Gardening Fails: Embracing My Brown Thumb

gardening fails

If you had told me a few years ago that our garden would grow in fall, winter, spring, and summer, and we would yield and actually eat over 20 varieties of produce, I would have laughed. Even just typing that fact makes me do a double take. I started gardening long before I had children. With good, but challenging, success, I mostly container-gardened in the spring and summer to feed my love of fresh-grown tomatoes. I never grew enough to make a dent in the grocery budget. When I was growing up, a staple of summer was eating garden-fresh tomatoes. It frankly doesn’t feel like summer to me until I have had at least one really good tomato sandwich. When I became a mom, those childhood memories of walking in summer gardens fueled my gardening ambitions. I was no longer down for a container or two of tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers; I wanted to dedicate a garden space that would produce enough food that my children could have the experience of walking through rows of tomatoes. I was unsure how in the world to go from bumbling through my adventures in container- gardening to full-on backyard gardener, but now, here we are — the kind of people who have neighbors knock on the door to see if we have any more cabbage. The secret to our success is one thing: embracing failure. While our successes are many, and the table is full of home grown goodness, we got here by failing. Here are just a few examples.

Gardening Fail: Planting Too Late

The first year we planted our tomatoes, they didn’t sprout until way too late. Everything I read told us that we would not see any good tomatoes that year, but we tended them anyway. The first flush of tomatoes were small but tasty. The next were bigger and just as delicious. When the heat skyrocketed in the late summer months, we put our sun sail over them to try to extend production. It worked. Gardening Lesson: Never give up. The scrawniest of plants, with proper care, can produce some of the most delicious results.

Gardening Fail: Poor Layout Planning

That same year, we also planted the peppers behind our tomato plants. The tomato plants were so small, and I was confident that they wouldn’t grow well. Our pepper sprouts were thriving and lush. I transplanted them first without thinking about the potential for the tomato plants to grow. Before long, those struggling, scrawny tomato plants were massive and blocking the peppers’ access to the sun. For the peppers to have a chance to grow, we had to transplant them to a new part of the garden. Half of the plants didn’t make it, but half of them that did and thrived in their new location. As it turned out, the shade from the tomato plants was the perfect spot to move our kale. We were able to extend the kale’s growing season well into the summer months. We were also able to plant some additional greens that produced well, thanks to shade. Gardening Lesson: Never underestimate your potential or your garden’s. It is worth it to try to address layout problems rather than scrapping plants all together.

Gardening Fail: What the What? Still Not Sure Why That Happened

Last year we decided to grow beets. The kids and I both love beets and beet juice. We were thrilled. We picked the perfect location and tended to the garden bed diligently. Regardless of our efforts, the beets that we grew were small and lacked flavor. However, we learned that the greens on the top of beets are delicious. This year, we are growing some beets for the beets and some beets just for the yummy greens. Here is hoping we can enjoy both. Gardening Lesson: Sometimes, even if we don’t get we want, we can still harvest something delicious.

Gardening Fail: Insects Beat Us to the Harvest

Insects are necessary for gardens to thrive. We need to attract the right critters to pollinate, compost, and manage pests, but we have to manage that while discouraging and removing those creepy critters that will eat you out of all your hard work. Our biggest pest last year was slugs. They crept in at night and apparently love leafy greens as much as we do. After much trial and error, we have also learned that they love local beer more. Nope, I’m not kidding.  After trying every organic solution to slug management, ultimately, the little guys surrendered to a yogurt cup-turned-slug trap filled with local beer. Gardening Lesson: Becoming a gardener can lead you to making a beer run. I seriously never saw that coming.

Failing is the best part of gardening, and I now believe it is necessary to succeed at gardening. I know that seems counter-intuitive. I started gardening with my children because I wanted them to have the beautiful memories I have of enjoying bountiful summers in the garden. I’m so happy that we get to do that. Indeed, we do produce lots of delicious food, but I can honestly say that failing together has, without a doubt, brought us some of the best memories, laughs, and lessons. So the next time you see a luscious garden and think, “I have a brown thumb; I could never succeed like that,” just know that you are wrong. All successful gardens begin with someone’s being brave enough to embrace brown thumbs and potential failure.

Stacy Mcdonald-Taylor
Stacy, a former health care program manager, came to the first coast by way of Charlotte, NC. Passionate for community and creative arts. Stacy has worked with families and educators through Parent Education & Outreach Programs. Since welcoming the births of her and her husband’s two delightful, energetic sons, she has worked from home, always seeking to find new ways to provide a joy-filled, creative environment, nurturing a love for people, learning, nature, and healthy, natural/organic foods. Stacy shares tidbits of her “life learnings” on her blog, Wasting Nothing


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