Failure Is An Option

When it comes to food gardening, failure is an option, and usually not by choice but by lack of knowledge.  What I mean by that is we gardeners, even the more experienced ones fail in the line of duty but it doesn’t really matter because at least you are giving it a go!  Let me explain my motivation behind this post.

Kim was approached by the Homeshop man who delivered some groceries to us yesterday to join the Sustainable Living Group, specifically to learn how to grow his own food.  The reason he had not started as yet, because ‘he was afraid of failure’ (his words), and didn’t what to stuff it up.  I thought about this for a while and reflected on his reasoning.  Then Kim beat me to it and handed him a membership form and schedule and told him to come to the first meeting!  A step in the right direction, and the first step in his journey.  He won’t what hit him.

Fortunately most human learn by our mistakes, and because of western societies success in eliminating the extended family unit, we have to learn skills that were mostly passed down from generation to generation all over again from scratch.  So failure, or trial and error as I prefer to call it is inevitable when you learn a new skill..

Gardening is no exception.  When I first started out, I didn’t really have anyone around me to learn the skills from directly who knew the local conditions, so I hit the library for suggestions.  Books are good to get the basics of organic gardening, but you have to ensure that the planting timings and knowledge that they are imparting is right for your local area.  So many organic gardening books hail from the UK and USA, which for our climate here in Australia is totally out of whack and no use to us at all.  The best beginners advice I found were from books from the Diggers Club which are written for Australian conditions.  But as I mentioned, books are only the begining of the journey.  If books don’t help, hit the blogsphere.  Gardening bloggers love to help out with tricky problems.

At the start of every great journey is the first small step, which is often the hardest thing to do.  The way I see it is that if you start off small, you don’t loose much if it all goes pear shaped, and it is quite easy to start again.  I suppose that is the way I did it when I first begun.  By only have the advice from books, I planted small amounts of everything, and mainly from seedlings bought from a nursery.  That way I knew that if something didn’t grow like the book was telling me, I would have time to figure it out.  Nature is very forgiving like that.  Plants grow slowly over days, weeks and months.  If you are observent, you always have time to correct mistakes in your vegie patch or fruit orchard.  

During the first season, that worked for me.  Because I had small amounts of lots of different types, we could figure out what vegetable we really liked to eat, which types would grow well given the conditions we had, and what techniques we could use in the next season to make things better.  On the flip side, if I was planting for survival mode, then I would have planted a larger amount, especially if what you plant is all you have to eat.  I hope that when TSHTF, you are well knowledgable by then!  Better to be prepared and have the skills now, than to wait until prices go through the roof and scarcity hits hard.

Anyway, the morale of the post is that we all fail at times when food gardening, and it is a lifelong journey of discovery and adventure, which is why I love it so much.  The joy of actually growing your own food and cooking with it can not be overstated.  It is just an amazing feeling, and never gets tired with me. 

So if you have still yet to start growing a small patch or balcony garden, remember that there will be failures, there will be tears, but heck, it is worth it in the long run.  The sense of satisfaction is second to none!


  1. says

    Ok, so I live in a rented house with no garden, so I have created my own garden on the sunny side of the house. I have a few pots, an old concrete laundry tub, and a greenhouse that I got on mother’s day. So today my daughter and I filled the greenhouse with basil, mint, oregano, beetroot and carrot seedlings. Also, from seed we have harvested ourselves, some chillis, capsicum and tomatoes. We will see how we go. I have had loads of failures, and loads of successes. There is nothing more rewarding than eating something you have grown yourself, especially when you have saved the seeds yourself.

  2. says

    Thanks Gavin. Gives me a bit of confidence to head back out there after a month of garden neglect and an incredibly wet few months in Sydney.

  3. says

    Yes, the fear of failure is a strong one. The majority of my gardening experience has been failure. Yet these failures have nothing to do with me being a failure.

    Good on you Gavin for inspiring others. I am also trying to do so with my self sufficiency challenge.

  4. says

    well put Gavin, and also the seasons are not always the same, so what you couldn’t grow last year might just work out well this year! If we get a lot of rain in our dry season we cant grow butternut, but I try it every year just in case it turns out to be a dry one! This year I have 15 baby butternuts and still holding thumbs we dont get rain!

  5. Kim says

    Well said, Gavin.
    I think that ‘fear of failure’ stops alot of people from gardening. The beauty of growing your own food is that mother nature helps you out on most occasions . Also I have had lots of ‘happy accidents ‘ where even though things haven’t turned out the way I thought it would, I got something better as a result!
    There are no mistakes in gardening really, just the joy of learning!


  6. says

    and season from season is just so different ..mankind likes to think he is control of it all but we are at the mercy of the weather..a little more heat when it should be cooler..a little cooler when we are expecting heat…and really are there really any failures..hhmm..just learning experiences

  7. says

    I’ve been gardening for 30 years and I still have failures! All the time. Gardening is as much art as science. Every plant, every season, every spot in the garden is different, and there are endless numbers of combinations. The only thing I’d add is – keep a diary, just a notebook, and it can get muddy fingerprints all over it. But when a particular variety of onion does really well, your chances of remembering what you planted, 6 months ago, are next to nil without a diary (specially if you planted a few varieties at the same time.)

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