the weather here is crazy. We had the crazy warm spring and then cool weather also. It is difficult to grow anything for a number of reasons, one being the soil. Our soil is very alkaline with little to no organic matter. I have some raised beds and some beds that I amended the soil.

    I have been making compost using worms but the compost pile seems to be worm free this year even though I added more at the beginning of the year. I think the pile may have gotten too dry. I started using a drip system for the garden and forgot to water the worm pile. It now has crip also.

    My tomato plants had a very hard time with the crazy weather. They kept dropping blossoms until they weather hit 100. Very strange! We also ended up with early blight, and gardens here don’t usually get it because it is so dry here.

    When I pulled out my tomato plants the other day I found knot nematode damage on quite a few of the plants. Now I have to try to get rid of them. The worst part is that it is in the bed that I was going to plant my winter garden. UGH!!!

    My onions did awful this year also. I grew candy onions last year and they did great, this year they pretty much look like scallions. Some of them bulbed but most didn’t.

    Try, try again.

    • Dave says:

      I am thankful that nematodes aren’t much of an issue here. And this year, even the Japanese beetles didn’t show up. But the cucumber beetles took their place. So it is always something.

      My Walla Wallas looked like scallions, and my Candy onions were about as big as onion sets. We ate what we could, but they didn’t go far.

  4. Jenny says:

    Gardening is like a rolercoaster – one day you’re up the other you’re down. I definitely have my share of failures each year. This year my onions were very very small comparing to my normal sized harvests. I have only 1 tiny pumpkin out of 6 plants growing due to the neighbor and deer destroying them all summer long. Carrots are also trying my patience this year and the two beds I planted this summer all have nematodes making my carrots tiny and cripled. Bugs have been a huge problem for all plants and I lost many greens this year to them. I do hope that fall planting will be better but you never know. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. All you can do is hope for the best.

    • Dave says:

      Carrots are definitely a challenging crop to grow. But everything has it’s pests and problems, and some years are worse than others.

  5. Marcia says:

    Well you’re off the pedestal I put you on. Now I don’t feel so bad for the mistakes I have made. And Crocket’s Victory Garden was my very first gardening book. I still refer to it when I think to read before I sow.

    • Dave says:

      I’m afraid I never quite rose to pedestal level, even in my own mind! 😀 I wish I had referred to the book before I planted those radishes with the carrots, instead of afterwards.

  6. Barbara Good says:

    I’m yet to have a decent carrot crop too, though I’ve only tried a couple of times. Last year my failures were zucchini – the one thing I’ve NEVER had a problem growing – and the cukes weren’t far behind. My tomatoes went in late, so I didn’t get as many as normal, but they still performed okay. But I finally cracked the bean growing after several failures in that department.

  7. garden glut says:

    Carrots, onions and garlic to date are my big failures. One day I might succeed. Let us all keep trying!

  8. Goodness, between your deer, and our voles, cucumbers may end up on the endangered species list. I had to chuckle at your carrots, where your weeds came up too fast. Last year I made the mistake of sowing a fall crop in a bed that previously had some Mizuna in it. The Mizuna had slightly gone to seed. I covered the bed with a floating row cover after I planted the carrots, they were irrigated via a drip system. The carrots started to sprout, and I left them alone. I went back a few weeks later and pulled the cover back, because I could see the greens were reaching the top of the row cover, only to find that was the MIZUNA! The carrot yield from that bed was very poor, but we had a lot of greens! 😛

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