Are you frustrated that your gardening efforts are never what they should be? Short on time and not doing things “perfectly”? Here are 4 grow-your-own garden mistakes that will turn out to be blessings this year and every year.
There are cottage gardens and English gardens and xeriscaped gardens and children’s gardens and on and on and on.
Ever been in The Garden of Whatever? It’s where I live.
The Garden Mistakes Reality
Despite my commitment to grow my own, do it myself and do it all I’m always:
- grasping for time
- busy with the rest of my life
- gardening with toddlers
- out of money
- looking for my garden journal
- forgetting my compost
- killing my seedlings
- and on it goes, ad nauseum
I’ve discovered over the thirty years I’ve been growing gardens that there’s no perfect year where all my efforts bear fruit. There are, however, so many lessons to be learned and harvests to bring in. Even when I make mistakes, the garden is always there, growing along and forgiving my stumbling efforts. Somehow, as I learn through messing up, I find better ways of growing food and smarter ways to work the garden.
Here’s a little something to think about from our book, The Do It Yourself Homestead:
“Fortunately for all of us gardeners, nature is adaptable and resilient and whenever I have a garden failure I just say right out loud, ‘Well, that’s why God invented next year!'”
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The following are 4 garden mistakes that can actually be blessings in your garden.
Garden Mistake #1 – Life Happened This Year!
See if you recognize yourself in these words from Sharon Astyk, author of Independence Days – A guide to sustainable food storage and production:
“You see, there were these sheep, that escaped the fencing and ended up in my garden. That took care of the strawberries and the early tomatoes. Then there was this book. And then there were a host of reasons, some real and some stupid, why half my garden is in cover crops or something else.
“I could claim it was because of my deep commitment to the soil, but that wouldn’t explain why I was crawling around on my knees sticking random unplanted onions in between things. Do you know when you are supposed to plant onions here? The middle of April. And I was planting them on June 26. Nor would it explain why there are sad-looking hot pepper plants looking at me and crying, ‘Plant me…plant me…I could fruit still before frost if you’d just get me…out of my flat, where I’ve been since March!’ And here I am ignoring them.”
Sound at all familiar to you? It does to me. Especially this year.
You see, there was this pregnancy that just took me for a ride. That meant I didn’t get any of my veggie starts started. Then there was the baby to take care of.
And then there have been a whole host of reasons, some real and definitely some stupid, why half my garden is in native weeds and re-seeding flowers. I could claim that I’m growing them up as fodder for my animals but that wouldn’t explain why I can’t even walk through the vegetable garden because of all the “fodder” growing in the aisles between my boxes.
The Benefit of These Garden Mistakes?
The weeds are nutritious!
Don’t believe me? Here’s an article on growing native plants in your backyard for animal fodder – Goat Salad Bar in the Backyard.
Here’s another article on foraging these wild plants as food for humans – Wild Free Food.
Here’s a roundup article of all the things you can do with flowers – food, medicine, crafts – Perennial Flowers
The biggest benefit to using flowers in your veggie garden is that they easily attract honey bees and other pollinators. The more pollinators you have, the more you ensure a harvest from your vegetable gardens and orchards.
Here’s some information on 10 Perennial Flowers that Attract Bees from Attainable Sustainable. Here’s another from Grow Forage Cook Ferment with 12 more ideas on flowers for pollinators.
What may have started out a goof – a simple case of benign neglect – can result in more pollinators and bigger harvests!
Garden Mistake #2 – I’m Too Disorganized!
Do you know how far apart you’re supposed to plant vining snap-peas for optimal results? At least three inches, with a nice trellis for them to run up.
You want to know what I did with mine this year?
My four year old and I went out with my jar of peas – at least, at least, I was using seed we saved last year. That made me feel slightly better. However, all we did was sprinkle the peas on top of the soil like pepper on a salad.
Then, I said to my little one, “Ok, kiddo, use your finger and push those babies into the dirt. You tuck them in nicely and they’ll come up and make peas for us. Their bed is a little messy but, whatever!”
So, there I was with my very pregnant stomach, on a blustery day in early March, not a square foot marker or a ruler in sight, throwing my pea seeds out to take their chances in this world of chaos.
Did the peas sprout? They sure did.
Are the beds a royal mess? Uh, yeah. Some radish and kale seeds had blown in the season before and eventually started coming up after the peas had died back in summer’s heat. That added a layer of crazy.
Did I eat peas this spring? Yes, ma’am, I did.
You’re very welcome in my garden of WHATEVER. Please feel free to stop by whenever you’d like to feel better about your own gardening efforts.
Want a Few More to Make You Feel Like a Super Gardener?
What about the carrots that went to seed? Forget about it, I totally remembered they were there and let them go to seed on purpose (ha, ha). Biennials require planning, you know.
