My Garden Failures (Or, How Do I Revive My Dying Vegetable Plants?)

I suffer from Black Thumb. I can’t seem to grow veggies! I’ve tried. Year one I had moderate success, despite starting too late in the season. Year two yielded a few pounds of green beans and maybe five tomatoes from five tomato plants. The next few years were a blur of blossom end rot, un-sprouted seeds, and one-inch carrots.

This was my garden about a month ago. It actually doesn’t look so bad here, but keep in mind that the raised bed in the background has virtually nothing in it but a few dying cukes and peppers.

This year in a new house with a new back yard, I vowed it would be different. I checked books out from the library and pored over my copy of the Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Ed Smith. We made new raised beds, filled them with brand-new four-way soil recommended for veggie gardens, and planted everything according to the directions. It was sunny and I watered my garden faithfully. Why, then are the leaves from my pepper plants turning yellow? Why aren’t some of my plants any bigger now than they were a month ago? Why won’t the carrots, lettuce, and basil sprout?

My friend Ingrid came over to analyze the situation. She recommended amending some of the soil with compost and getting a drip irrigation system. Despite the fact that I’ve already poured too much money into this project, I’m going to take her advice.

The most disappointing thing, for me, is how much time and money I’ve wasted. Isn’t gardening supposed to save money? I am not a gardening failure all-around–I’ve managed to grow a nice organic lawn, maintain around sixty rose bushes and other shrubs and flowers. So what is my problem?

If you have any gardening advice or commiseration, please let me know! I need all the help I can get. It’s not too late to save my garden! (I hope.)

Note: I wrote this about a month ago and have somewhat revived my garden using the method I described above! So if you are a garden failure like me, keep trying. . . . And for more enthusiastic posts about home gardening, check out our organic gardening archives.


  1. I seem to always have this problem with gardening. My solution is to have my husband do the gardening. Seems to be working so far.

    I have horrible luck with hanging baskets – no matter what I do. The vegetable gardens usually seem fine, but the baskets -aaahhh!

    Perhaps you have bugs that are eating your veggies? I second the compost idea and irrigation. We have an inground irrigation and it works wonders!

  2. I agree that compost is a must. You can’t just do garden soil. I’m not familiar with the 4-way soil you mentioned, though. Does it already have compost in it?

    I actually LOVE using composted steer manure. Our dad used to use manure, remember? It’s usually cheaper than other compost, too. Hopefully that doesn’t go against any vegetarian principles you have. Perhaps you can envision that the steer in question are all dairy cows.

    I think your garden looks great! I’ve seen it in person quite recently. I want to note for the general public that your tomatoes are beautiful and the plants are the biggest I’ve seen in town.

    I’ve heard that soaker hoses are the way to go but I’ve never tried it. I really enjoy standing there and hosing everything down. Plus hosing can help wash off bugs. I bet you save water with the soaker hose, though.

  3. I think the four-way soil was supposed to be one part compost. I don’t exactly remember what the other three parts were! I ended up buying a bag of organic compost (made from a variety of things) and it has done its job. I still haven’t produced much usable compost from my compost bin for some reason.

  4. You started with an empty bin a year ago, right? It actually takes about a year for compost to do its thing. Therefore, the kitchen scraps and grass clippings from July of last year are ready to use, but nothing else. That’s not much, if you think about it! Next year you’ll have more.

    I was also going to say that garden expenses are the highest the first year you get into it. I spent a lot last year getting things going, but this year has been very inexpensive to grow an even bigger garden. I’m all set up for tools, garden beds, etc. Next year I hope to have seeds from this year’s crop for planting so I don’t even need to buy seeds!

  5. Actually, Gina, I started out with an already-full compost bin. I need the kind that sifts the finished product down to the bottom somehow.

    I know that my garden will be MUCH more cost-effective next year. There’s always next year. . . .

  6. I think when the leaves turn yellow those plants are hungry for fertilizer! Compost is one way to get fertilizer but like others said, it can take a long time and it’s not necessarily going to have all the essential nutrients your plants are craving. I’m not sure what to recommend for organic fertilizer but I really think that might be what your plants are craving. If they were in pots, I’d say they need bigger pots because that can be another reason leaves turn yellow, but that shouldn’t be an issue with raised beds.

    One thing I have heard is that you should remove all the dead and dying leaves as soon as you can. They are sucking energy and nutrients from the healthy part of the plant. If you remove them, the plant will put it’s resources into growing the healthy parts again.

  7. Eileen, I didn’t think I needed fertilizer at first because I used brand-new four-way soil that was supposed to be all ready for plants. After the peppers started drooping, I did remove the yellow leaves. I then added compost AND watered them with compost tea. They just never recovered!

    Natalie, I wondered if some sort of invisible bugs were eating the peppers at the roots. It is just a mystery.

    The end of this sad story is that I finally pulled the plants out.

  8. My pepper plants aren’t really looking so hot either, and I’ve heard the same from other people here. Maybe it’s just not a good year for peppers. I’m going to stick with it anyway and see what pops out. Last year I planted late and my peppers plants never bore any fruit.

  9. Yes the first year is the most expensive (we’re in the midst of that right now). Make sure you’re rotating crops – if you’ve got dying stuff, yank it and compost it now, and start planting beans and fall lettuces! That way you don’t feel like “gee, my entire garden was a failure.”

    I think it took 2-3 attempts for some of my seeds to really get going this year, and that’s due the insane weather in our part of the country.

  10. I have always heard that leaves turn yellow due to a nitrogen deficiency. I’ve been sprinkling Fox Farm Organic Fertilizer on my plants whenever the color changes. My next venture is to make Garrett Juice, as recommended by the “Dirt Doctor.” It’s supposed to be amazing stuff and the recipe looks simple and inexpensive.

  11. Also! Maybe next year it would be worthwhile to try sheet composting or “lasagna gardening.” Not only is it cheap, but it takes out A LOT of garden labor. I am all about keeping the shovel in the garage! :)

  12. Don’t put a restraining order on me yet! I just forgot to say that your Blue Bread’s look gorgeous. I’m growing some for the first time this year and I wish I’d planted as much seed as you clearly did because it looks lovely.

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