5 Great Garden Lessons from an Unexpected Place

Working on a Garden is tough work. Come read 5 Great Tips that we got from an unexpected source. And see what we're doing to grow a flourishing vegetable garden!

Are you working on a garden?

Finding that your crops aren't growing as well as you would like?

I've been mentioning in a few posts and on my Facebook page that we've been struggling this year.

Actually, we've been struggling for several years with our garden, but this year our garden has thrown us a few tons of curveballs.

In fact, the other week, my husband and oldest were away when the final curveball hit and I started crying.

And almost swore I would never garden again.

But I can be stubborn about things -- especially when it comes to saving money and "do it yourself" kind of stuff, so I did some research.

And some more.

And I had a few folks come alongside me as well. Some who know a TON more about gardening than I do. One of them I will be introducing to you in the near future.  You will surely want to subscribe to my blog for this one -- believe me! Anyway, here's what I've learned.

Raised Bed Gardens made from cedar
Our raised beds (looking great before the tomatoes wilted!)

Our Garden Challenges

We've tried for about 3 years to have a flourishing garden, but the only thing that ever flourished for us was dying zucchini and tomato plants--and greens.

Kale and chard were staples in our house (hence my recipe for Kale Chips) and my husband would be almost giddy at the giant yield we got from the greens each year.

Until this year.

We thought we'd navigated all of the problems in our garden.

We had our soil tested, plotted the sun, calculated where the black walnuts wouldn't get to our plants, built more raised beds and mulched with straw.

We even added llama poop to our garden. (yep -- I said llama poop :)!)

But this year, almost everything has flopped.

Even the greens.

I went out to check on the garden 2 weeks ago when my husband and oldest were on a camping trip.

And I almost screamed. (Well, I did yell a little once I got inside my house :(.)

Some bugs had eaten almost all of our kale and chard. And all of the leaves looked pretty peaked.

We went out at night to try to see what creatures might be demolishing our plants.

But we found nothing.

And 4 of our beds of tomatoes were wilting suddenly.

Basically, we only have 2 raised beds that have promising plants.

Not encouraging -- that's an understatement considering how much time we've spent over the years on this.

I was tempted to give up.

And so was my husband -- moreso.

But several readers and a few experts have given me things to think about.

And I've had an epiphany of sorts about the garden.

If you've been around here for awhile, you know that I've been writing a lot about gut health.

Posts like:

Candida - What it is and the Beginning of My Sugar-Free Life
- 5 Causes of Gut Dysbiosis
- Busting a Common Gut Health Myth
-Why I Don't Have Fermented Foods on My Blog
- The "Straight Poop" about Probiotics.

And there is more to come.

Well, as I've been learning about gardening, I've come to realize that our guts and our gardens have a lot in common.

5 Healthy Garden Tips

1.  Nourish it

We've talked about how your gut needs nourishing from good food.

Feed your body junk and eventually, things will fall apart. Same goes for your garden.

We did put down some better soil and some of our friend's llama poop (yep, we have friends with an abundance of llama poop.  I like knowing folks with interesting lifestyles :)!)

Additionally, I got some tips from an expert to try:

- seaweed
- azomite
- greensand

But likely I am going to buy this worm factory and start putting worm castings in the garden. In fact, the gardening expert I spoke with recommended getting 2 so you have a backup.  Worms really gross me out, but I think this would be a great adventure for my boys!

Oh--and this same expert recommended urine!  I know...you might not be ready to do that, but it is cheapo and you know I've tried using urine for home remedies before.  Check out this post and this one :).

2.  Diversify

Our gut needs a variety of foods in order for us to be healthy. Especially with today's "nutrient depleted" foods. Our gardens are the same way.

a. Planting the same thing year after year depletes the soil.

We have tended to plant the same thing year after year -- especially the greens since we were having success.

Well, I've since learned that this isn't a good idea. For example, tomatoes use a ton of nitrogen so if you keep planting tomatoes over and over again, the soil gets depleted.

b.  Plant different things to avoid infestations

By changing what you plant you interrupt the insect reproduction cycles.

Also, it's a good idea to plant several things in one area to confuse the insect. We tended to go for uniformity, but now I am going to throw some basil and parsley in with my zucchini and broccoli :)!

3.  Keep Toxins Out

It's a good idea to keep toxins (pesticides, etc.) out of your food and off of your body.

We buy organic whenever we can.

The same goes for your garden.

RoundUp has been linked to many many diseases. Don't use the stuff -- and tell your friends, neighbors, and relations to stop as well.

In our case, we grow using only organic methods, but we have these pesky Black Walnut trees that make our job tough. Black Walnuts emit juglone and it can wreak havoc on gardens.

We thought we had our tomato plants out far enough and that the raised beds were good enough, but we found out the beds might need to be taller.

Additionally, just like you should add in good bacteria to your gut via probiotics, you should add things like healthy compost, mulch, and other things to build up the nutrients of the soil.

Back to the drawing board.

We didn't try hard enough to keep the toxins out.

4.  Don't Give Up

We've been working on gut health for awhile now.

We've seen great progress, but there is still a lot to learn.

For a long time I thought I couldn't tolerate fermented foods, which are supposed to be the backbone to good gut health.

I kept getting reactions, but I kept digging and digging. (remember -- I can be stubborn about some things :)!)

Anyway, you can read Why I Don't Have Fermented Foods on My Blog to read the whole story, but suffice it to say that I have made great strides in my and my family's health because I didn't. give. up.

We about gave up this time but so many encouraged us to view our failures not as the end, but as part of the learning process.

We've learned a TON in the past 2 weeks and we would have missed it if we crawled in a hole, cried and started heading to the local grocer for our produce.

And we are NOT giving up! This weekend -- more llama poop, and planting lettuce, zucchini, broccoli and even some herbs :)!

5.  Don't Compare Yourself to Others

My sons often complain saying "Why do other kids get to eat McDonald's and junky cookies and candy -- while we have to make all of our own food?"

It's hard to hear that and yes -- it's hard work for me doing all of this cooking (though my son did make his own Chia Pudding this morning and yesterday).

I tell them that they can't compare themselves to others.  We are doing the best we know-how for our situation.

Likewise, we have a neighbor with Black Walnut trees in his backyard. And every year he has a bumper crop of tomatoes.

Why? I don't know.

Maybe he uses chemicals.

Maybe the juglone from his trees isn't that potent.

Maybe it's just luck.

Whatever -- I can only work with what I have, and press on.

Here's to better Garden (and Gut) Health!

And a bumper crop!

How is your garden growing?
Got any favorite gardening tips to share?

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



  1. My gardening skills are horrible yet I too keep pressing on. I did not plant a garden of any type this year because we were doing some serious backyard renovations but my husband just put in a raised bed for me this week that I can use for next year. It is a small space, 3 feet deep by 12 feet long but I am excited to keep trying! Thanks for letting me know I am not the only garden impaired human out there.

  2. Hi,
    I noticed you shared a pic that I found on another site. You are welcome.

    From the sound of things, you are having a challenging several years in your garden. Please contact me and let's see if we can figure this out. I'm NOT saying I am the "end all be all" when it comes to gardening, but I have been doing this for a few years, well okay, 40, satisfied? And I do run an organic fertilizer company and read white papers dealing with such interesting subjects as weeds and bugs and how to avoid both.

    I look forward to your reply. You can reach me through the FB page above.


  3. Worm castings rock in the garden but they are so much more beneficial inside! We have a two story bin in our kitchen and my boys are head over heals each day to feed the worms scraps. We talk about the circle of life, what foods are good for the worms and if something isn't good for them (chocolate cupcakes from the grocery store that always seem to grab their attention), is it good for us? They have something to care for and that makes them better people. We love our worms, all 3,000 of them!

  4. Hi Wholenewmom,

    Thank you so much for your blog. I really appreciate your posts, especially those related to products and DIY.
    When it comes to bugs eating plants, my mother-in-law (who is far more green-thumbed than I) advised us to use vinegar (white) diluted with water, I believe it was 1 part vinegar to 2 parts water. Then spray this on our plants. I dont know if it is a feasible solution for a big crop, but is works wonders on our potted basil. The bugs had all but eaten our basil. I sprayed it down and within a week it had grown back. Repeat often for best results.

  5. Ah the garden dilemma! I had given up gardening as we live in the hottest part of CA. with Summers reaching 115 degrees. Plants do great at the beginning of Summer but quickly wilt with the severe heat.
    My husband and I are extremely busy keeping up with running our own business and the small area we had been gardening was quickly overtaken with crabgrass when we stopped.
    I did have a brilliant idea (or so I thought at the time) to solve my no garden area. I decided to "container garden" and that may have been good except when the gross heat arrived I quickly remembered why my last garden had failed. I'm sure that we could build canopies to shade from the harsh sun and install a drip system but as I mentioned we are extremely busy.
    I encourage anyone who has time to stick with it and reap the benefits. I read several years ago that American farmers soil has become so depleted b/c they are not crop rotating, that many of our veggies are not filled with the nutrients they previously carried. πŸ™
    Grow your own for maximum nutrition.
    Another great idea is crop sharing...families living in close proximity take turns caring for the garden and then its not any one persons burden. After all, most gardens produce an abundance enough for 3-4 families!

  6. Great Tips! We have a garden, and every year there is a new problem to deal with! A bunny is enjoying my peppers, and something smaller is nibbling holes in my eggplant leaves. But every year we have a little more success than the one before, so I'll keep at it πŸ™‚ We have a worm bin, but separating out the casings is not as easy as the youtube videos make it out to be! Also FYI, we bought 1,000 worms and it takes a few months before they eat and poop as much as the websites claim.

