How To Recover A Garden Fail As A Homesteader

squash leaves

Sometimes, as a blogger, it is hard to admit that something you feel you are really good at has failed, mostly for reasons that are outside of your control.

I love gardening and it is really a healthy stress release in my life.

But this year, things didn’t go right and it was mostly a huge fail.

First of all, I didn’t want to do this post. I was afraid that I would be judged by other gardeners and homesteaders for failing when I teach about gardening on this blog.

But I want this blog to be a place where I can share my failures as well as my triumphs.

Even though I have had many successful gardens in the past, this just wasn’t the year for me.

So I am going to break down my gardening experience in 2018 and how I can learn from it for next year’s garden.

How did my garden fail?

baby tomato plant

1. Starting seeds

I got really excited about starting seeds this year and bought new lights and shelving to start my seeds. That is great, but I got too excited, too quickly.

I started way too many seeds because I wanted to have a bigger garden than last year. I started them too early because I was testing out different lights and if they bombed I wanted to have time to redo them if necessary.

So what I ended up with is way too many plants and then it was too early to plant them (without freeze protection).

I ended up giving many plants (especially peppers and tomatoes) to friends and relatives. That was awesome for them, but probably not a good use of resources for me.

I planted the tomatoes early and bought extra walls of water to put around them until the last freeze date had long past. If you don’t know what walls of water are, you can check them out here —> Walls of Water to protect plants from freezing.

2. Moles

We started having moles in our yard aggressively last year. They have been eating the roots of my trees and making big mounds in my yard. So frustrating.

Well, this year they found the garden and started digging up through my garden boxes and in the ground in between the boxes.

This caused havoc on my garden. We are working on tricks to get rid of them, but I was reluctant to do much while I was still growing food there.

Hopefully we will find a good solution and let you know in a future blog post.

sprinkler in the garden box

3. Water

We are in an extreme drought in our area. We had a very dry winter which is bad when you count on snow melt to fill your lakes.

Then when we didn’t get much water this summer, our irrigation water was turned off 6 weeks early because of lack of water.

This didn’t really affect my summer garden, but didn’t allow us to continue our growing season thru the fall. Our water was turned off at the beginning of September and hopefully we get enough snow this winter to fill the lakes up for irrigation next year.

4. Weeds

This is a problem every year, but it was worse this year for 2 reasons.

  • We traveled more this summer so we had long stretches where we didn’t weed. And you know how it is: the longer you don’t weed, the more overwhelming it is when you return.
  • We weren’t able to do our deep mulch method gardening that we did last year because there was a hay shortage, due to the drought.

So we battled the weeds all season, and slowly they started to win.

raised bed garden boxes

5. Chickens

We constantly battled our chickens, who continued to find new ways of getting out of their chicken run area and into the garden.

While we like to let the chickens in the garden at the end of the season to clean it up, they can do real damage if left to their own devices in the growing season.

They dug up carrots and other root veggies and pretty much made a big mess.

6. Soil

I love raised beds because it makes it so easy to control all of the elements needed to make things grow.

And for most of our vegetables, they lived in raised beds.

But because we wanted to grow so many kinds of heirloom tomatoes (that we had started from seed that spring), we decided to put just the tomatoes directly in the ground.

This didn’t work because:

  • our soil is too clayish and therefore it is hard to get things to grow properly.
  • we didn’t install the water sprinklers properly so the tomatoes didn’t get adequate water.

So our tomato plants failed, which was really heartbreaking. They just didn’t thrive and after about 2 months of babying them to get them to grow, I let them go because they weren’t big enough to produce before harvest time.


What went right?

But not everything went wrong this year. Some plants still thrived in the garden, especially the ones planted in the new boxes my middle son (15) built for me.

1. New Garden Boxes

boys building garden boxes

As I said above, I commissioned my middle son to build 6 garden boxes to fill in my garden area and make more room to grow vegetables.

His dad showed him how to make the first one and he took the reins from there. He did a great job and the plants in these boxes did much better than the others.

2. Peppers

peppers in the garden

My jalapeno peppers didn’t do well. My initial starters died and even the ones I bought from the nursery to replace them died too!

But I also grew anaheim peppers this year and this variety did great! I was able to harvest quite a bit over the summer and we still have a bag of them in the freezer for later use.

3. Green Beans

bowl of fresh green beans

My green beans started out slow, but gained steam over the summer.

I was able to harvest quite a bit for us to eat and preserve (in the freezer).

4. Carrots

carrot harvest

Besides the ones that got dug up by the chickens, my multi colored varieties of carrots gave us a good harvest. Had I continued the garden into the fall, I have no doubt I would have an even better harvest.

5. Radishes

These were the first things I harvested this year, which was so fun. I just think these little guys are so cute!

radishes washed in the sink

What do I want to do differently next year?

1. Water Troughs

I would like to make a garden out of water troughs. I wanted to that this year, but I just couldn’t get the money together. This will definitely cost more than a normal raised bed garden, but I think it will work well for me because:

  • They aren’t as low to the ground. This will make it easier to plant and harvest without bending over as much.
  • Keep the weeds out. If I put down black plastic or landscape fabric under and around the beds, there shouldn’t be nearly as many weeds in these troughs as in the wooden boxes.
  • Keep the moles out. The metal bottom of the troughs should prevent the moles from digging into my boxes.
  • They make a pretty, orderly garden. I love the idea of lined up rows of metal troughs with wood chips or rocks in between make for an aesthetically pleasing piece of paradise.

2. Better Sprinkler System

I had some kinks with my sprinkler watering system that I need to work out for next year.

