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Fail Gardening: Low Expectations for Skillbuilding and Eventual Success (feastofassumption.substack.com)
62 points by simonsarris 4 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 17 comments





Site prep "just scrape the sod back from where you want to plant"

This advice should be qualified. I live in outer London in a mid-century house. My garden soil has been collecting lead-laden dust for most of those years until leaded petrol was outlawed. If I were to plant directly in the soil, there is no telling how many heavy metals would be pulled into the vegetables.

Not to mention, I was digging one day and about 3 feet down I found a discarded television. What else could be buried there? Did the previous owners operate an illegal motorcycle repair yard? There could be gallons upon gallons of who knows what in the dirt. I've heard stories about the next door garden which was used to breed all manner of house pets. Dogs, hamsters, rabbits and snakes. Then there are the pesticides from the perfectly manicured gardens that one might inherit when buying a house. Although I think they degrade after a short while (could be wrong about that)

Point being... if you're in the city DO NOT just plant in the earth. I suppose you could get the soil tested, but I'd rather spend an afternoon and a little bit of money on lumber and build the boxes. And free compost from reliable sources is easy to find on the internet.


I didn't /specifically/ qualify this because if you're gardening in your city backyard, you likely don't have enough acreage to be providing a very substantial % of your yearly calories via your own garden.

Strictly speaking, though, you're right that urban soils have accumulated unpleasantness--so if you're not cash-constrained, maybe container gardening or raised beds is worth it for peace of mind. I haven't personally done research on which plants uptake heavy metals in which amounts, but I'm inclined to figure that a summer's worth of tomatoes, even if grown in leaded soil, will still have less lead than I would have gotten had I lived in the leaded gasoline days. Totally fair to want to do your own math, or/especially to insist on container gardening if your family includes pregnancies/toddlers, though.

On the topic of pesticides from gardens--in general what is available to homoeowners is not going to have a lot of persistence. (What is available to farmers is not going to have a lot of persistence, either). The places I would be careful of long-lasting pesticide residues are railroad right-of-ways and (depending on your state & power company) around transformer stations.


Or simpler yet: container gardening with pots and big totes

This is such a great point. Soil lead testing in the U.S. is cheap through University Extension programs. U of Delaware will test mid-Atlantic soil for nutrients and Lead for under $20. You not only get to learn the science of what your soil is lacking, you avoid poisoning yourself and others!

Not sure how much it would cost in the UK, but here in middle America you can buy large quantities of gardening soil quite cheaply.

I ordered 3 cubic yards from a nursery for US$180 delivered (literally a dump truck / tipper lorry put it in my driveway). The same amount of soil from the local big box garden center would have cost almost US$1000 and I would be responsible for getting it home.

Get your neighbors together and get one delivery for maximum savings!


> Make the coast of your failure as low as possible, less than 50$

cowards never win.

1) Fail as many times as possible and kill plants.

2) If you want to spend money in a plant that you like, for Pete's sake, do it.

Is cheaper than your twenty pairs of shoes that you rarely use and didn't feel guilty for buying it. Why with plants should be different?.

Fruit trees involve a small money investment but a big time investment, so do your homework and

3) buy the best quality that you can afford

(And I'm not talking about size, I'm talking about quality). We graft trees for some reason. We culture some varieties and not other for some reason. Money is not so relevant here when fruit trees will pay for themselves. You will need to water and care the plant and wait for three to eight years (yup) to see if this is the right thing or just a pale weak thing that never keeps its promises, so maximize your chances from the start.

4) Educate yourself.

You will spend five years in a project, wouldn't you spend an extra day to save five years? Take your time before to think about it. Spend a few hours studying how to care for it. Buy a book. Browse on internet. Send an email. Ask a friend.

5) Buy plants from a professional, and talk with him/her.

Not in your warehouse. Not in your supermarket. Not in a dark coin of the street. Never buy plants by compassion impulse unless you know why are you doing it.

6) Repeat. Insist. Abort if necessary and start again.