      1. To be honest it is too soon to tell. We originally wanted them so we could compost year round. We bought them in February, and it is just recently that we have a good amount of casings and they are finally eating a decent amount of scraps. They seem happy and are reproducing, but there have been some issues with fruit flies. We have had to learn to balance the moisture in the bin. So far I've only taken small amounts (about a tablespoon) of compost out at a time, but I can't really tell if it is benefiting the garden or not.

  7. This is an awesome post. This is my first year trying to grow food (failing). The only thing I have managed to grow successfully is romaine. Thank you for your tips, I will be sure to try some new things out next year.

  8. I like to compare gardening to parenting. Somethings won't work and you just have to go with plan B. Sometimes what didn't produce what you expected just has to wait and be tried again next season, next year or in the near future. Gardening is a living and learning journey. This is my second year gardening. I got some free plants in May and planted them although they were actually for early spring season. It was a good thing now I know I definitely don't want to plant cauliflower! I am still having a hard time with beets and radishes. I don't think I am feeding them enough. ?? My cucumbers are not doing well either. But my okra is doing fantastic, my jalapeno peppers are huge!! I was able to beat the squash bug that thought was going to eat all my squashes. It didn't and now I got more beautiful yellow squashes again. My tomatoes are pretty yummy although I got bad tomato blight. I will be posting an update of my garden on my YouTube channel soon. But don't give up... keep at it... next year will be better! πŸ™‚

  9. We don't get as much out of our garden as others may, but I still keep trying. Each year I have added to it (more square footage, another box, whatever) and hope for the best. then Summer roles around and the squash borers are still there and destroying the sqyash, the aphids almost ruined my young tomato plants, the corn is frail and only grew one ear each stalk. But then I have cucumbers, too many cucumbers. I give them away to neighbors and their rodents because I have too many! And then yesterday I find a hornworm, which are evil, but it's covered with parasite type wasps eggs that feed on it, which gave me hope! Still waiting for a good harvest of tomatoes and at least one homegrown melon (I'd prefer watermelon, but at this point I am not picky). I'd love to save money gardening, but I have come to the realization that organic is not easy and that maybe this is a nice happy hobby even if it doesn't save me money.

    1. Wish I lived near you for some cucumbers πŸ™‚ Are you using the tips in the post? Good soil and rotating mainly?

  10. This is our first garden in our new home, and grasshoppers have eaten us out of house and home. The only thing we have a semi-abundance of is cucumbers, so pickles it is this year. I feel your pain. It's very disheartening to spend time and money (we bought starter plants since we were late planting) to get nothing. There's always next season, though, right? Please say yes.

    1. Yes! And you could plant again now like we are. Maybe if you search for ways to prevent the hoppers you can try beans or zucchini or broccoli :). Hang in there!

      1. We bought chickens, and we hope they will find grashoppers very tasty when they get old enough. I won't shed nary a tear for any cannibalism that may happen as the result of loosing our chickens on those cursed grasshoppers. Circle of life, as far as I'm concerned.

  11. I am glad to see you are staying with gardening.

    I know the CSA we belong to uses crop rotation, composting, (has not used manure just because he does not want to take the chance of possible pathogens), soil that has been in old growth forest, burying an over abundance of fish in the soil, leaves, kelp powder, and his soil has worms, etc. that shows happy soil. He does test his soil, and I am not certain what all he has tested, but he also grows edible soybeans that will fix the nitrogen in the soil, peas will do the same thing. Also, a green covering in the fall that is tilled under to decompose will also helps the health of his soil.

    1. Soybeans are a very interesting idea. I will have to think about that. Some of our plots are in shady areas and I don't think they will grow there. Hmm...he covers in the fall? I'd be interested in knowing what he covers with. Thanks!

  12. Thanks for the encouragement! I hope you continue to get things worked out for your harvest πŸ™‚ This is our first year gardening and it has been so rewarding so far. I really half thought we wouldn't get anything. And I know things could still happen! I need to use some baking soda or something on my squash plants because they are getting mildew.
    But I didn't know about the Black Walnuts! Our neighbor has one as well, and some could certainly fall in the garden. Is there anything you can do when covering/moving isn't an option? How badly can it affect things?

    1. Did you look around on the internet about the mildew? I made an antifungal spray - I don't know if that would work or not. Let me know. Maybe I should post it.

      The walnuts can be really bad. Some say it's just the roots that are an issue. Others say that the nuts and leaves are a problem as well. We had to put our gardens outside of the drip line. Many plants are affected but some aren't.

  13. I too struggled with gardening until I saw this! It has been a huge blessing in my life and now I adore gardening. It' not perfect yet, but will improve with time. Hope you enjoy and helps your gardening woes as it did mine.
    Back to Eden Film