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Another Year Of Gardening Failure (And What I Learned)

These are just nine of my failures this year. I also mysteriously lost a couple of pomegranate trees to an unknown pathogen, lost chickens to raccoons, misplaced my good pruning shears…


At least someone is winning around here…

Failure is part of learning.

The kid who learns to ride his bike without falling, read without mispronouncing any words, play football without getting tackled…

…doesn’t exist.

The trick of failure is learning what it teaches. I’m going to share some of my recent gardening failures today, plus what might be learned from them.

(NOTE: Just because I’m focusing on gardening failures doesn’t mean that I’M a failure at gardening. In fact, I’ve had some wonderful successes this year and they keep multiplying. I teach gardening to plenty of folks and those that see what I’ve done go home inspired. My job is to keep people from life-threatening gardening failure, as I share in the in-depth course Survival Gardening Secrets. As for smaller failures? Those happen and they make us stronger. And I’m not above them, as you’re about to see.)

Let’s start failing!

Failure #1: Two Dead Almond Trees

Almonds are not a Florida crop. As a mad gardener with a need to experiment, I decided to try them anyhow. I planted three trees early this year and two failed to spring from dormancy and just sat there and got deader and deader as spring stretched into summer.

What I learned:

1. Apparently the mail-order nursery I bought these trees from has a less-than-stellar reputation.

2. We had a dry spring. Maybe more watering would have made a difference, though I doubt it… the trees had brown and brittle portions before planting.

3. Bare-root trees from out of state nurseries may not be the best options for Florida.

Failure #2: Squash Was Totally Bored

I tried my Melon Pit trick this spring and planted Tan Cheese pumpkins all over my front-yard food forest after seeing the dramatic success a friend had with this cultivar. The vines grew well for a while, then were almost all destroyed by some kind of borers. The same thing happened to my friend at the same time.

What I learned:

1. Pests happen, sometimes dramatically. Don’t put all your eggs (or pumpkins) in one basket.

2. Pumpkins do better in compost piles than anywhere else.

Luckily for us, the compost pile pumpkins have produced like crazy. If I were a more self-promoting gardener, I would just post the picture below and brag about my success…


See? Look at me! I can garden!

Failure #3: Two Of My Mulberry Trees Make Small Fruit

I invested three years in a pair of tiny mail-order generic mulberry trees. They grew quickly into beautiful trees; however, the yield of the fruit isn’t nearly as good as I had hoped.

What I learned:

1. Make sure you know what you’re planting before you waste too much time on it.

2. Not all fruit trees are created the same. My Illinois Everbearing mulberries way outproduce these generic “black mulberries.”

3. This failure may not be a failure: the trees can now function as a root stock for improved types. I’m definitely grafting in a bunch of buds this next spring.

Failure #4: Didn’t Get Many Of the Spring Garden Beds Planted

This spring was really hectic and some of our gardening plans just fell off the radar. Between my two food forest projects, my nursery, my writing work and a client that went MIA, things were nuttier than usual. Along with the stresses, we also had the great blessing of having another child… right when we’d normally be planting.

What I learned:

1. New babies are much better than gardens.

2. You can’t do everything.

3. Because we had lots of perennial crops already growing, losing the annuals didn’t mean we went without.

Failure #5: My hot tub ponds kept going empty

I added three used hot tubs to my homestead as places to grow edible pond plants,among other reasons. Two of them were a total pain to get sealed off. I caulked and filled them multiple times but they kept leaking. Eventually, a friend figured out the problem and they’ve worked since then.

What I learned:

1. I’m a bad plumber.

2. Other people are good plumbers.

3. Have other people help.

Failure #6: A Friend Totally String-Trimmered Some Plants To Death (AFTSTSPTD)

When AFTSTSPTD happens in your yard, it’s a bad thing. I was way short on time so I had a friend help out around the homestead. Unfortunately, the sun got to him and he randomly shredded a few things, including a rare improved loquat tree (girdled!), a Surinam cherry bush, a chaya, a black cherry tree, etc.

What I learned:

1. My system of plant “organization” doesn’t naturally make sense to everyone.

2. When AFTSTSPTD happens, it can make your wife really mad.

3. Some people are better at plumbing than they are at string trimming.

Failure #7: I Totally Got a Thorn In the Roof Of My Mouth While Eating Cactus


There are cactuses that are thornless and easy-to-consume… and there are cacti that aren’t. I found one of the latter on a foraging expedition with some clients, so I demonstrated how tasty cacti could be… and got a thorn in the roof of my mouth.

What I learned:

1. Knowledge doesn’t equal wisdom.

2. Thorns in the roof of your mouth hurt.

3. Preparation is particularly important with wild foods.

4. Pride cometh before a spine in the roof of thy mouth.

Failure #8: West Indian Gherkins Hate Me And My Fancy Trellises

I’m always looking for alternatives to typical cucumbers. The best alternative is classified as an invasive, so I’m stuck toying around with wilder plants from the tropics. One of these is the West Indian Gherkin. They look really cool and taste great; however, they fail to produce many fruit for me and they just don’t want to climb on the trellises I made for them.

What I learned:

1. There’s a reason some plants aren’t in broad circulation.

2. Just because it looks cool doesn’t mean it IS cool.

3. West Indian Gherkins are not a good survival crop. Or a normal crop. Or much of any kind of crop.

Out of about 10 vines, we got about 10 fruit. Here’s a picture of these precious little snowflakes:


I should’ve known they couldn’t be trusted.

Failure #9: Weeds Gained Control Over My Cassava Bed

Last year I did pretty well selling cassava cuttings and plants in my nursery, so I planted a big patch of them out back this spring. Unfortunately, dry weather gave the weeds a head start and the cassava hasn’t grown nearly as well as I would have liked, meaning my nursery is sold out and I can’t meet the demand for cuttings.

What I learned:

1. Set up better irrigation next year.

2. Plant cassava in a greenhouse for a ready supply.

3. Find a better way to keep my cassava from freezing through the winter.

These are just nine of my failures this year. I also mysteriously lost a couple of pomegranate trees to an unknown pathogen, lost chickens to raccoons, misplaced my good pruning shears…

Anyhow, you get the idea. The thing is… I wouldn’t have so many failures without trying such a wide range of garden plants and techniques. My goal is to be ready if things get worse in this country. That means packing in my experimentation now. Later on, failure might become a serious issue… but I’ll have worked out many of the kinks by then.

Now if you’ll excuse me… I’ve gotta go see what the heck is making my pear tree wilt.

This article was originally published at Ready Nutrition™ on August 14th, 2014

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