From the Backyard… Gardening Fail

  |  April 30, 2015

Audrey Hepburn reportedly said, “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” The point being, naturally, is that it takes time—well into the future if you’ve planted asparagus, rhubarb or fruit trees—for plants to sprout, grow, and mature to harvest. Belief in that day is what keeps us digging dirt, weeding, and waiting. Flashy seed catalogues and upscale gardening magazines make it all look so easy. Just visit your nearest gardening center to purchase new soil and amendments and seedlings and seeds, and you’re off!

Then you water. You watch the sky for enough rain or too much rain or wind that can lay your immature plants flat on the ground. You walk out one bright morning to find shiny beetles feasting on your bean leaves and your new rose bushes. Or the deer have nibbled your lettuces, or the woodchucks, your winter squash. And then the real future looms ahead of you, the one you’d hoped to avert—a season of potential disappointments and puny crops and outright failures.

It didn’t take long for my first disaster this year. The plan was to propagate my own tomato seedlings in little-celled seed trays with plastic lids, a task that must begin by the end of March at the latest. I bought a heat mat to put under the trays to warm the soil. My husband rigged a grow light to hang above the laundry room sink in the basement where the trays sat on a shelf. I carefully planted 72 tomato seeds of three varieties into the cells, covered them, and turned on the heat mat. When the first green cotyledons poked through the potting mixture, I switched on the grow light for the prescribed sixteen hours per day. Soon they were reaching for the sky, even though still in my basement.


One evening when I went downstairs to turn off the light and tuck them in, my husband suggested they were getting too tall for the plastic lids. We should leave them off, he said. I draped a cotton dish towel over the lamp just to keep the night air from chilling them and said goodnight. The next morning I went down to wake them up and turn on the grow light—and found empty stems and little mouse-sized holes in the dirt.

The resident mice had had an overnight feast on my seedlings! I cursed them loudly, knowing they were hovering somewhere nearby to see what would happen next. What happened next is: I drove to my local nursery and bought packets of seeds for veggies that I knew would sprout right out of the ground—peas and beans and kale.

Because Audrey was right. I do believe. And I resolved to try starting seedlings again next year, by which time I hope to get my husband to build a mouse-proof greenhouse. I’ve already got the trays and heat mat and grow light. Might as well.

About Ann Hutton

Freelance writer Ann Hutton lives in upstate New York’s lush Hudson Valley. Her work has appeared in the Catskill Mountain Region Guide, Hudson Valley Magazine, Kaatskill Life Magazine, Green Door Magazine, Upstate House and Chronogram, and in Ulster Publishing’s community weeklies: Woodstock Times, Saugerties Times, Kingston Times, and New Paltz Times. A graduate of Union Institute and University at Vermont College, Ann is currently writing a motorcycle memoir with the working title Sitting in Motion: One Woman’s Midlife Adventure on Two Wheels.

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