Having a Garden and (NOT) Growing Food

Back in my apartment days, I couldn’t wait to finally have a yard to grow a garden. We’ll grow food! We’ll grow amazing amounts of food and save so much money! It will be organic and healthy and meaningful!

We’ve lived here for five years now. Every year I have a garden. Every year I put organic soil and compost and blood and sweat and tears and water and seeds and plants and time into my garden.

Every year only minimal food comes out of the garden.

Yet, every spring I suffer from optimism.


This has been the journey so far…

The first year we built some raised beds, dug way, way down into the dirt and put down gopher netting, stapled it to the bottom of the wood beds and put the soil back, along with a year’s worth of compost and purchased soil.

We planted tomatoes. (We also planted other things but the tomatoes are really the most important, right?)


They grew! They got big! Tomatoes appeared!

Then we went out of town. But we weren’t stupid. Oh no, we hired someone to come to our house every day to feed our cats and to water our precious garden.

Only when we came back a week later:


Everything was dead. Despite her once-a-day watering the plants got fried. It was the hottest week of summer.

So the next year, we were determined to not go out of town when our garden was fragile.


It was going so well! The plants were HUGE! Finally, there was a tomato that was just about ripe. We were almost there! Almost ready to have a real harvest.

I eagerly went out to the garden the next morning:


It was gone. Thieves in the night. I found evidence of tomato bits nearby, as though the culprit plucked it and then sat there snacking away on it. Raccoons? Bunnies? Orcs?

We bought sprays that smelled like rotten eggs. We bought ones that were made with the urine of bobcats and coyotes. We even bought a powder one that was made of blood and spices. Nothing worked. We were just seasoning the tomatoes for them before they ate them.

Fortunately, whatever critter was taking them, didn’t take all of them. I did manage to harvest a handful that year. Not worth the financial/time investment, but at least it was something.

So the third year, I decided to getย smart. I stapled chicken wire to the wood of one of the raised beds all the way around. With gopher netting underneath and chicken wire on top, nothing could get in!


All was going so well! We had no evidence of rabbits or raccoons and our plants were safe! We were going to have so many tomatoes this year we’d have to can some!

I couldn’t wait to pick that tomato the next morning. It was almost ready. So close to being perfect.

The next morning I was delighted that it was still there! I picked it.



There was a huge gouge in it. It looked like someone took a bite while still on the vine but left it there.

In a panic, I looked at all the other tomatoes. They were all fine. No bites. Phew.

Except it kept happening. Every single time a tomato was JUST about ripe, the next day there would be a giant hole in it. That was the year I found out it was the birds. You can read all the ridiculous things I tried over there. (Thankfully, someone in the comments mentioned buying bird netting to lay over the top.)ย 

Enter year five. (Actually, it was more like year 4.5 because this was fall for a winter garden.)ย 

I put bird netting over the garden. Nothing was getting in! Nothing!

Now that I had solved all our prior problems I thought I’d save money by using seeds. I read everything about it. I got trays and supplies and positioned them in front of sunny windows. I planted kale and chard and all sorts of great things that would do brilliantly here in fall. I tended those seedlings multiple times a day.


They grew! All big and strong and it was time to transfer them outside.

I amended the soil again and I planted them.


It was so secure.

Finally. It would be so great! We’ll be swimming in kale chips soon!

The next morning, I went out to check on them and water and…


The garden was leveled. In less than 24 hours. There wasn’t a SINGLE piece of green left. Everything was eaten down below the surface of the soil. All those weeks of tending those seedlings and…gone.

I had a few more seedlings in the house that I planted as bait the next night. I went out armed with a flashlight and found…earwigs. Those little stupid brown bugs with pinchers. They ate everything down to a nub.

See, that’s the thing with gardening. Just when I think I have one problem solved, another one comes along. I have no idea why I have such terrible luck with this. And each year I make a vow to never do it again.



Temptation strikes and my mind is once again riddled with optimism disease.

I got a seed catalog last week. I hate love hate love (ack! I don’t even know how I feel anymore!) seed catalogs. They are the worst, most tricksy catalogs ever.

Sure, a clothing catalog shows some lady wearing a skirt while running through a field of daisies and looking all happy and it is supposed to make you think, “If I own that skirt I’ll be happy and can run through daisies!” But this isn’t completely a marketing lie. It is actually partially true. I really COULD buy the skirt and find a field of daisies to run through while wearing it. Part of the sales story is true. Sure, the happiness part is iffy, but that’s only implied anyway. At least the rest is true.

Seed catalogs though? LIES. It’s all lies. These are the lies that fuel my optimism. They don’t show you pictures of the actual seeds, do they? No. They show you pictures of the most amazingly healthy and colorful vegetables. You see them and think, “If I buy this, I too can have an amazingly healthy and colorful vegetable bounty.” Except you don’t get vegetables. You just get seeds. You are only getting potential vegetables. Imaginary vegetables. Vegetables that will most likely never exist for you.

But I love them. Hate them. Whatever.

And I’m currently planning a garden for spring.

Because, well, you know.

We’ll grow food! We’ll grow amazing amounts of food and save so much money! It will be organic and healthy and meaningful!


This entry was posted in gardening. Bookmark the permalink.

139 Responses to Having a Garden and (NOT) Growing Food

  1. Elaine says:

    It is for these reasons, that at the end of summer one year, I insisted my husband plant grass seed where my garden beds were – so I would not be tempted by the hopefulness of the next Spring. My children love playing soccer in the backyard now. And I love going to the farmer’s market each week.

    However, if you do proceed with a garden, pluck the tomatoes as soon as they start to turn orange. Let them ripen on the counter inside. They taste just as good, and the critters don’t get them first.

