Anyone who has tried their hand at gardening knows that sometimes no matter how hard you try, some plants just don’t do well. You can fertilize regularly, amend the soil with all sorts of nutrients, water consistently, and still sometimes fail. It can be very discouraging and maybe even make you consider giving up on that plant, or worse, gardening altogether. I know because I’ve been there. Now for a little story.
Last season I could not grow legumes for the life of me and I did not understand why. I failed so badly at them that I was super close to not growing them at all this year. Well, ultimately I decided to give them one more try and I’m so glad I did. I’m happy to report that I’m successfully growing peas!
Let’s rewind for a second. Last year was my first year growing in my new backyard raised beds. My boyfriend and I assembled them in January, and that spring was the first planting of seeds. Tom Thumb Peas were the variety I chose to plant because they only grow to about 12 inches and don’t really require trellising…perfect for my waist high raised beds! I had high hopes for pea season. Well, sadly those peas never came to be. The seeds germinated beautifully and looked super green and healthy. But by the time they got to about 4 or 5 inches tall, they’d start to turn yellow and eventually they would die. So I sowed some more and the same thing happened. It was incredibly frustrating and I could not figure out why they kept failing.
Next came the bush beans. I was SO excited to grow bush beans. Green bean casserole is one of my favorite dishes and I couldn’t wait to be harvesting them by the handful. I selected so many fun varieties like Dragon Tongue, Tongue of Fire, Jade Bush beans, and guess what…I ran into the same problem. The legumes had no love for me and my garden.
After several failures I vowed to never grow peas and beans again. My fragile garden morale couldn’t handle it anymore! In fact, my friend Carrie and I both struggled so much with these in our gardens last year that we became convinced there was a legume curse on us. Dramatic, I know, but that’s how epic my failure was. Frankly I’m always short on growing space so I thought to myself, why waste it on them when I can use it for something else I know will do well? As the warmer months came and went, soon I was faced with the decision of to grow or not to grow legumes. That was the question.
Just as I was about to throw in the towel, I remember thinking to myself “ok ONE more try”, and I sowed some Tom Thumb Peas for what felt like the hundredth time. Honestly, I had an empty corner in one of the raised beds so figured I might as well fill the space. A few days later, beautiful green shoots broke through the soil. I started counting down the days until the yellowing started, and to my surprise, it never did! I couldn’t believe it…I was growing peas! I patted myself on the back and thanked my lucky stars that I decided to give it one more try.
Ultimately I came to the conclusion that my failure to grow legumes last year was due to soil conditions. When I purchased the soil for my raised beds, I made the mistake of making an uninformed, last minute decision to use “composted” chicken manure. I knew the raised bed soil I was using was not going to have enough organic matter, and unfortunately Home Depot does not carry compost (why oh whyyyy I will never understand), thus my decision to use “composted” chicken manure. I had never used it before. Why in quotations you ask? Because I think my issues with my soil were the result of the manure not being composted enough.
Chicken manure is extremely high in nitrogen, and without composting, it will burn your plants. In order to become usable in the garden, chicken manure needs to compost down for a minimum of 6 months. Though the bag was marked as composted, my theory is that it was still too hot for my plants. Add to that the fact that legumes do not like lots of nitrogen, and you have a hot mess…literally. In case you aren’t aware, legumes are “nitrogen fixing”. What this means is that their roots have symbiotic bacteria in their nodules that produce nitrogen for the plant to use. Once the plant dies, the roots release that nitrogen back into the soil. This is why legumes are considered great cover crops. While most other plants take nitrogen out, legumes actually put it back in. So you can see how the hot chicken manure spelled disaster for my beans and peas.
Fast forward to today, one year later, and my peas are thriving. I’m convinced it’s because that chicken manure has fully broken down now, leaving me with super nutritious and balanced soil. This saga that I went through with legumes taught me so much about gardening, soil health, and the importance of not giving up. Had I not given it another try, I wouldn’t have been able to piece together the evidence and determine what had happened. I would have skipped over a valuable learning experience AND I would have missed out on all the delicious sugar snap peas that I’m now munching every afternoon.
In summary, you will have good seasons and bad ones. A variety that does great for you one year could flop the next, and vice versa. It happens more than you think! The beauty of gardening is that there’s always next season. Regardless of whether you’re a master gardener or starting your first container of lettuce, there will always be surprises and failures…it’s a fact of gardening and one of the things that makes it so endlessly entertaining. Each season, each year, each variety, is different from the next and it keeps us on our toes. So hold your head high and don’t give up if something fails. Just grab your seed box and try again!