  • How to put a water sprinkler in each trough.
  • Make sure the water pressure is right.
  • Test how often to water with this new system.

baby radishes in a garden box

3. Better Chicken Fencing

My chickens drove me crazy this summer. Especially this one golden chicken that seems to figure out a way to get out of any fencing!

This will be a big priority for next year.

One idea I have is to make a chicken run around the garden, kinda like a fence for the garden. But then again, it has to be secure so they don’t get out and eat my garden.

4. No Plants Direct In Ground

I guess I have to face the facts: my soil just isn’t good enough to garden in, even with extra compost added.

So next year I plan to have the main part of the garden in the troughs and tomatoes in the new boxes my son built this year.

carrots in the garden

5. Succession Planting

Succession planting is when you plant your crops a little at a time over several weeks or months. There are several benefits of this:

  • It lessons your initial planting efforts.
  • It spreads out your harvest over several weeks or months.
  • It allows you to find what is going wrong before it’s too late for all the plants.
  • This is best usually with root veggies like carrots and radishes and cool weather plants like lettuce and broccoli.

Just keep moving forward:

The main reason I decided to write this post is to let you know that even if all of your plans don’t go like you thought they should, there is still hope. Here is what I am doing to move forward:

  1. Don’t let this get me down- I am going to enjoy the harvest I did get and learn from my mistakes for the future.
  2. Plan for next year- As you can see from above, I have already thought about how I might make next years’ garden even better from what I have learned this year.
  3. Try new things- You never know what will work or not if you don’t try. So if something you did didn’t work this year, try something new next year and who knows the triumph you might have. Don’t give up!

So if you had a great, bountiful garden this year, I am so happy for you! You deserve it!

But if your garden was like mine, don’t let it get you down. Learn from these lessons and make notes for next year.

Then enjoy the fall and winter and start over again next spring. This time away may give you new perspective and energy to start over.

Not every year is amazing, even for veteran gardeners. You never know what to expect when you tangle with mother nature.

But when you get that bumper crop, it will be all worth it. We are in this together and next year is going to be amazing! Who’s with me?

garden fail pin

How did your garden grow this year? Let us know in the comments below. And if you found this post helpful, please share. Thanks!

If you are interested in starting your first garden, we have a FREE online course called “Starting Your First Garden” that can help you grow your own food in your backyard! Click on the image below to sign up.


  1. Shawna

    My garden didn’t do well this year, either! Weeds took over (and I didn’t have enough time or help to pull them! ) and my soil needs some serious amending! Even with adding my compost it still wasn’t rich enough. I have a similar post on my blog, It’s not specifically about garden fails, but just homestead fails in general. Definitely a challenge that we homesteaders face!

    1. Julie @ Our Provident Homestead

      yep! things don’t always go the way we think they should but we keep trying! Thanks for sharing!

    2. Candice

      This year we have just worked on trees and land prep. We bought the land last year and have been cleaning the mess that was left on it. This year I have bought/grown two lemon trees, two lime trees, three avocado trees, three pine trees, and one tangerine. My property is a hillside and is either orange caliche clay or blow sand. So everything is in pots for now. I have tons of soil amending to do.

  2. Sylvia Adams

    Well, we were trying to “find” our garden in the verdalega/purselane that took over the during the week that the ground was too soft from all of the rain we got. Not getting the garlic or all of the onions properly weeded, they were over crowded. My daughter’s cycle while weeding killed every one of my cucumbers. We had such abundance last year.

    Six of our seven varieties of peppers, both sweet & hot, have been plentiful. Especially the Serrano (hot) and aji durce ( tiny Latin sweet) I have over 12 quarts of sunflower seeds roasted and seasoned in three different flavors: spicy, smokey, and sea salt. We have enough left over to give away and leave some for the birds and squirrels. The watermelons failed.

    Tomatoes: The one Big Zack plant disappointed, greatly. The San Marsanos, Cherokee Purple, Mr. Stripey, and Super Steak all produced well. We kept up wth the suckers better this year. The Early Girl was late, lol. Out of these, I’ve canned marinara and meat sauce and pico de guillo.

    Our eight tomatilla plants have been prolific. We finally just pulled them from the ground with new tomatillas and new blooms still coming on them. After giving away to my brother and my niece about as much as I made into salsa verde, about 6 quarts and 18 pints of it I’ve canned this summer.

    White and red onion sets and hard neck garlic are new for us this year. And four gandules/pigeon peas plants, also new for us, have been prolific. I’ve only frozen the gandules in bags of 1 1/2 cups. Our pumpkins, mostly, have rotted on the vines. I have two heads of red cabbage that I’ve harvested. And, they are producing smaller cabbage heads on the main stall. The two Brussel sprout plants seem to be progressing well. I’m the only one in the house who enjoys sprouts. We grew a small plot of Blue Lake green beans for a coworker of Eric’s, which did well. They canned 12 quarts worth.

    I freeze, dehydrate, water bath can and pressure cook can from our garden. It all saves us some money and time in meal prep. I enjoy it all.

    1. Julie @ Our Provident Homestead

      Wow! Sounds like you had a good year. Better than mine! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Kathryn

    We moved to a new house in January. I have never lived in Montana before and I didn’t water enough or get plants in the ground at the proper time. The plants I put in later did better then the early ones and some just never grew. ( not enough water I’m guessing). I used a drip system and need to figure out how much and how long… So, don’t feel bad we all have good and not so good years. Keep on!

    1. Julie @ Our Provident Homestead

      Thanks! You too! There is always next year!

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