    • Meredith says:

      Oh, my goodness! Elaine! You are my new hero. “My children love playing soccer in the backyard. And I love going to the farmer’s market each week” is going to be my Springtime mantra from here on out.

      • Mary says:

        Thank you for this! I feel so much better. My story is pretty much the same as above. Except we also don’t get enough sun so the seedlings barely grow. Always such high hopes…I also enjoy just going to the farmer’s market and buying nice produce that someone else worked hard on. They have obviously got it down to a science so I like to keep them in business!

  2. Ceri says:

    Thank you for this post! I have been thinking I might try a garden this year. Apparently I forgot how much work I put in to digging a bed 3 years ago and by the time I got it dug my seedlings I planted died and I gave up. Thank you for reminding me its not worth the little time I have. You reminded me of the first year I had an apartment and I planted peas in a hanging basket on my balcony. I was wise and wrapped my basket in tool to keep the birds out, but the DAM BIRDS Still got in! I didn’t know it until one day I looked out and one was CAUGHT! I will buy my stuff at a farm or a market or the truth? A store. Its enough effort to take my son to go berry picking once a summer. This year, we are going to be better and go berry picking TWICE maybe 3 times. I am going to make ALL the freezer jam. (He has become a jam snob and wont eat anything but mine now) Thanks for the laughs!

  3. mariah says:

    We have our little seedlings started. Our first year. I hope it goes well, the boys are excited. About the earwigs (I hate those things and am now scared since one fell into my hair) I remember my friend’s mom putting something in a paper bag which attracted ear wigs and then her dad would burn it. The part I remember best is how we’d chase each other with the earwig bag.

  4. Kate C says:

    I, too, have diligently tried and failed for years. I think because there is a garden space in our yard that I felt obligated to use it. Last year we didn’t, because of a new baby in the house. This year? This year I’m filling it with wood chips and a toddler play set. Take that, garden!

  5. Debbie says:

    First time we have a huge backyard and we’ve been talking and getting excited about planting a garden, growing our own food, yadda, yadda, yadda…. I’m now rethinking this. I’ve never had a garden, never planted anything and can barely keep an indoor plant alive. What am I thinking? I’m showing your post to my husband and getting this insane idea out of our heads. Growing our own food…ha! That’s what grocery stores are for.

    • Nicole says:

      This made me laugh so hard! We just bought a house last fall and I had a grand plan for creating this big loverly garden full of carrots and cucumbers and fresh yumminess. Then I remembered I suck at plants. I don’t like dirt. I’m allergic to nature. Maybe I should scale back to a nice terracotta pot with some shallots or something, and when I kill all those, I’ll be over this whole garden idea.

    • mbaxtermomma says:

      we have trouble keeping indoor pants alive , they are trickier than you think but manage dto grow potatoes tomatoes(in Green house), brussles sprouts, salads ,beetroot

    • Vicky says:

      Don’t be too disheartened. I always kill indoor plants (including cacti) but have grown all sorts of fruit and veggies outdoors.

  6. Christina says:

    Last year our garden feed the caterpillars big time, I hade 4 foot tall sunflowers…gone, lettuce…gone, peas…gone, etc etc. But we did have a lot of butterflies later. This year the lady at the nursery told me to put down broken egg shells to keep the caterpillars and snails at bay. This seems extreme but I don’t want to use a chemical on my food either. So this year I continue to try but only because the kids seem to eat home grown veggies. Maybe next year we get a playset.:-)

  7. Lilly says:

    Ha! Same here. A lot of time, money and effort for a few animal taste-tested veggies. Yet I still do it year after year!

    You should read “The $64 Tomato”. It’s hysterical and a pretty fast read.

  8. Jody says:

    We do this every year too, with the same results. We just planted carrot seeds yesterday. I’m convinced you have to use toxic pesticides and fertilizers to keep the bugs off and have anything grow well. My dad and grandpa do, and they have what can only be described as bountiful harvests every single year.

    • Erin says:

      I agree. I’ve tried the organic route a few times with the same results – feeding the bugs and birds unstead of us. I don’t know if I should give up this year or go with pesticides.

    • Shannon says:

      We have successfully had an organic garden for the last 4 years. It is trial and error though, and we stick with veggies that aren’t as prone to disease and insect damage. Tomatoes have always been a no go. Peas, green beans, greens, carrots, cakes, peppers, zucchini….all have been much easier for us to have success. Missing one day in the garden though can destroy weeks of work however.

      • rtleeb says:

        You can grow cakes?!? Where do I buy seeds or starter plants for that? And do I get to choose chocolate or vanilla? Or is it like buying a bag of mixed bulbs and you get what you get and you don’t get upset?

        All I ever have success with is herbs. My window boxes are apparently the ideal spot for sweet basil. Last year’s crop netted me enough pesto so that we are still eating our frozen stash.


    • Lezlie says:

      I gave up on starting seeds indoors, but have found leaving a ripe tomato in the ground in the fall ensures tomato plants there in the spring. Nature knows how to grow stuff, right? If it’s much work, I don’t do it, but I’ve managed a healthy organic garden for years now. This year, I’m hoping for enough to can. ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Denise says:

    Gardening requires two of my least favorite things:
    1. Getting dirty
    2. Bending over.
    I’m out.

  10. Sara says:

    We did an organic garden last year. However, the only way to keep the deer out was by using an electric fence (we tried chicken wire alone in the past, but they would push against it, bend it, and climb into the garden). We did end up with about 200 pounds of tomatoes by the end of the summer. This year I am going to plant 1 tomato plant instead of 6 because I like tomatoes, but that was a lot of tomatoes. ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. Mary Ann says:

    Oh my gosh. I needed this today — thanks for the laughs!

