How to Fail at Gardening

How to Fail at Gardening - picture of female hands with seedling

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Earlier this year, Greg and I decided to plant our first vegetable garden as a couple.  As you would expect, we were super-duper pumped. We don’t eat meat and we eat a ton of vegetables, so we hoped that planting a garden would yield a huge bounty of delicious food and reduce our grocery bill.  It’s still too early in the season to say we’ve been successful on that front, but I do believe we’ll harvest some delicious food at some point.  However, we made many (many!!) mistakes that I wanted to share with anyone else who might be considering starting a vegetable garden for the first time.


How to Fail at Gardening

We started our garden experience by sectioning off part of the yard and borrowing a rototiller to prepare the soil.  Then we bought some gardening soil to freshen things up a bit and headed to Lowe’s to buy our plants.  Our strategy involved buying plants for anything that sounded yummy.  Sweet potatoes?  Sure.  Squash?  Why the hell not?  Strawberries?  Well, duh.

DSCF3421We came home and planted all of our veggies according to the little tags that came with them.  Then we put up an adorable white picket fence to keep the critters out.  The problem was, our fence didn’t actually keep anyone out and many of our vegetables were eaten down to the stubs within a week.  I blame this guy (see picture to the left).  He’s absolutely adorable but pretty rude and unappreciative of the habitat we provide him.  He chews on my deck too.  Asshole.

After losing about half of our vegetables, we went back to Lowe’s to buy more plants and pick out a sturdier fence.  We ended up buying a sturdy chain-link netting and zip-tying it to the little fence and our privacy fence.  Then we put some dirt around the inside of the fence to make sure that none of our furry friends could burrow underneath.  That was a success.  After that, we planted some new vegetables next to the veggies that were eaten down to the stubs.

I’m pretty sure they’re not supposed to be this close……

Then this happened.  Basically, all the vegetables we thought were dead grew back with a vengeance on top of all the new veggies we planted.  What you’re looking at is a broccoli plant, some squash, and some cabbage all within inches of one another.  What are you supposed to do in this situation?  Greg thinks we should just let them work it out amongst themselves.  Hell, maybe they’ll morph into one super food.

Like Squabrocabbage or something.

We have no idea what half of these plants are....
We have no idea what half of these plants are….

Here is a wider shot of that area.  We’re also starting to wonder if some veggies that we didn’t plant are sprouting where they’ve grown before.  Is that even possible?  I seriously don’t remember planting that many plants in such a small area.  Can you tell we have no idea what we’re doing?

Gardening: What Not To Do

Our garden is still thriving despite our unbelievable incompetence.  However, there are many things we could’ve done differently.  A few gardening “Don’ts:”

  • Don’t randomly buy fruits and vegetables without knowing anything about them.  It’s pretty sad when you have to google things like “Does squash grow above ground?” and “What is a cucumber plant supposed to look like?”  A little bit of research ahead of time would’ve done us a lot of good!
  • Don’t think a picket fence will keep the critters out.  Small animals don’t yield to fences simply because they are there.
  • Don’t let giant weeds grow because you think they are a vegetable.  Yes, this happened, and it all goes back to doing research ahead of time.  We let several giant weeds grow for weeks before realizing that they were not vegetables.  We were even watering them!  Sad.
  • Don’t lose all the little tags.  We meant to stick the little tags in the ground next to each vegetable but failed to do so.  Now we have no idea what several of our plants are.  Hopefully they aren’t weeds.

DSCF3513One of my tomato plants provides a beacon of hope among my garden of misfits.  Since it already has a few tomatoes on it, I feel fairly confident that I cannot mess this up.  My potted banana pepper plant is doing good as well.  It already has 4 or 5 peppers sprouting and I cannot wait to eat those suckers!

Hopefully we will learn a lot this year and apply those lessons to next year’s garden.  Gardening isn’t hard, but I’m guessing it is a lot easier if you do some research ahead of time and go into it with a plan.

I’ll make sure to update everyone on our harvest later this year.  Hopefully we won’t be eating weeds for dinner.

What gardening mistakes have you learned from over the years?  Do you have a garden this year?


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  1. Well, maybe it won’t win any awards this year but gardening is worth the effort! Next year and following you’ll be happy you started learning!

  2. Hi Holly!
    Tried growing tomatoes last summer in a few planters in the backyard that only ended up being eaten by critters. You’re right, a wooden fence keeps out nothing! I put wire mesh all around the backyard fence and rocks to keep them out. Took twice as long and cost twice as much as planting the tomatoes. The wire mesh worked like a boss to keep the rabbits out but was no match for the squirrels. And the funny thing was just yesterday as I was cursing the squirels I thought, “Hey at least there are no rabits here.” And sure enough out of the corner of my eye I see a rabbit emerging from a hole in the ground near the wire mesh. They finally dug their way through. SMH

    1. That sucks =/ I’m sorry. My critters gave up when I put the wire mesh up.

  3. I have a hard time distinguishing weeds too. I hope that you get the harvest you are hoping for. Good luck!

  4. Hey, at least you tried! I haven’t built our garden yet…and my wife has been wanting one for two Summers now :0 The city is re-grading part of our yard though so that’s my excuse for not building a raised bed yet.

  5. This was an entertaining read this morning, thanks! 🙂

    I’ve been wanting to start a garden myself. I have the added desire of wanting to can some of my harvest so I have an abundant supply even in winter. The whole idea is great in my head, but the reality will be I’ll probably die from botulism or something!

    Way to be brave and don’t let that cute little ground squirrel get the best of you. You’re higher up the food chain than he is. He’s no match!

  6. To a novice’s eye your doing great– you have green plants coming from the ground. And what if you create the newest food craze, “Squabrocabbage anyone.”

  7. I am terrible at keeping the plants I want to live alive, so I won’t be gardening any time soon.

    Now if you want to get rid of your chipmunk friend over there you need a small colony of feral cats to move in. We have some that live next door and as a result, we don’t have any small rodents.

  8. Weeds are tricky. Not only do they kinda look like everything else you planted but they go from zero to ten. One minute they’re not there. The next thing I know, I have monster weeds growing. So frustrating. I don’t feel like I have a very green thumb!

    1. I agree 100%. I simply do not understand how weeds can grow so fast. I weed almost every day and find big ones all the time. It doesn’t seem possible.

  9. Squabrocabbage, lol! I’m so glad I have my wife because I’m absolutely horrible when it comes to gardening. She just tells me to do and I go do it. 🙂 We tried the picket fence thing a few years back, and it was a major disaster as the rabbits just got in and one of the kids fell and hurt themselves pretty bad on the top of one of the pickets. She has it looking like Gitmo in our backyard this year and thankfully it seems to be working…so far.

  10. We planted 20 hills of cucumbers in our first garden. Do you have any idea how many cucumbers that produces? Bushels and bushels. And we don’t make our own pickles! Fortunately the neighbors had cows who helped us eat them. 🙂

    1. Ha! It probably seemed like a good idea at the time! =)

  11. I’ve planted things way to close before and it turned out well. I think you’ll be fine. The only down side is your vegetables might not get as big as they would if they had enough space around them. But it’s pretty hard to completely ruin a vegetable garden.

  12. You almost need a greenhouse in Colorado because it can frost through June. Between cold, critters, no humidity, and my own lack of desire, I’ve decided farmer’s market makes more sense. It would be cool to grow something, but I really suck at gardening!

  13. Don’t, DO NOT, put mint out to grow with the rest of the herbs in your herb garden. It needs its own container separated from everyone else.

    1. I didn’t grow mint this year. Yay! I did something right.

        1. Ohhh…..that’s a good idea for next year. Maybe I’ll grow some Mint on my deck or something! I love mojitos!!!!!

  14. If nothing else, you’re really helping people who have never gardened before learn what not to do! I’ll save this one for when I have my own yard. 🙂 Good luck!

  15. I’ve never even planted a garden before, so you are definitely a step ahead of me! Darn backyard critters. We have a family of rabbits living underneath our shed and so far they are not eating anything, BUT my dog seems to now have developed a taste for rabbit poo so we have to watch her super closely in the yard. Argh!!

  16. OMG squash is a crazy plant. My neighbor planted it and then just didn’t do anything from there and it became Audrey 2 from Little Shop of Horrors. It just took over the entire backyard. That stuff will grow like crazy. I’m awful and gardening and the only successful thing I grew was tomatoes. I did’t even bother this year because the money and effort I put into it didn’t even out the cost of me just going to the farmers market and buying a tomato or any other veggies. I think it’s great though if you enjoy the hobby! Good luck!

    1. Oh great. Hopefully the squash doesn’t take over!!!

    2. My wife decided to try tomatoes a year ago. So she bought a plant, read up on them and did great. Meanwhile, I am struggling to try starting veggies from seeds. she thinks she is showing me up now… Mean wife. She is doing it again this year. : )

    1. Yep. Well, at least I’ve given you a list of things not to do. I didn’t even have that.

  17. I am a big gardening fail as well. Here a pound of tomatoes is like $0.25 so it doesn’t help you keep your efforts.

  18. Ha ha ha…these are AWESOME tips!! We made the mistake of trying to grow things that didn’t adapt well in our climate. We also picked a spot in our backyard that apparently didn’t get much direct sunlight all day. We have finally figured out a few things that work, which are pretty much herbs and peppers, but I am just happy to not be looking at more dead plants.

  19. You could toss those weeds in some oil and vinegar and make a nice salad 😛 We have a small garden growing, and I’m really excited to see how it turns out. There’s some kind of bug eating the pepper plant leaves, which is making me nervous. So far, critters have been staying away.

  20. There is a flower garden at our house that the previous owner planted. We know almost nothing about flowers, but we put a pretty fence around it and just let it grow. Well…’s about 75% weeds….classy!

  21. We grew some fruit in our garden at our old house. We bought cantaloupe and thought it would be great. Be warned! That sh*t grows everywhere. It overtakes everything and kills anything near it. Should have read the tag!