1, yes. 2, yes--I think we're different in that I don't have 20 pairs of shoes, and I would feel guilty if I bought them. As somebody else mentions, I have a lot of soil with no lead in it, but I don't have a lot of capital to spend on things I'm not going to use ;) I didn't consider that money might not be somebody's limiting factor. Good point. If money's NOT your limiting factor, don't bottleneck yourself there artificially. 3, absolutely yes. I'm a huge fruit tree proponent. I get mine from Stark Bros, and I do plant double what I want to "eventually" have. 4, 5, and 6--yes.

Given what the article seems to be going for, I'm not sure why 15 crops? A garden newbie should start with no more than 5. Seed packets are approaching $3 now, so 15 would be $45 for seeds alone.

As for site prep: pick a spot in the late Summer/early Fall where you want your garden to be in the next Spring. Put down a layer of newspapers and cardboard then pile at least six inches of leaves and lawn clippings on top of that (more is fine). Your site will be ready for planting the next Spring, just scrape away any leftover leaves over to the edges and keep them around for mulch after the seedlings come up.


The article hits on it here: "Plan to plant 15 crops, and expect that maybe 1 will succeed, and you won’t know in advance which one."

We only get about 50 gardening seasons in a lifetime. It's better to find what works, what's fun, and what you want sooner rather than later. I think space and time are more limiting than dollars, so 5 crops or 15 or 45 is just saying: plant as much variety as you can to find at least some success your first season.

On the whole I'm not sure how allegorical the blog post intends to be.


Yes, you nailed exactly why.

I'm hoping the post can be allegorical for other things--I extrapolate this advice beyond just gardening--but it's also my exactly literal gardening advice--because, as you say, time and space are more limiting than dollars.

Thank you!


The mulching advice is great if you don't have persistent plants currently where you want your garden to be.

And almor nailed why 15.


The main point is" Just start!! Growing plants is one of the most rewarding things you can do. Grow too many flowers, give some to strangers. Have too many seedlings, share. The community of fellow growers you will meet will also enrich you.

Solid advice. I've become a fairly prolific and (ultra-hyperly-local) famous gardener over the last ten years, and when people comment on the green thumb, or ask about secrets to success, I just tell them "I've killed a lot of plants."

What I love most about cultivating plants are the rewards gleaned from close and routine observation. I have some books, sure, and have even dabbled in tissue culture and micropropogation, but 99% of my success is just observe, adjust, observe, repeat...

Every day after waking up, I go around to where everything is growing, indoors and out, for "roll call." It's truly amazing to watch flowers and vegetables develop from tiny specks of seed. The number and magnitude of developments that can take place even over 24 hrs are surprising. After years of cultivating many of the same plants from seed (most often in the author's recommended style of "toss and watch"!), I can readily identify the smallest seedlings by the unique shape of their initial leaves (cotyledons).

Vegetative propogation is also richly rewarding: many, if not most, plants can be multiplied using very rudimentary methods. Once you understand this, you'll look at prices for sanseveria and pothos in stores with incredulity.

I could go on, but I won't. Buy some seeds and throw them down; apply water. Observe. Enjoy.


The part about not doing too much research really resonates with me. There's a lot of bad, vague or conflicting information out there, and plants are to varying extents resilient and adaptable.

That being said, I went with the opposite approach in certain regards. I only planted 2 (additional) crops, and only things I wanted. My state's ag extension has great information about growing strawbs and tomatoes here, which I follow depending on how lazy I'm feeling at any given moment. And I made raised beds because it was trendy I guess? But I don't regret it and it was a fun project.


I've been gardening for a while but still try to do this. I plant more than I want in a variety of locations and conditions. I usually end up harvesting more than I need but still get upset when any one plant doesn't succeed.

Assuming you're not subsistence farming, this is great practice in remaining unattached to specific outcomes.

Some of the best advice I've ever received was in Adventure Time. "Sucking at something is the first step towards being sorta good at something."



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