  12. Tammy says:

    I kill everything green that I look at. There’s currently a basil plant sitting on my table, crying out for someone to come and take him away from here before he meets his doom.

  13. Gretchen says:

    I have always considered myself as having two black thumbs. You give me hope that maybe it isn’t me that kills the plants, but all the outside forces working against me!

  14. Kristin says:

    I, too, plant a garden every year (and I end up feeling like the hen whose friends won’t help harvest anything but they’re all more than happy to eat the end products). Anyway…I was about to have a whole lot of super awesome tomatoes – small ones, big ones, medium ones…then one day after work I went out to check on them and I noticed there were a bunch of leaves and tomatoes missing from some of the plants, and I looked closer and HOLY CRAP I was staring at the biggest, most disgusting thing ever. A Tomato Horn Worm (or a Tobacco Horn Worm). Never seen one? Google that sucker. There was one almost as big as my hand and thicker than my thumb. I screamed and ran inside to call my dad. You couldn’t even flick them off with a stick. I’m scarred by the experience.

    • christie says:

      OMG we had one of those and I put that sucker in the garbage disposal. I still have nightmares.

    • Jen W says:

      I Googled it, and now I will have nightmares for a week ๐Ÿ˜›

    • Charity says:

      OMG! So, about 6 years ago, I saw what this thing turns into (Hummingbird Moth) at my violets on my back porch. I had no idea what it was and never found out. It bugged me (pun intended) for weeks. Now, I google your Horn Worm and find out that’s what it was!! Crazy world.

      Thanks for that ๐Ÿ™‚

    • mbaxtermomma says:

      Lucky us we live in Ireland and don’t get ant of those pests or deer in our garden makes the whole experience a lot easier. It’s the being outside and even getting one veg etc for kids to see and eat from seed that’s rewarding. You could never live off it but supplements adn tastes better than I hve ever bought organic or not!!

    • MelissaS says:

      Of all the nasty critters in nature, Horn Worm takes the trophy (and the tomato leaves)! They grow overnight into huge scary beasts, and hide so well ๐Ÿ™

  15. Susan says:

    Try food grade diatomaceous earth. Those damn earwigs were decimating my flowers. I was so angry! Why are those ugly bugs here?! What do they want with my flowers?!

    I started putting the DE around the base of the pot (in the dirt) and reapplying after every rain and my flowers grew back and were incredible!

    And if that doesn’t work ask to be removed from the seed catalog’s mailing list ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • amber says:

      Ha, a 5lb bag of DE just arrived today and it sitting on my kitchen table. Not for the garden exactly, but I’m so happy to hear this might work there as well!

    • Rachelle says:

      I love that stuff. I sprinkle it all around my yard by the walls of my house to keep ants out (it works!) and in my garage to keep spiders out (we always get black widows if I’m not diligent… yuck).

  16. Laurie says:

    Yes! Read $64 Tomato (tho. not as crazy about his other book, 52 Loaves.) Gardening makes parenting look easy, sometimes!

  17. christie says:

    I feel your pain! I have NEVER had luck with tomatoes…until this last year. And you know what I did? I planted them and left them alone and all of a sudden I had a buttload of tomatoes. I mean, no checking every day, no sprays, no pruning…they just ran amok and I got baskets full. I’ve no idea what I did because I actually did nothing. I will forever be perplexed. I had the same thing with cucumbers…we’d get tons of flowers and then…nothing. Until this year…we had a buttload of cucumbers! Same as the tomatoes! So keep trying….when you least expect it you will have a bumper crop and you will have so many tomatoes you will be longing for the days you had no tomatoes!

    • Yul says:

      That’s what I was about to suggest. Just plant them and leave them alone. (well maybe water sometimes). Follow the law of the ‘on the opposite’ the garden should turn out great. But if it wouldn’t then at least you didn’t spend so much effort on it. ๐Ÿ™‚

  18. A Fifer says:

    My mom started this at her summer house. Every summer she says shes not going to. And all the kids and grandkids bully her into it. We are on the seaside in NJ so we dont get alot of varmin. But the catapillars!!! Eeew! We learned that it was the parsley. And mint grows like a weed. But the tomatoes are divine! An I love that I can sit on the deck and ask my 4 year old to pick some basil or arugula and she knows the difference!! And even eats the grape tomatoes.

  19. Lisa says:

    We attempted a garden one year. We had the healthiest weeds anywhere to be found.

  20. rebiccola says:

    This makes me so sad, because it hits a little too close to home. Since I already have seedlings started, we’ll see how this year goes. And then maybe I’ll follow Elaine and turn the gardens back into grass.

  21. wilma fingerdoo says:

    I have gardening amnesia every spring.
    Last year, I deer proofed and fenced in our garden but it was still eaten by our veggie-loving pointers. I never saw one cucumber (their favorite!) but found many zucchinis that were partially gnawed on all over the yard (fun to step in when barefoot).

    I will plant again this year but outside of the fence. So basically I will be growing a garden for the local deer. I am an idiot.

  22. Sam M says:

    This is why I simply belong to a CSA. I get organic vegetables all summer without the actual gardening.

  23. Eddy J says:

    Just finished a glass of seasoned tomato juice from last year’s crop. Every year about 20 gallons or so, cooked strained through a collander, then a sieve and seasoned with sugar, lemon, ginger and cloves, then poured into ziplock bags and finally set in a loaf pan (so it freezes in blocks). All winter long, the taste of summer and the memories of warm sunny days. It is so worth it.

