A Watched Plant Never Grows?

Being frustrated with my garden in the spring is beginning to be a habit. When you plant and plant and hardly anything appears to be succeeding, it’s rather discouraging. I felt like this last year and then we ended up with so much produce we didn’t know what to do with it all. So how did I end up in this position again?

For a little background, this year’s gardening efforts haven’t exactly been successful. Out of two entire flats of seedlings, I got a pepper and two eggplants. My second seeding effort, where I planted into much larger pots, was slightly better. Four of my tomatoes are thriving and my basil is slowly chugging along. However, the other tomato is perpetually stuck in barely-sprouting mode and still hasn’t gained its “real” leaves.

My tomato seedlings that were originally quite leggy have gotten satisfyingly stocky and strong.

On the other hand, there's this exceedingly sad tomato.

Learning from last year, I decided to ensure my seedlings were hardened off before putting them in the ground. I put them in the cold frame with the lid somewhat open so that they wouldn’t overheat. Despite that precaution, the temperature still rose to 90 degrees. Then, when I opened the lid all of the way, the temperature dropped to only 50 degrees and the wind whipped them to heck. When I brought them inside, one of the eggplants and one of the tomatoes were completely dead, but I couldn’t tell if it was from the heat or the wind. Even when I tried to do well, I still ended up killing a couple of plants.

In the garden itself, very little has sprouted. The only obvious greenery is a potato and some green onions that overwintered. As I described last month, I planted garlic, onions, carrots, and spinach. Within the nest of leaves from my lasagna gardening, I put down a clump of Leaf-Gro (dry compost from the county), placed the seeds in the clump, and then watered it. After a few weeks, I noticed that absolutely nothing had happened. I’m afraid that the first time I watered it, I may have washed away the seeds. On the other hand, I may have let it dry out too much after that initial planting. With that analysis, I replanted the carrots and spinach last week, using damp seeding mix instead of dry Leaf-Gro. I also planted a crop of parsnips the same way. I know that it’s too soon for much to sprout yet, but I keep nervously checking anyway. The uncertainty of waiting reinforces my anxiety that I screwed something up again.

In terms of this negativity, my first mistake was setting my expectations too high. Last year, I decided that if I got anything out of it at all, it would be a success. My seedlings got moldy – but a few of them survived. Sure, a lot of my seeds didn’t come up, but the ones that did grew well! This year, I thought I had it all worked out – I changed my seeding method and followed the calendar. So when the plants failed to meet my specific expectations, I was disappointed.

My second mistake was underplaying the role of learning by doing. I tend to learn by textbook and discussion – there’s a reason I got an academic degree rather than a trade license and it isn’t because one is inherently superior to the other (which it isn’t). I lack the patience to learn through experimentation. But there are some areas in which if learning by doing isn’t the only method, it’s at least the most effective. Now, I believe cooking and gardening both fall into that category. In fact, I remember being frustrated by cooking at first – it seemed that a recipe should include every detail. Unfortunately, while recipes are useful, they can’t tell you to the second how long you should cook your food – that’s going to depend on your stove, your elevation, and your preferences. Over time, I came to realize that senses of taste and timing are things that you can only develop through practice. I believe gardening is the same way. A calendar or even a permaculture book is useful for explaining the outline of a skill set, like a recipe gives you a list of ingredients, but understanding the nuances grows out of experience. Similarly, testing and ecological analysis are useful tools, but they’re useless in ignorant hands.

Lastly, I underestimated the capriciousness of nature. After all, even if you do everything right, anything else can happen. There are lots of reason a seed may not sprout, many of which are completely unrelated to you as a gardener. We had wild swings of temperature during my first outdoor planting, which may have destroyed any chance of them sprouting. Even though we’re trying to be consistent about watering our second planting, the lack of rain this week isn’t helping. There’s a point at which I have to realize that due to the unpredictability of nature and my unwillingness to resort to chemical methods, I’m not always going to be successful. Thankfully, I have the privilege to have this attitude, unlike career farmers with minimums to grow or those who rely on their garden crop for regular produce.

In the meantime, I’ll wait and watch, hoping that my plants will sprout faster than a watched pot boils.

If you have a garden, how is it doing? Have you had a garden in the past that has done poorly in the beginning and then become much more successful as the season has gone on?

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One Response to A Watched Plant Never Grows?

  1. Pingback: Sprout A Little, Sprout a Lot « Will Bike for Change (or Pie!)

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