  22. Before I plant anything new, I take a picture of it with the tag visible – then I can go back and check to see what broccoli leaves, strawberry leaves, etc. look like. It took a few years, but now I can recognize what I planted vs. weeds. 🙂 And most plants are pretty resilient, so I think you’ll still have a good harvest!

  23. Hey Holly, it’s amazing how resilient plants really are. Anyway, I’ve been in the same situation growing up. I did a lot of gardening with dad. Believe it or not, you should let them all grow. One of two things will happen…

    1. The weak plants will die…the Darwin Theory
    2. They will live together in a very communal way producing tons of great veggies and fruits for you to partake in.

    Worst comes to worst, Darwin wins and takes care of clearing things out for you. Best comes to best, community wins and you end up with more than you expected!

  24. We’ve had a small summer garden for many years. Mostly tomatoes and peppers which enjoy direct sun. But also included cucumbers (growing on a trellis), carrots (requires a very loose soil), and strawberries. We always had a 3ft tall wire fence (small spacing at bottom) around our garden which was 99% effective. Tomatoes and peppers were always very productive and required the least maintenance. Strawberries needed fine mesh netting to cover before the fruit ripened to keep away the birds. Nothing like walking out in the morning to pick some strawberries for your bowl of cereal, oatmeal, or just plain snacking. Every year, about 1/3 or the strawberry plants will need to be replaced as the plant gets “weaker” in producing fruit with age.

  25. Well, if Squabrocabbage happens, I bet you could sell it to Hollywood and it would be the next monster movie. 🙂 I love that you watered weeds but honestly – I would have done the same thing! LOL! I am a big veggie eater but for many, many years I disliked fresh tomatoes. I finally discovered that I love them slow roasted. We don’t have a garden but there are lots of great farmer’s market around and they seem to have a better knack at growing things than I do!

  26. Ben @ The Wealth Gospel says:

    Haha I can’t stop laughing about watering the weeds 🙂 But hey, I love that you’re willing to put that out there. Your honesty is what makes you guys so great!

  27. We have a small garden this year for the first time since Daughter Person was born. She’s helping a bit more than “helping” now, so we built a few boxes for square foot gardening. We lost a bit of stuff to animals (either rodents or deer), but there are a few good squash plants and tomato and cucumber plants growing in our back yard. We need better animal/pest management, but we’re going to wait to see what happens with possibly moving before we go out and spend the time and money on a barrier.
    As for knowing what we planted where? We don’t rely on the tags and instead make a drawing (on paper) that we keep inside the house to refer to until we can recognize things…

  28. Thanks for sharing your trials and errors in such a humorous way =). I don’t have a green thumb at all, and I’d be really scared about what anything I planted turned into. Being that we live on the third floor of an apartment complex, nothing will be giving me nightmares for a while. Maybe I can convince my parents to grow one first and learn from them, as I do like the concept.

  29. As a garden enthusiast, I am always on the lookout for ways to create that special atmosphere one experiences in the gardens of Provence and Tuscany. Recently I found a wonderful resource in West Palm Beach, Florida: Authentic Provence ( Walk into this oasis of calm, and you will see what I think is the finest collection of European garden antiques available in the USA: statues, fountains, planters (note especially the classic Caisse de Versailles, and Anduze pottery), terra cotta shields, stone animals, copper pots, garden spouts, and on and on. They also have beautiful stone fireplaces, re-purposed tiles, and many other specialty items. The staff is very adept at finding that special item, and in arranging shipping to anywhere in the USA. Definitely worth a visit, AND there is a great coffee shop across the street!

  30. I’m hopeless at gardening, I’ll be sticking to my day job for sure. Thanks for the tips on what not to do.

  31. Those beginning years are always a work in progress. BTW, get some pinwheels for that garden, Holly. We have pinwheels (the shiny, spinny things kids play with), no fence, and no critters. This was a reader tip and it’s worked out famously. Apparently the little buggers are terrified of ’em. 🙂

  32. Ha! Great post. 🙂

    My husband and I have been growing vegetables for several years and finally feel like we’ve got it down. However, even with experience, you will make mistakes. Probably the biggest one for us has been planting outside too early. We usually start getting pretty antsy around the end of April… but have learned the hard way that it’s much safer to wait until the end of May.

    Another thing we struggle with is our soil. We have heavy clay which tends to pack down and suffocate the roots if it rains too much. It’s taken a long time but I finally feel like we’re starting to get some control over it. (Yay peat moss!)

  33. haha, at least you are making progress. I have the least green thumb ever. For some reason, everything I try to plant dies. I even killed a cactus.

  34. This is how my garden looks, except take out the veggies and add lots of weeds….lol!

  35. Thank you for sharing your experiences and blunders in a fun manner =). I do not have any green thumb whatsoever I’d be worried about what I put in the ground turned into. Since we’re at the top of the stairs in an apartment building, I won’t have to worry about nightmares for the next few days. Perhaps I could get my mom and dad to be one first, and then learn from them, because I really like the idea.

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