    • amber says:

      I really hope it will be worth it for me someday. This is exactly why I keep trying, we live off my grandmother’s canned tomatoes and homemade spicy V8, it’s the best! Still no luck growing enough to make my own though.

  24. Erin K says:

    I gave up on gardening. they sell that crap at grocery stores and farmer’s markets.

  25. Briony says:

    We always seemed to have beginners luck with vegetables, which lures us into trying to grow then again, but it never seems to work again. When my eldest was 2 he used to lean into the raised beds and eat broccoli straight off the plant (probably along with the odd green caterpillar!) But this year my 15 broccoli plants got thinned to about 5 the day I put the plants in the garden, of which only one produced a head.

    And then there’s nothing worse than having actually succeeded in growing, harvesting and cooking something to have your kids refuse to eat it…

  26. Heather says:

    Sorry you have such great garden woes. I have accepted that when I plant a bunch of stuff (carrots, kale, garlic, lettuce, cucumbers, beans, zucchini, arugula) some things will grow, and some won’t. So I don’t buy fancy seeds, and I try not to count up the hours of soil amending, planting, watering, weeding, watering, weeding, harvesting and endless washing of the produce. I only concentrate on the moment when my sons take a bite of something home-grown and say “_______ is so yummy!” That’s what I remember from my childhood and that’s why I do it now. That and the farmer’s market here is super expensive.

  27. panda says:

    Plant an herb garden with perennial herbs. You get fresh herbs year around with almost zero maintenance. Rosemary, sage, thyme and lavender go crazy in my side yard. Keep oregano and mint in containers.

    • amber says:

      Yes, we excel at herbs! I have a huge section of mint, lavender, thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano, sorrel, lemon verbena, chives, etc. But tomatoes…sigh. I just want tomatoes. They are my gardening holy grail.

  28. chickenpig says:

    This is why I plant flowers. Beautiful flowers that nothing wants to eat.

    If you really want tomatoes, I suggest those upside down planters. They really work. Or you could grow stuff indoors hydroponically. I bought my husband an aero garden doo hicky for a hundred bucks and you can grow a surprisingly good amount of produce with it, even in winter. You can even use it to start your seedlings, if you choose the masochistic route ๐Ÿ™‚

  29. Sigh. This is the story of my gardening life, too. The flower beds? They’re golden. Pretty self-sufficient. But the veggie garden? If it it’s not that nasty tomato rot, it the going-on-vacation thing. Or the damn birds/chipmunks/mystery creatures nibbling. Or the trees growing and shading the garden too much. Or my kids kicking a soccer ball right into my gorgeous heirloom tomatoes.

    Why do I keep trying? You nailed it: THE SEED CATALOGS.

    One such catalog arrived a couple days ago, and in a fit of optimism fueled by visions of perfect pumpkins, I decided I am going to relocate my garden to the sunnier side yard. Wish me luck!

    • amber says:

      Good luck! The pumpkins are very seductive.

    • I get loads of tomatoes if i do 3 things. 1-start by buying giant plants at costco. I got no time for seedlings! 2-hook up irrigation. I tried to water by hand one year and i would either underwater because I’m super impatient or turn the water on and drive away for 4 hrs, oops! 3-prune like crazy. Get rid of almost all of the flattish, broad leaved arms. The productive ones look more crinkly. Oh 1 more. Ok 4 things… Full sun. Leafy plants need partial sun. Fruiting plants need full sun.

  30. Colleen says:

    I feel your pain. We had a semi successful garden a few years back for two reasons. One I let my kids help plant. While not much grew in the actual garden plot, we had awesome sunflowers, pumpkins, and a patch of mini carrots growing throughout the yard. The mini carrots went to the bunny at school to be “candy” for him at Halloween. Too cute. The other thing I did was, I went to Starbucks and asked for a big bag of their coffee grounds (they’re free btw) and mixed it into the soil layer before planting. The acidity keeps the bugs out (we had snails who loved Swiss chard) and your entire yard smells like a coffee shop. Win win.

    • Naomi says:

      Is that what we are meant to do with the coffee? My husband keeps saving our grounds for us and we just pile it on top of the ground. Now I know why the plants didn’t seem to like it so much. lol.

  31. christiane says:

    Hi I gave up and planted rasperries, that grow just like weeds and are so delicious with no effort at all (I don’t think birds like them so much), just add whipped cream !!

  32. sarah freeman says:

    kept out the rabbits, and bandicoots, partial success, until complete devastation, kept out the wallabies with higher fences. great. until small nibbling enough to kill seedlings, so kept out eh snails and the tiny curl-ups or slaters that hide under the straw, then the aphids and caterpillars. OK. Until the wasps. Ate all apple fruit. Huddled inside for fear of wasps. Found nest. KILL! ๐Ÿ™‚ peace. until the possums. haven’t yet done the fences for the possums. Am sure will find after the possums that the birds are still enjoying themselves.

    • sarah freeman says:

      surpisingly, I still enjoy my garden. And it looks like its going OK. But it would be about 50% better without the critters.

    • amber says:

      You win for the fact that you have to keep out wallabies. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      • Cristina says:

        Um, she won at bandicoots.

        …do you have jabberwockies and jub jub birds, too? O.o I think I am not hardcore enough to live in Australia!

  33. Lauren says:

    My husband grows hot peppers in the garden with great success, I guess because no critters like to eat things that are ulcer-inducing hot! But last year he also tried to grow corn, and was really excited to have 6 stalks grow to over 5 feet high. Until I went outside with my son one day and found corn cob carcasses strewn about the yard. The squirrels got to the corn stalks and decimated them! They were all broken and falling over and all the ears of corn were gone. We got one though! But my poor husband was so upset!

