How to kill your garden – a step by step guide…

… I grew food.

And then, true to form, I utterly ruined it.

Things I have learned thus far…

1- If you leave lettuce in the ground too long it turns bitter
2- Spinach too
3- For being so small, caterpillars have more stomachs than a cow and eat non-stop
4- If the soil is dry it’s too late. There is already root damage
5- If the soil is too wet it’s too late. You’ve killed it. Yes, you can drown a plant.
6- vegetables do NOT come out of the ground looking like they do on produce shelves
7- Just because it’s lumpy, twisted, or spotted doesn’t mean it’s rotten

This last two were important lessons to learn because I kept comparing their appearance to what I was used to seeing in grocery stores. The produce in grocery stores is HUGE in comparison. And pretty.

But I will not be deterred. I’m stubborn like that. Stupid too.

Things I will do next time…

1- actually read the information on the seed packet and – this is important – follow the directions
2- give my plants enough room to grow and research how big they get
3- write down the date and number of days till germination and harvest
4- put those dates on a calendar and circle it with a big black marker
5- keep a notebook of things I’ve killed and how I killed it

Things I will be killing next month…

1- tomatoes
2- peppers
3- cucumbers
4- strawberries

Stay tuned.

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  • Michael

    Also look at what kind of ground (well fertilized vs. sandy vs…) each crop requires & how much sun. Also your garden shop can tell you if there’s a special variety you need in your area (when I was a kid here in So. Cal Mom discovered you had to have a certain type of tomato plant due to a ground fungus in the area.)

  • Mrs. Rudd


    1. you won’t
    2, 3, 4, and 5… see #1.

    1.  I need a larger garden.

    2. Tomatoes will grow.  Cherry tomatoes are best because sitting and eating them warm in the garden is one of God’s gifts to gardeners.

    3. Carrots and lettuce will not grow unless under optimum conditions.  Easier to buy.  If you wish to grow them, good luck.  I tried passing off stunted carrots as the latest thing in the foodie reperetoire.  It worked, actually.

    4. Peppers will grow, but not to the size found in the supermarket.  Not at first try.  Maybe at fifth or sixth try, after your farmer neighbor has given you a few hints. (Or use the carrot excuse above. Call them miniature peppers.)

    5. Marigolds are your friend.  They keep most pests off my produce (as does the southernwood), but if nothing else, they look really pretty surrounding my vegetable patch.

  • Mamamayerle

    Use Sproutrobot. It’s a website that will send you reminders when to plant your seeds, based on your zip code. They also have wonderful graphics that tell you how to plant, how much room you’ll need, and how much you’ll need to plant per person.

    Of course, I’m telling you this having never planted a garden myself, but as soon as my tractor arrives, I’m digging in!

  • MeanLizzie

    We used to love to grow greenbeans. They were easy, although if you waited too long to harvest, could get tough. Our tomatoes never look right, strawberries get eaten by the bunnies. But peppers….it’s really hard to screw up peppers….I’m rooting for your peppers. No pun intended.

  • Peony Moss

    Try mulching with crushed eggshells.

  • Tcn

    Kat: You don’t want it to look like the stuff in the supermarket. That’s not fresh and wonderful. For tomatoes, go cherry or grape. Easier to grow, and always taste good. Never worry about them cracking or getting eaten by various bugs. Lettuce is a rabbit attractor–if you plant it, get chicken wire up quick. Beans are very simple, so plant them but not too many, unless you are willing to can or freeze them. Keep picking them once they come in and you will have plenty to eat. And I second marigolds around everything–even the rabbits hate them, and they look pretty so people don’t notice the weeds so much. Also, if it is too much work you won’t do it, so go simple the first few years and then learn something new from the garden center or your neighbors. Took me years to learn how to grow food in the Lower 48–it’s just different than Alaska where I grew up.

    • JaneC

      TCN, I’d love to pick your brain about growing food in Alaska. I have just moved to Anchorage. I’ll probably have to grow everything in pots because I’m a renter, but I really want to give it a go.

      • upinak

        Jane, it isn’t hard.  I use to do container gardens when I lived in a rentals in Anchorage.  Make sure to get the old food grade buckets and wash them out really well and put holes in the bottom.  Make sure to grow only cold climate veggies (Broc, Zukes, Squash, Peas, Cali, etc) If you try to grow Tom’s, Cukes and peppers… you are going to need a hot house and not a small one from walmart.  But the trick to growing Tom’s in Alaska (and everywhere else) is neutralizing the soil (you can find a soil sweetener at Mill and Feed) and pop a Tums Antacid and some Epson salt in the bottom of your contain before you put the plant in.  It helps as Tom’s need calcium and magnesium. 

  • upinak

    1- tomatoes – Like light and water every other day.  Pop some epson salt and a tums in the bottom of whatever you use as Tom’s need calcium!
    2- peppers- same thing as Tom’s.
    3- cucumbers – same thing as Tom’s.
    (side note, if it hits over 85, get a sheet and try to make a teepee to shield them from the sun.
    4- strawberries – like very acidic soil.. use coffee ground mixed in your soil before planting. 

    Good Luck!

  • Okay, bitter lettuce- put it in the fridge for a couple of days.  Voila!  No longer bitter.  Or so they say 🙂

    I’m rooting for your tomatoes, especially if you grow them from a transplant and not direct seed.

