Failures & growth in the garden


Last week we were away on vacation. Seven days is a long time to abandon one’s garden in mid-summer, especially in Colorado, where it’s nothing extraordinary for the days to reach into the 90s F, the nights to drop to 55, and rain to be as absent as a child at chore time. With humidity barely scraping 47 percent right after a thunderstorm, the hot, dry sun can kill a garden completely.

Therefore, before we left, we arranged backup. Mr. Cheap mulched everything heavily with straw. Our neighbor agreed to water the garden through Wednesday, before she left town. My mom, who was babysitting Schnauzer Cheap while we were away, came by on Friday to water. Beyond that, we crossed our fingers, but we couldn’t help worrying.

“Look at the tomatoes!” I exclaimed as we pulled into the driveway on Saturday night at 9:15. Even in the dark, we could see that the Romas in the front whiskey barrels had grown tremendously. We breathed a sigh of relief.

We went out back to take a moonlit preview of our garden. Weeds, yes. The grass looked terrible, glowing yellow even in the darkness. (We favor our plants, and told the neighbor to prioritize watering the gardens over watering the grass. Watering the beds and pots is a big job, with plants scattered in three locations in the front yard and four large beds in back.) But we could see the Brussels sprouts were huge, the tomatoes were good (with the Sweet Olives giving us perhaps the earliest ripe tomatoes ever), and everything was alive.

The next day we were out early to weed for an hour and evaluate the situation. Here are our failures this year:

  • Peas – The birds ate ’em, we replanted too late, and they didn’t do much. A few have grown now, and Mr. Cheap found one ripe sugar snap pea pod the other day.
  • Scarlet runner beans – Transplanted the first pair too late, and they fried. Mr. Cheap replanted seeds in the whiskey barrel, but they drowned while we were away.
  • Potatoes – Mr. Cheap refilled one pot with too much dirt, and now the vine is completely dead. Hopefully we’ll find some tiny new potatoes in the bottom.

What we thought were failures:

  • The bush beans germinated only moderately and some were eaten. I replanted, and when we returned on Saturday night, they were straining against their row cover, so I finally freed them.

  • Basil – Very low germination rate, but three plants are growing now.

What still might fail:

  • Bell pepper – Also a potential drowning victim. Time will tell.
  • Cantaloupe – The plants seem to have been sitting, remaining exactly the same size, for weeks and weeks.

What’s a raging success:

  • The butternut squash looks healthy and gorgeous.

  • The cherry tree has given us about 15 beautiful cherries. It’s not *supposed* to make fruit until next year, so this is a pleasant windfall.

  • The Juliet tomato is starting to crawl all over the bed it is in. I fear for our safety.
  • How much kale does one family need? Perhaps a few plants. NOT twenty plants. Note to self. Kale, anyone?

This year, we tried very hard to focus our garden on things we like, foods we enjoy and will eat. Not too many tomatoes. Enough to eat, good kinds to put up. Butternut squash, good in souffle, curry, our favorite pasta recipe (and we STILL have two of last year’s squash in our pantry … partly because we are over it till this fall). Berries and fruit. Brussels sprouts, so healthy, good to freeze, full of fiber and vitamins.

Green beans, good to freeze. Okra, because it also freezes well and works deliciously in Creole and Indian dishes (and note that the plant in the wall o’ water is at least twice the size of all the other okra plants … important for those growing semi-tropical plants in Colorado!).

I am focused this year, partly because I remember the work of putting things up last year. It’s not worth the effort unless it will be good. So I am ruthlessly thinning the beets, pulling out volunteer (hybrid) tomatoes, keeping things spare enough to do them good.

And still, things fail. So far, none of our failures can yet compare to the year we grew tomato plants from seed, starting in January … and a huge hailstorm destroyed every one of them in late August, so that the green tomatoes I picked up off the ground weighed 13 pounds.

It’s the cycle of life. Plant, and plant again. And if that bell pepper dies? Mr. Cheap has his eye on its barrel; perhaps we can round up a tomatillo plant somewhere.


5 thoughts on “Failures & growth in the garden

  1. Me says:

    I think Gardens were meant to keep a person humble. 🙂 I know that mine keeps me humble.

    Zuc’s are doing poorly (anybody can grow zucchini). The plants are gorgeous but we have zero pollinators this year (I’ve never had that problem in the past) and so the squash set on then die.

    I am afraid that when the pole beans bloom that I will have the same problem. 😦

  2. cheaplikeme says:

    You could hand-pollinate the squash (use a brush or Q-tip to take pollen from the male flowers and add it to the female flowers) — that ought to get you some harvest! Unless you’ve already tried and your flowers are anti-swab. 😦

    Not sure if that would work for beans – maybe?

  3. L'an says:

    @me: your note about the zucchini-failure-to-thrive was very reassuring. We had a very happy couple of squashes last year, but with lots of blooms and teeny squashes but then they’d die on the vine. It never even occurred to me that the problem might be a lack of pollinators!

    And Cheap: I was thinking about your comment that you tried this year to focus on things you like and will eat this year as I cut up squash and onions for dinner… Why is it that, as a veg gardener, you feel compelled to grow veggies you secretly know you won’t eat? I musta pulled twenty carrots from our garden last year with a certain thrill of “they grew!” only to let them grow limp in our fridge. I didn’t even manage to incorporate them into a veg broth, and I’m the queen of making my own veg broth! That said, I have also noticed that certain veg I used to have an aversion to (I thought for certain one spring that if my grandmother foisted another bag of swiss chard on me, I might scream) I nevertheless grew (several years later, looking at the corner of the garden overrun with swiss chard, I spent a lot of time thinking “what the #&!! am I supposed to do with all this?!”) and now I’m totally bummed that it didn’t germinate this year. Maybe there’s something to be said for learning to like what grows for you? Anyway, if you’re looking to get rid of some kale, we can definitely take it off your hands. Mr. L’an can’t get enough of that dark-leafy-green-goodness!

  4. erin says:

    We are going away for the weekend and are hoping that by the time we get back, we might have enough blueberries for a pie. Our little locus children eat every ripe one in sight when we are home.

    Our sugar snap peas made only a few pods this year. We planted late because of odd weather. I tried to grow basil from seed (awesome, awesome plant we had last year) but I started it too late and as of today there are 4 teeny leaves sprouted.

    I am growing fava beans this year and they seem to be doing well. Our carrots are doing great and our kids are eating them. We grew no tomatoes this year even though I love them because the green ones kept getting sampled and spit out by the kids. Next year though…

    The potato plants are doing great. The lettuce has almost gone to seed. We planted a whole new bed with compost from our composter with lettuce and figure we may get lettuce plus some surprises. I am madly eating the lettuce we have because I will be sad when it is gone.

  5. cheaplikeme says:

    @L’An – I’ll be in touch … we would be happy to bring you some kale!

    @erin – sounds like you need to fence your little homo sapiens predators out! Or just enjoy it while they’re little enough to be cute destroyers … 🙂

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