    • amber says:

      We’re doing the hot pepper thing this year. LOTS. It really is the one thing that is always successful. Fortunately, we like spicy things. That corn story is classic. Just when you think it is going so well…

      • Summer wright says:

        Ha, last year a caterpiller went through our jalepenos. I left him cause I wasn’t sure if he was a monarch one. In one night that sucker ate about a hundred, every single pepper. My husband was so upset!

        • Charity says:

          I wonder if they can detect the heat. Obviously it doesn’t bother them!

        • Leah says:

          Monarch caterpillars pretty much just eat milkweed (or only milkweed?), so I’m pretty sure you would have been safe pulling off the caterpillar. Maybe relocate it to some weeds you don’t like.

      • Lauren says:

        We have hundreds of dried hot peppers in our house, because my husband has been growing about 12 plants a year for the last 4 years. We get about 500 every summer, and even though hubby eats a lot of hot peppers even he can’t eat that many. The dehydrator has come in very handy!

  34. Naomi says:

    Oh thank goodness it’s not just us!!! My son is in love with seed catalogues and planting heirloom vegetables. We get to the same point as you and it all fizzles out. Then we went to a gardening day out and these old ladies were bragging about how they get 50 KILOS of tomatoes of EACH PLANT. I am ashamed to say that I silently plotted their deaths right then and there. It wouldn’t have been hard – they were really old. ๐Ÿ˜‰ But my son didn’t know, he was busy listening to the seed saving lecture – so now we save seeds AS WELL. Gah!!

  35. Kristin says:

    Hahaha…. this is so the story of my garden. I have found that I can only grow pumpkin and zucchini. Sadly the rest of my family don’t really like zucchini! And hot chillies, but only hubby likes them! I’ve sowed carrots three times this year and STILL don’t have a single one to harvest! I’m mostly struggling with whitefly and aphids this year. Unfortunately nets don’t help with them!

  36. Lauren says:

    heeheehee! my problem is failure to water… I decide to start seeds every year (for only 3 years so far) and every year I get really excited… then forget everything and they all die. Then I buy starter plants so they can be connected to the drip and that works out better!

  37. Mishka says:

    I have been wanting to do a small garden in our yard (we have a terraced yard) but the amount of time it has taken me to just keep the rest of the yard under control has kept me from accomplishing it. I am hoping to maybe do one cucumber, one tomato, one zucchini and my regular herbs this year and call it good…I can put it in the bed closest to the house and maybe that means we won’t have a ton of critters snacking on it. Thanks for the great post…and the laughs!!

  38. lsg1378 says:

    Is it a strange coincidence that I read “tricksy catalogs” in Gollem’s voice???

  39. You can learn so much
    from your first veggie garden
    like, why we buy food.

  40. Shannon says:

    If you haven’t read the book, Muncha Muncha Muncha, you must read it! It reminds me of all your netting and plans to keep the animals out. You will love it! I got our copy free in a Cheerios box one year, but I’m sure the library carries it. Anyway, here’s a link: http://www.amazon.com/Muncha-Candace-Fleming/dp/0689831528

  41. Pingback: Making progress « Oddly Said

  42. Theresa says:

    I have my tomato seedlings sprouting in my kitchen windowsill, about to be transferred into Homer buckets filled with soil (the orange 5 gallon ones…I work at Home Depot). A coworker of mine assured me that she gets really good plants this way, so here we go! ๐Ÿ™‚

  43. erica says:

    My mom plants everything in a jumble. We found that marigolds protected the tomatoes from bugs but lay year she had a squirrel problem. She also grows peppers.

    • Sarah says:

      I was going to say the same thing! My mom used marigolds too! A marigold wall around the perimeter to keep yuckies out!

  44. M.J. says:

    It seems that no matter how optimistic you want to be, SOMETHING comes along and eats it away. Literally in your case. I loved the story about how you figured out who ate the poor tomatoes.

    I hope you get a bumper crop this year ๐Ÿ™‚ Keep us posted on your garden, makes me want to grow stuff too but North Texas summers, fugettabout it!

  45. Christina says:

    I have also tried for too many years to have a thriving garden. Spending way too much money for the bounty we were actually able to eat. So last year I told hubby NO MORE GARDEN! My neighbor ends up with way too many tomatoes, along with other things, so I am covered. She likes to share so,
    no more wasted money for me ๐Ÿ™‚

  46. Lana says:

    Good Luck!!

  47. Tobi says:

    Oh I’m so glad I’m not the only one who has this experience!! We tried several summers in a row and gave up last year. First it was rabbits, then we put up chicken wire. Then the sun burned it all out. Then it was weird looking beetles that ate everything. The most I ever got out of it was a pitiful handful of lettuce…we totally spent way more money trying to make it work than any of the veggies cost in the store. (sigh) ๐Ÿ™

  48. Sara R says:

    Not sure if someone said this – but pick your tomatoes when they are just about ripe and they can finish getting ripe on a windowsill that gets light… my grandma does that with all her tomatoes – even if they are a bit green yet… then you can get them before the animals do!!!

  49. Jill says:

    Our issue is the strawberries. We have a small patch near the walkway up to our house and every single, darn year the chippys get to them first. You know those so cute, you could scream chipmunks, yes them! They are ruthless strawberry stealers and to make matters worse, they don’t steal the whole damn thing but carefully eat only the back half of the strawberry, so you are fooled into thinking that you are picking THE most perfect strawberry ever. Oh, and to rub it in even more, they love to show off their handiwork by leaving leftover bits of strawberries on the rock near the strawberry patch.

  50. Laura says:

    I’ve been thinking about doing a garden this year. We even set aside some tax money for it. But… it’s already prime planting season in my area and I haven’t started yet. I really want to try since i’ve been talking about it for 5 years, but I don’t. know. I did some container gardening a few years ago. It went well (just tomatoes and strawberries) except I bought the wrong type of tomato (I never knew there were SO MANY types!) so I expected them to get bigger and they never did!

  51. Trisha says:

    Guineas. The solution to all your problems. A chicken will tear up your garden but a guinea will not. A guinea will walk through your garden, pick the bugs/worms off the leaves/tomato and not damage it. They also kill mice and snakes. They also cackle very loudly in the night if there is an intruder and other birds do not like them. We put out an acre and a half garden (called a truck patch in this part of the world) right beside the guinea coop and have an amzaing amount of produce every year. And you can eat their eggs too!

  52. Trisha_K says:

    I have also given up on growing veggies. I turned our little plot into another flower bed.

  53. good luck amber. and everyone else that tries each year. i have my tomato seedlings started…. and when i checked them this morning a couple were getting there second sets of leaves! and as far as the earwigs… my mom just posted a gardening tip regarding them on our shared blog. check it out.

  54. Congratulations, you have killed my urge to grow food!

  55. Carol says:

    Hi, I am Jennifer Niles’ mother. See above comment posted by her. I say, “Don’t give up.” There is nothing better than home grown vegetables, or flowers for that matter. My tip on earwig control, no it won’t be control, my tip to limit earwig damage, is on my daughters and mine shared blog –moonrisesandmorningtea.blogspot.com

  56. Anne Pernick says:

    I love this post! And I also want to say a strong warning about bird nets–we don’t use them anymore after a bird got stuck in ours, got hurt trying to bust free and as we tried to bust the bird free, and subsequently died at the wildlife care facility. It was a very stressful and sad event.

  57. Grace says:

    How to grow tomatoes:
    Have a compost pile. Use most of the good stuff in your formal tomato garden.
    Plant the tomatoes, either seedlings or larger, no matter.
    Throw more stuff in the compost pile.
    Including tomato peelings and seeds from tomatoes you have purchased. Bonus if they are grape or cherry tomatoes.
    Harvest tomatoes from the plants that grow in the compose pile.

  58. Kathleen says:

    I’m not sure if it works but I’ve heard if you take the hair from your brush or your pet’s brush and put it in the garden it will keep some critters away.

    My problem is I see 1 weed but I’m too lazy to pull it and then it calls all its weed friends and the garden is overgrown the next day! Then I just get overwhelmed with the task.

    One year I had beautiful corn, cucumbers, green peppers, green beans and tomatoes….and a freak hailstorm in July took out every single plant before I could harvest anything. ๐Ÿ™

  59. Charissa says:

    We don’t do a full garden, but have had some luck with tomato plants and basil in containers and certain herbs in a bed. We live in MN, and herbs like basil & parsley get demolished by bunnies within minutes of planting, but we had sage, thyme, rosemary and Thai basil in our front flower bed that worked just fine. Strawberries work well, but not in containers if you have an unusually hot June…

    We have an asparagus bed that may or may not survive the [redacted] polar vortices that is in its 3rd year and hopefully will yield some tasty asparagus. The bunnies have left that alone, thus far.

  60. Jodie says:

    Yep, that pretty much sums it up. Also, I totally agree about the catalogs! They are evil, but so good.

  61. redundantjen says:

    I have tried and failed so many times on the gardening thing. The only thing I have successfully grown is inadvertent winter squash out of my compost bin.

    Now I’m thinking about getting chickens instead. Chickens have to be easier, right? Free eggs! Free range! Organic! What could go wrong?

  62. Susan Veach says:

    Dad had a huge vegetable garden every year when I was growing up. There were tons of flower beds on our 5-acre plot. We had failures and successes, but most of all, he planted the love of gardening within me. I still have a garden every year, and hope that my boys will do the same one day with their children.

    A great resource is the National Gardening Association: http://www.garden.org/

  63. Kim says:

    No doubt because I am pregnant, but this post made me cry and thank God that we are not pioneers (think: little house on the prairie) & we don’t NEED backyard gardens.

    Of course if we did, we’d probably be better at it. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    May this be your year!!!!!

  64. Charlotte says:

    Diatomacious Earth for the earwigs and anything else that might nibble your plants. That being said, I’m trying now, for the 4th year, to grow brassicas. Hopefully 4th time’s a charm?

    • csa says:

      yes, i second the diatomacious earth solution. all sorts of bugs are stopped by it. we’ve had success with it.

  65. Gabrielle says:

    It’s always something, but you will get more successful if you keep learning! I recommend nwedible (not my site, I just LOVE it) for excellent but never condescending advice on gardening, and healthy living, and parenting… it’s a great site!

  66. Erika says:

    We have the same problem- living on a canyon we get all sorts of lovely critters. One year our beautiful garden was leveled in 15 minutes. This year I am going to get planter boxes and put them in the driveway. For some reason the animals are afraid of the front of the house and leave all the fruits and veggies alone that grow there, but the back is a free for all. Well, usually anyway. I hope I didn’t just jinx myself…

  67. Trisha Bowers says:

    We moved into a house just over a year ago. This summer I noticed that there happened to be 2 very large tomato plants growing next to the fence. I never planted them and I know that I mowed that spot about a month before that so I have no idea where they came from. They were really big tomatoes too. I wonder if the critters and birds somehow planted them ๐Ÿ™‚

  68. Kristen says:

    I too grow the $75 tomato! Tricksy…lol

  69. I went aeroponic! So far no issues, but I haven’t been doing it for very long. The veggies grow in half the time and the on and off water timer so far has been scaring pests away.

  70. karen says:

    Tomatoes are just about the only thing I can grow, and they appear whether I want them to or not. We have cherry tomato plants self-sown in all kinds of places – in garden beds, next to the compost bin, between the pavers where we keep our wheelie bins, between our fence and the footpath, places that don’t even have soil! I have never watered most of them and still they are covered in fruit. I do pick them as soon as they get a bit orange though, otherwise birds eat them. But strawberries…that’s another story. All manner of creatures take turns stealing them :-/ it’s so painful to do all that hard work for nothing

  71. Tami says:

    We have tried to garden for the last two years. Every time has ended in devastation. The first year my husband planted 26 tomato plants. We were hoping to make salsa and possibly sell some. Toward harvest time we noticed something was eating the plants. We sprayed them with something and later found out it was for a different type of bug that wasn’t in our garden. We couldn’t fix it and had to watch all those tomatoes just rot. The second year we had about 20 tomato plants that were huge! 6 feet tall! Tons of tomatoes. Right before the first harvest we got hit with the worst hail storm ever. 2 feet of hail completely took out our entire garden. It was awful to watch it happen. Maybe we will finally get lucky this year! I have my seed catalog coming in a few days.

  72. csa says:

    if you’re keen on growing tomatoes, your best bet might to buy seedlings form a nursery. choose plants that are not too tall, because that means that they’ve been reaching for sunlight and are potentially weaker. make sure there are no flowers or fruit on the plant, because they might get damaged when you transport/transplant them.
    sprinkle the ground around the plants with crushed egg shells. it provides calcium which is vital for tomatoes, and the sharp edges help with insect control. to protect against cutworms and such, encircle the stems at the base with Popsicle sticks or chopsticks.
    water lots, continue with the netting, and give them good sun, and then all you can do is hope for the best.
    good luck with your garden this year. it can be frustrating, but when it works it is well worth it.

  73. Lisa says:

    I tried every year too… until I realized maybe the tomatoes would grow but never ripen because our yard is entirely shaded 22 hours a day. So last year we went the CSA route.

  74. Last year we bought one of those 4×4 raised planters. I too, had hopes and dreams of gardening glory…until the tomatoes got so big they tipped over and took out the corn stalks. I have tons of fruit trees too, and by the end of last summer I had essentially created a possum smorgasbord. All I wanted was one peach without a bite out of it…the only one who had fun was my dog. She had a great time dragging the possums through the doggie door. I never knew I was still capable of such high pitched girly screams. But thanks to the miracle of the Internet, we learned all about possums. So I guess it wasn’t a total waste. Wait, it was, who am I kidding??

  75. RedinNC says:

    Amber, THIS is what the farmer’s market is for. They grow all the food and pick it and put it out on a table, and all you have to do is go give them money and take food. It’s AWESOME :). I say this having tried tomato plants three years in a row and figured I ended up paying about $9.00 per tomato.

  76. Bronwen Knowles says:

    Plant a fruit tree!

  77. Pingback: Best Laid Plans – Growing It Myself | proper fud

  78. Paula says:

    I’m sure it’s already been said, but maybe you should consider “co-planting.” Plant some seedlings of plants that will naturally repel critters. (Some of them are even quite pretty and/ or useful and edible!)
    Wiki to the rescue!

  79. Kate says:

    I keep trying to convince my husband that our garden plot would make an excellent POOL PATIO WITH HOT TUB! He’s not onboard with the idea… yet.

  80. Ranae says:

    We only grow 2 things: tomatoes and cabbage. They are the only things that live. We also raise rabbits and decided it would be a good thing to put them in the yard and they can be free-range and just eat the grass. They ate the whole garden through the chicken wire. We aren’t having free-range rabbits again

  81. Vicki says:

    When I grew a garden in the city, it actually helped for me to keep a few weeds around. There was this one weed that had leaves that looked a lot like a pepper plant’s. I decided to keep it, since it was clear the bugs liked it. While my tomatoes didn’t do well that year (too shady), my peppers did awesomely, and that wonderful weed bore the brunt of nibbling by bugs.

  82. Amy says:

    This was great! And made me laugh and laugh. I too suffer from the same garden optimism, failure, and experiences. And I just ordered my seeds. But now I need a new skirt so I can run through fields of daisies ๐Ÿ™‚

  83. Wendy says:

    Oh we do the same thing… plant out seeds, grow zucchini’s, carrots, garlic, melons (omg the melons!!) tomato, strawberry, peppers, and lots of herbs… in a tiny garden actually. But, I live in the Netherlands. It’s not so much bugs or wild animals (or even birds!) that ruin stuff for us… it’s our neighbour’s cats. I get to the point where I have the seedlings strong enough to set out in the garden. I make the soil loose, I use compost, I put them all in nice rows, water them… to find them dug out and covered in cat poop the next morning. We have to cover them up just for two damn cats. And the bastards even found a way to crawl underneath the covering one time!! Needless to say, there is a huge, loaded supersoaker right next to the garden door. They KNOW. They usually check to see if we are home before they set foot in our yard, then if they see us,they are fast to cross. But yeah, at night they still do it. In the end, we do get to harvest a decent amout of stuff though.The cantaloupes last year were the biggest surpirse, so sweet! Don’t give up, it’s still fun to do, right?

  84. Amy A says:

    If you do decide to give it one more try I would recommend the book “carrots love tomatoes” companion gardening book. I have been following this book for years and with all types situations and locations. One year I got soo many tomatoes and basil I was giving it away to my neighbors and I had only planted in containers on the deck.

  85. Oh my goodness! This is me! This is my family! This is our gardening journey. Every year it’s something. Now I have this huge composter because it will make our soil richer and rather than eliminating the garden last fall I expanded the area to half of our yard!

    I’m crazy. It’s this delusion that I will actually feed my family something I’ve grown. Plus I want to learn how to can and pickle things because I also have the delusion that the garden is going to be so plentiful that I will NEED to can and pickle everything so that nothing goes to waste.

    Oh my. Let’s meet again in September and swap war stories about the battle of the garden.

    Wishing you a lovely day.

  86. Rachelle says:

    Herbs. I like to grow herbs. Bugs usually leave them alone, and you can harvest them whenever you want since you just use the leaves anyway. So no animals steal your food! Of course, the saving money thing is way less substantial than if you can manage to grow a huge crop of tomatoes.

    My mom always managed to grow huge bumper crops of tomatoes, but I’ve not had any success with growing vegetables. A flood took them out last time I tried. (a monster, monster tidal wave dike breaking flood.) But to be honest, they weren’t doing well before that anyway.

    But this year we planted a cherry tree. Fruit trees are easier because they are really hard to kill and produce a lot of food once they are established. And I love cherries. They are delicious.

  87. Bon says:

    Love gardening for the act itself. Plant as many plants as you can. The more diversity, the more balance. You can share with other species. What’s wrong with feeding the wildlife? It’s a change of perspective. You get to invite more critters for your children to learn about. They get to learn the complexity of life and the beauty of a food system, which isn’t about only feeding ourselves. You can’t achieve this with pesticides. Be amazed at what shows up. Plant MORE food. Be more amazed. At some point you will eventually have a bountiful and diverse harvest, a yard full of food. Educated and self-sustained children. A healthy body. Lots of sunlight and exercise. Gardening is ecology. Nature at its best. Only when we limit our perception of it do we fall short. Remove all limits and boundaries and plant food for anyone who shows up!! And just keep planting โ€ฆ

  88. My flirty three year old son is sitting on my lap as I type commenting on the “pretty lady” and the boy (in the yellow nappy!) It is only a bit of fun but I have nominated you for The Versatile Blogger Award and one of the rules is I contact you about it. http://www.wonderfulwagon.com/2014/03/a-versatile-nomination.html

  89. Elaine says:

    I stumbled across your blog from an article on squirmy poopy babies and I love it! I’ve spent the past few weeks secretly devouring it every chance I get (I hope my baby doesn’t feel neglected!) and I’m finally caught up and have read your book as well. Thanks for the many laughs and truisms and I totally admire how you find the time to do all this while caring for your two kids!! You’re amazing!

  90. Rayne says:

    Our friends grow a giant garden every year. Their tomato plants got so huge this year they reached the power lines between houses and had to be trimmed back before they latched on.

    We can’t even grow grass. We have clover. The bees like it…

  91. MelissaS says:

    OMG – this is us! Every year, we freshen the soil, reinforce the fences, plant seeds and seedlings, watch over them with love and care. And every year, some unseen critter gets there first! I could have joined 100 CSAs by now, but I’m going to grow it myself if it kills me! Maybe I’ve read “Growing Vegetable Soup” too many times to my kids ๐Ÿ™‚

  92. tara says:

    Damnit! I’ve been waiting to move to a house so I can have a garden so I can grow things and be healthy and organic and all of those things. ๐Ÿ™

    Gardens are hard work. I used to have to help out when I was forced to do chores as a teenager. And now I voluntarily want all that work? For potentially nothing? Hmmm

  93. Ariana says:

    Would 2 or 3 tomato plants, planted in containers near the house satisfy the urge? I’ve been planting tomatoes for years, sometimes with great success, sometimes with utter failure. Scaling down the garden may also help scale down the disappointment, or more likely produce some fine fruit that will work to reignite your tomato passion next year.

  94. Autumn Canter says:

    You should read this book and check out this website. I love it and I don’t even garden (live in a condo) http://thequarteracrefarm.com/ I’m serious. This isn’t one of those add posts.

    • amber says:

      I’ll check it out, I’ve read a handful of urban/suburban homesteading books just over the last couple months but haven’t seen this one, thanks!

  95. Woolies says:

    I think we live in parallel universes. When we lived back east, we had a wonderful garden. We used to pick our green beans for dinner. Then we moved to Tucson. I’ve had a couple heads of lettuce and a tomato or two that have survived. Summer/winter – doesn’t matter. Birds, earwigs, rodents – covered in multiple layers of wire. Sun/shade/winter/summer – doesn’t matter. I think I give up. My Krogers has a very nice selection or organic produce now……….

  96. mary clare says:

    Even the experts say that growing tomatoes is hard. At a recent tomato gardening workshop the instructor said that he’s had really poor tomato harvests! They are delicate plants. Its fun trying, I say. Some of my best summer memories are getting my hands dirty digging with my kids. My toddler would run over to the cherry tomatoes and gobble them up – even the green ones. She was super excited about our watermelons, too, even though we just had a modest harvest from my perspective.

  97. Smith L says:

    Absolutely hilarious. It reminded me and my husband of our days when we moved to our home.

  98. Daria says:

    I work for a seed company. It does take a lot of work, but you can have a good garden, and, once you get things set up, it’s pretty easy to keep it going. I can help – drop me an email. ๐Ÿ™‚

  99. Laura Houck says:

    Our tomatoes fell victim to the family dog – who we discovered was able to daintily and easily deer-hop over the fence and pluck the ripest tomato off the vine ever so gently between his front teeth, then deer-hop out of the garden and enjoy his treat.