What’s that about the Purslane growing in among the artichokes? Of course, I meant for it to grow there. It will all be out and fed to the animals before the artichokes get too much bigger. I grow Purslane whenever I can because it has the highest protein count of any land plant. I’m smart about plants.
So smart, in fact, that I decided to let the radish and lettuce go to seed last year and then let that seed drop or fly where it would. I did this so that I could deliberately grow lettuce in the rows between my vegetable beds. Some plants are just born free, man; let it be.
The Benefit of These Garden Mistakes?
Some people actually garden this way on purpose! It’s called permaculture, a system of growing food that involves planting a variety of different plants in one space to support and sustain each other. Here’s an example from Joybilee Farm: How to grow asparagus and strawberries together.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you just throw your seeds out and expect success every time. What I am saying is that if the picture you have in your head of your garden requires that there be neat, tidy rows from house to horizon, get over it. Row crops are fine, if you insist, but botanical variety (different plants in the same space) add dimension to your vegetable garden and make it better able to self-sustain.
To learn more on this idea, here are some basic articles on companion planting, a vital aspect of permaculture:
- Companion plants and edible flowers – Lovely Greens
- Veggie garden companion planting examples – Family Food Garden
If you decide you’d like to continue this practice and even expand it, here’s an article from Tenth Acre Farm on How to Develop the Permaculture Homestead in Phases
Garden Mistake #3 – I Can’t Afford the Right Equipment!
So, we’ve lived in this house three years and every year the pink climbing roses in the backyard send out arms of lovely rose buds to celebrate the summer. Every year I tell myself it’s time to put up some trellis so those little arms stop tearing at my hair and causing me to holler un-Christian things as thorns gouge out my eyes when I walk by.
Well, I had no time or money but I had several lengths of newly harvested bamboo from generous neighbors. So, I stuck those sticks in among the climbing roses and forced them back to a less lethal setting.
Do I have bamboo sticking randomly out of my roses? Yes. Have I decided it looks interesting and I’m going to do it every year? Of course! You’re in the garden of WHATEVER, lest you forget.
What did I do when we needed a path through a wall of vines and plastic trellis panels for our ducks and their people to waddle through?
Duh, I got the Sawsall and we made a doorway. Whatever. It totally looks like we were being artsy fartsy with an archway of vines.
The Benefit of These Garden Mistakes?
Learning to DIY a project when you would rather buy a tool to do it more easily can be a challenge, I know. However, necessity really is the mother of invention.
Instead of giving up because you feel like you can’t afford all the cool garden tools, or even all the plants you want, learn to pace yourself. Allow yourself the time to learn the difference between needs and wants. Learn to do it yourself as often as possible. Learn, too, what you’re willing to save up and purchase. Both are important lessons.
You don’t have to be wealthy to grow your own food. You will sometimes need to be creative, though. Maybe these articles will help:
- From 100 Dollars a Month here’s how to save big on your spring garden.
- Joybilee Farm suggests 25 cheap gardening tricks to make you more self-reliant.
- Family Food Garden can teach you how to make cheap mini greenhouses for seed starting.
- Learning and Yearning can show you how to make seed starting pots from newspaper.
- Rootsy Network can show you to upcycle other found items into garden pots.
- How about turning canning lids into garden markers with Homespun Seasonal Living?
- Don’t neglect your own needs in the garden, make this umbrella stand from an antique milk can with A Farm Girl in the Making.
Garden Mistake #4 – I Failed So I’m Giving Up.
Last year’s potatoes were a test, an exercise in the name of horticulture. I wanted to see if we could get them to grow in layers of straw. The result? No potatoes. Not one harvestable potato.
We didn’t fail miserably, though, we simply found a way not to grow potatoes. Whatever.
I was frustrated and about to take the whole thing apart when I noticed that the chicken wire that held all that useless straw in place was still around the old potato bed. There were leftover seedling potatoes leafing out, too. Figuring it couldn’t hurt we stuck some cardboard and feed bags between the wire and the soil. We piled the dirt and straw up over the stalks to encourage tuber growth.
The result? Some potatoes grew! It’s sound science to run trials with similar variables but different parameters, right?!
The Point of the Garden Mistakes Blessings
The key to garden success is not to give up. Try again, try something different, try something new! But don’t you quit! Me and you, our halting efforts to grow our own food, they’re so much better than doing nothing at all.
Try to see all those garden mistakes as blessings and thank your Higher Power for them every season.
As Miss Sharon says,
“Am I panicked? Nope. Guilty? Nope. But only because I’ve been here so often that I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with the reality. All the perfect gardens live in my head, and the truth is, every year’s garden is totally messed up.
“The thing is, I end up eating a lot of food from that messed up garden, and it does get better every year. Or at least every year without sheep in the front yard.”
Did I ever mention I’m a Master Gardener. Bwa haa haa!
Cover image gratefully attributed to this Pexels user.