Overcome fear of failure

February 21, 2012 12:54 pm

I have received numerous comments from readers that are new to gardening, or at least new to growing vegetable starts for family food production, which reflect a certain nervousness about trying this idea of growing what you eat. 

Many of you are apprehensive about trying to grow your own food as you venture into unknown territory. Along with the dizzying displays at retail and nursery centers, it is, I believe, the fear of failure that is keeping you from trying this delightful and nutritional alternative to store-bought meals. Perhaps the following suggestions will increase your comfort level.

Starting the seeds can sound easy, just some dirt, a little water, seeds and heat. But then what do you do? Transplanting your seedlings out into the garden is the most critical phase of their young life that you will be a part of.  This is truly the “make or break” point to your gardening success. So for plants that must be started indoors, try to make it as simple as possible, for you and the seedling.

Start them in peat or coir (ground coconut hulls) pre-made pots. When the seedlings are large enough or old enough to plant out, the plant and pot can both be simply set into the ground. This is really the best way to plant many vegetables, especially those that take a long time to mature, like broccoli, cauliflower and tomatoes. Even corn can be started this way, unless you are trying to grow hundreds of starts, then it becomes cost prohibitive. 

Be gentle when setting the pots in the ground. Healthy vegetables will many times have small feeder roots already growing through the pot. These are fragile and important, try not to break them off. Some vegetables resent being transplanted, such as beans, so if you start them in these biodegradable pots and place the entire thing into the ground, your chance of success is greatly increased. Bean babies have brittle stems and fragile roots so transplanting them without a pot will likely result in damage and failure.

Do not start your plants in plastic pots and then place that in the ground. Root growth will be stifled and your plant will, most likely, not survive and it certainly will not thrive. I have heard of many success stories from gardeners who use newspaper pots (a wooden form is needed for consistency) or soil blocks. Soil blocks are an extremely economical alternative but can also be high maintenance as proper soil moisture needs to be maintained or the blocks will fall apart. Using the biodegradable pots or soil blocks also reduces transplant shock. A soil block maker needs to be purchased but these also last for years.

Place your newly planted seeds, in the pots, in a tray so that you can water from the bottom. You can actually see the pot turn a darker shade of brown as it absorbs the water.

All water should be absorbed within 20 minutes, if your pot is still standing in water after this amount of time you have used too much. Don’t be alarmed if some mold grows on the outside of the pot. This is normal and will not harm your seedlings. It does not have to be removed prior to planting out.

Please have fun! Next time we’ll talk about soil temperature, its critical factor in seed or seedling development and success, and how to manipulate your soil or site to enhance soil warmth.


Jennie Hagen is a La Grande area gardener who accepts general gardening questions at gardenanswers@live com.