Skip to content

Four garden success stories, and a failure

2012 June 11

Before I planted this garden, I was apprehensive about the commitment. I have historically been a dabbler – a three day monk of many pursuits. Gardens do not provide instant gratification (I have to wait how long to eat anything‽), and to add insult to injury, require frequent attention. You can’t power through on a 36 hour binge and get a garden done, unlike, say, essays, or wedding planning.

A garden requires a long game, and mine has not been that strong. Could I do it this time?

baby garden

One month in, I have a preliminary report: this time, it is different. Phew.

The garden calls to me in the mornings. I have been a slow-moving grumpy bear in the AM as long as I can remember, but for the last few weeks, the first thing I have wanted to do upon waking is to go out and check on my plants.

The earlier I get out, the more I get to see the leaves glow. The clear colors of these young Little Gem lettuces take my breath away. Every. Single. Time.

glowing lettuce

So, why is it different this time? Well, growing food may be a long game, but there are plenty of achievements along the way. The hardest days were those before anything had sprouted. Once the arugula started poking its heads up through the soil, there has been something new to observe almost every day.

Every time something grows a little larger, sprouts a new leaf, or fails to come up while its cohort thrives, I gain a data point – information that I will use next time I want to grow that plant. And honestly, I earn an added grain of confidence. My thumb turns a shade greener.

Granted, three shades greener than black is still basically black, but I can work with that.


One month in, I have four main success stories:

Direct seeding greens. I did have some advance experience with this area – last year I grew Red Russian kale (Brassica napus) from seed, so I’m repeating that success.

baby kale

Up and up it grows.

toddler kale

This year, I branched out and also grew Southern Giant mustard greens (Brassica juncea).

wee mustards

I have already had to thin these twice, probably because the neighbor cat scratched the seeds into one big pile.

toddler mustards

The other successful greens are spicy arugula (Eruca sativa) pictured below, and the afore-mentioned Little Gem lettuce (Lactuca sativa L. var. longifolia), a tasty little romaine that I have purchased at the farmer’s market in years past. All of them came up rocketing up strong. BOOM.

toddler arugula


Starting seeds indoors. I started the bush beans and winter squashes indoors under a desk lamp, in old six-pack and 4″ square planting containers that R & I rummaged out of the Berkeley Horticultural Nursery’s recycling dumpster.

seed starting with lamp

Getting to see the seeds come up indoors was both interesting to watch, and relieving to my anxious mind. The shoots poked more and more insistently against the insulating plastic, then sprung upwards in relief when released from its constraints. Some got leggy, but I got to cull the weak ones before planting them out, so that was not the end of the world.

the bean end of the garden

When plants didn’t come up outside (cough – summer squash – cough), I fretted and stressed. When they didn’t come up indoors, it was fine because I had planted plenty of extras.


Growing squash in hills. In a fervent desire to put off failure for as long as possible be as prepared as possible, I’ve been reading up on gardening techniques everywhere I can. Peeps seemed to be into hilling squash, so I did so too.

The idea is that you plant squash seeds together in a hill, then make a bit of a moat around the raised hill.

zucchini in arms

Once the seedlings have emerged, you thin them down to the strongest, and start watering in the moat, to assist with targeting water to those plants in particular.

I also transplanted some winter squash that I started indoors into hills. These fellows are called Jaune Gros de Paris pumpkins (Cucurbita maxima), and will be for carving, if I can keep them fed enough to make it to adulthood.

Fat Yellow Parisian pumpkins

As getting plant leaves wet can lead to mildew (particular in cucurbits) and sunburns, the hill & moat method gets extra thumbs up for easy of corralling the water down low. I won’t slather sunscreen on their leaves, but I will practice prophylactic watering.


Not doing it alone. Last year and the year before, my tiny gardens were mine alone. I bought the starts, built the raised bed, planted the seeds, and muddled through the tending, all on my own. I suspect that one of the major reasons my carrots didn’t grow is that I didn’t water them frequently enough.

This time, my husband R and I are growing the garden together. I am still taking the lead – ordering seeds, doing the transplanting, reading the gardening advice, but we are sharing the time commitment, and that makes a world of difference. He waters twice during the week and on the weekends, and has done all the fruit tree waterings. He checks on new growth, pokes the potato bugs, and shoes the cat away from the beds.

Going it alone might satisfy my need to Control, but Doing it Together (DIT ftw) has made the garden a family labor of love. I put my money on learning to share the burden and joy being the most important success.


Now for the bad news…

Yellow summer squash. At the same time that I planted three hills with six Costata Romanesco zucchini (Cucurbita pepo) seeds each, I planted two hills of Yellow Scallop squash, a petite pattypan variety.

zucchini & mustards

While the green cousins were going gangbusters – 15 out of 18 germination rate – the sad yellows boys were a huge fail. Only 1 out of 12 seeds sent up a strong shoot. Another struggled valiantly against the seed casing, but ultimately lost.

seed-bound sprout


The nice thing about this failure is that I can apply success lesson #2, and start these indoors next time. See how that works? Love it.

Last Saturday, R & I planted a second succession of greens in the areas currently unpopulated. If the neighbor cat doesn’t dig these up, it will be lovely to have two ages of plants going at the same time. For now, the older plants are slowly covering the bed.

toddler garden

Next up: direct seeded swiss chard and sweet basil are in. Which will emerge first?

Ready, set, go!

5 Responses Post a comment
  1. Jasmin permalink
    June 11, 2012

    My squash and zucchini were a colossal failure. They came up from seed beautifully, but then got invested with the vine borer… and now some of them are dead, and others on the decline.

    I planted everything from seed, and everything else is doing beautifully. We live, we learn!

    • Alice permalink*
      June 11, 2012

      Vine borer – how sad! I’ll have to go look that up. I think you can replant summer squash for a few more weeks. Maybe in a different patch of soil?

      I love the live & learn attitude. What else are you growing?

  2. Jasmin permalink
    June 11, 2012

    *Sorry, they got infested, not invested!

  3. Zach permalink
    June 11, 2012

    We managed to solve our invasive feline problem with these funky little plastic tubes that have a garlic rosemary goo in them. You stick or hang them around the garden and they lasted us one growing season. Picked them up at OSH.

    Don’t be too disapointed with the yellow squash failure – you will be amazed at how much one plant can produce! T and I couldn’t keep up with the three or four green and yellow plants we had last year and cut it down to two this year!

    • Alice permalink*
      June 11, 2012

      I suspect we will have waaay too much zucchini. Perhaps I should strategically reduce the nine survivors of the first cull to 6…

      Thanks for the invasive feline tip!

Leave a Reply

Note: You may use basic HTML in your comments. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS