As a lifelong gardener, newer gardeners often ask me for advice. One thing I hear a lot from inexperienced growers is that they are “not good” at it, have a black thumb, etc. I’m not sure where this comes from, but many of them seem to think that more experience growers never make mistakes, kill plants, etc. If I got discouraged or gave up every time I made a mistake or killed a plant, I would have stopped gardening years ago!
So I thought it would be nice to share some of our gardening fails that led to success. This could be fairly obvious things like killing plants due to overwatering and then learning from that mistake how to provide the right amount of water. It would also be neat to read about mistakes that had unintended consequences that did not live up to what you were expecting but did yield something useful/beautiful/etc.
One of my failures was trying to grow luffas to maturity during two different growing seasons and being completely unsuccessful – they did not get mature enough to be used for scrubbing before frost hit (and because I was waiting to see if they would mature, I missed the fresh eating stage). In 2020, I attempted to grow luffas for the third time and finally made it work! I knew luffas needed a long growing season so for all of my attempts I started them indoors. From my two failed attempts I learned that I needed to start them earlier AND pot them up inside before finally planting them out after frost. This year I did that and, despite getting them in the ground late (due to gardening in a new place and having to do a lot of work to get beds prepped for growing), they produced several mature luffas!
They are a bit less tough and fibrous than commercial luffas but work fine for most uses. A couple things I’ll be changing this year is either using a potting media with more compost when I pot them up or fertilizing them more after they’ve been potted up, getting them in the ground earlier, and moving them to a spot where they get even more sun. There are also some aspects that worked fine but I’ll probably continue to experiment with to see what gives the best results. I think I’ll grow some on a trellis and let some spread out on the ground again as both seemed to do fine (though if you care about the luffas being straight, trellising is the way to go). I know trellising saves space but it seems like ones on the ground might get more sun. I also want to play around a bit more with methods of processing them. I harvested some once they had started to turn or turned completely brown on the vine and peeled them immediately, some I harvested at the brown stage and let sit in the sun or a covered spot to dry out, and some I left on the vine until well after freeze and snow.
Looking forward to hearing your failures/successes!
I used to think I had a black thumb. I watched my mom grow an entire tropical jungle in our dining room with palm trees and African violets and Hawaiian ginger and succulents and monster plants and more. Some of the pants were hardy, others were delicate, some she even rooted herself from cut flowers in bouquets. Meanwhile, I promptly killed every plant I was given - cacti, succulents, small trees, MIL tongues, etc. All hardy seriously robust plants, every one dead.
But somehow I was able to care for every animal under the sun. Dogs, cats, fish, even a tarantula made its way safely through my care for a lifetime.
Turns out, to care for something I need to be thinking of it every day like an animal or almost never (like a perennial outdoors). My brain doesn't let me think of my plants as "Water once a week" or "once a month". Animals needs are immediate and obvious and when my plants have the same urgent needs it's much easier. Turns out, growing annual veggies is really good for me!
Since I shifted my perspective to plants that need nearly daily care or they wilt I've done MUCH better at keeping plants alive. By biggest sin is now overwatering, not under, but I'm learning to regulate that too. I now maintain hundreds of sqft of gardens and if you told teenager-plant-killer-me that I would have laughed in your face.
Sometimes you just have to play to your strengths and bloom where you're planted instead of trying to make an orchid behave like a tree.
Hello, please call me Mouse. Talk to me about rabbits, chickens, and gardens. Starting an intentional community in Ohio.