    Most importantly, a first year garden is usually lame because the soil hasn’t been worked and amended and all those other fancy gardening terms.  Year 2 for us is already way better than year 1 and it’s only April. 

    I belieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeve in you!

  • Bernadette Durbin

    Build your beds right and they’ll help a lot. Good drainage on the bottom (so it doesn’t retain water to drown the plants), good soil or not-good soil with compost on top of that, and some light mulch like grass clippings around the bases of your plants. Water “deeply and infrequently”—that is, three days a week, making sure the soil gets thoroughly wet. If it drains right, you won’t drown your plants. And the best moisture meter is your finger. Stab it down an inch or two to feel how wet the soil is to adjust your watering times appropriately.

    I don’t know where you live, so I won’t give you location-specific advice. What I WILL tell you is to find that local expert, whether it’s a Master Gardener (actual certified title), horticultural professor, or radio guy. I run the board for the local radio garden show and I have learned *so much* about gardening in spite of the fact that I learned much from my dad growing up.
    For instance, I learned this year that you should be planting tomatoes three to four feet apart. That… would explain much.

    I’ve also been told a really quick way to build a cucumber trellis is to get two rebar grids (for concrete) and to lean them together at the top and tie them. Cucumbers like to be up off the ground.

  • Metro

    I so understand. I once planted a veggie garden – just to watch. it. die.

    This year I vow to actually go look at the thing more than once a month to PICK the tomatoes and lettuce and eat them. 
    On another note – seeding the garden before heavy rains leads to salad mix showing up down the hill growing in all sorts of interesting nooks and crannies. 

  • Jana_alanda

    Big produce farmers add all sorts of chemicals to their seeds and plants to make them big and keep away bugs. Also they oftem use GMO seed which has higher yeild and is often sweeter. Unless you plan to farm the way they do, you will never see your plants achieve similar grandness. I wouldn’t recommend it. Just be happy with the way God intended them to be. Our apples were always tiny and not very sweet. Carrots were small. Tomatoes were best hot off the vine. Eventually, you will learn little tricks here and there that will give you more of what you want. Look into sustainable farming/gardening to see how they get rid of bugs. You really don’t want to be putting chemicles in your garden. As far as planting room, check out square foot gardening

  • upinak

    Oh, here is something you may not have thought of.  Some plants HATE being next to others.  Like you do NOT try growing strawberries anywhere near broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage.  So go research companion vegetables… what veggies grow really well together.  Like:  Your Tom’s, Peppers and Cukes will grow well together.  They are all companions.. but if you put strawberries near them, the strawberries have a tendency to take over and take all the nutrients out of the soil.  Strawberries are good in an area all by themselves.  I usually put marigolds around my Toms, Peppers and Cukes as the aphids don’t eat my veggies and go for the marigolds.  Or if you don’t like marigold, plant oregano next to your Tom’s et al.  They get along just fine.

    And if you want to try Tom’s, try cherry first.  The larger ones take time to learn how they grow.  🙂 Good Growing.

  • Amy

    I once grew one shriveled raspberry.  Seriously.  One.  And it was shriveled.

  • Moving to Texas from California turned my previous green thumb into a shriveled black one. Everything is region-specific. 
    Some things I’ve learned (mostly the hard way) over the last few years:

    -Know your soil type. If your garden is small, you can amend it heavily. Whether it’s sandy/clay, or acid/alkaline makes a difference in your approach to amendments and watering. 
    -Plant varieties appropriate for your area. For some things like bulbing onions, there are short and long day types (better suited to southern or northern regions). Some varieties can’t take the heat, or have better resistance to certain diseases.  You can usually find out about specific recommendations through publications put out by your area’s cooperative extension.  For NC:
    -Acquire seed from plants grown in your general region, if you can. I’ve used Park Seed often, and they are in SC.
    -If you have a major caterpillar problem, BT (bacillus thuringiensis) will eliminate them and is harmless to humans and animals.
    -Do not use chickens for pest-control, because they like to eat your plants too.
    -Talk to local farmers for advice, especially those who run CSAs. They always have a wealth of experience and information to share.

    The most dog-eared, often-consulted gardening book I own (and I have many) is Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times, by Steve Solomon.  You probably won’t need much else if you read that one. 

    I could go on and on about my garden adventures and mishaps. I, like you, am stubborn. But the successes are worth it!  Nothing tastes like fresh produce. You can’t buy carrots as sugar-sweet and fragrant as the ones that grow in my garden.  I’ve watched my kids pluck and eat all the snow peas right off the vine. Don’t give up!

  • Ah, yes, the dreaded black thumb.  We are sisters in this, Kat!  I seem to kill everything I plant.  Our growing season  does not start for about another month here, though….

  • Hi Kat,

    I’m the founder of SproutRobot… I built it to try to help people get started gardening. I’m really sorry that you found it counterproductive.

    I’m always trying to make the site better, and I’ll take a look at the problems you had and see if there are ways we can steer people in a better direction. Thank you for the feedback, and I hope you have better luck in the garden going forward!

    Erik Pukinskis

    • And sorry to spam your blog, but I forgot to add that if you purchased seeds from us and you are not fully satisfied, we have a 100% money-back guarantee. Just email hello at sproutrobot and we’ll get that taken care of for you.


  • Some nuns I knew used to grow lettuce in “lawns” – cutting it when it was still quite small, and letting it sprout again.