When Growing A Garden Isn’t As Simple As It Seems

As preppers we pride ourselves on being ready for anything. Most of us have the good sense to know that there are deficits in our preps and that getting prepared for whatever is coming is an ongoing process and at least in the materialistic sense, we will never be fully ready because one day our preps will run out.

The reality of living in a world where the s has really hit the fan is going to be totally different than the way we imagine it in our heads.

Although we are more aware than the majority of the population we can still fall foul of normalcy bias – it’s human nature to edge towards the things we know but the ability to adapt will be critical in the event of a major disaster.

We all have our strengths and weaknesses and recognising those weaknesses ahead of time can not only save a lot of  heartache but possibly our lives.

Having unrecognised or even unaccepted weaknesses and doing nothing about it leaves a hole in your preps the size of Texas and that hole needs to be plugged. We all need to get out of our comfort zone and face facts:

You are most likely not as good as you think you are!

Allow me to elaborate. I have always enjoyed gardening. The garden at my last home was small, and with a HUGE dog – American Mastiff crossed with a Saint Bernard – and a kid running around there wasn’t much growing space. Enter container gardening. the results were most impressive, giving up a bit of patio space provided bush beans, peas, potatoes and carrots in very decent quantities and cherry tomatoes grew brilliantly in hanging baskets. Herbs in pots fixed to the fences added colour to the garden, made great use of space by going vertical and added a few new flavours to our food.

When we moved house and saw the size of the garden, part of which we never knew existed it was so overgrown I was in heaven. I never considered the problems we would encounter…like access. It took almost five months to get permission to drive a digger over the private car park on the other side of the fence…then weeks to co-ordinate the residents to NOT park there for an hour to get the thing in.

When the ground was cleared we had an extra 170ft of garden we didn’t know existed such was the impenetrable overgrowth caused by 35 years of neglect.

Now this house was a renovation job…it had a roof and external was but the inside…well don’t even go there. Every day, when the digger had moved out I dug down to pull out the roots of brambles and everything you could think of, and eventually I had a blank canvas, 50 ft wide and 302 ft long (without the 20ft by 50 ft concrete bit that would eventually become a patio)  that saw me out with a trowel everyday to get sprouting weeds I had missed.

The soil was poor and the neighbours that used the car park were really pissed when two trucks with 17 tons of topsoil apiece rolled up. That took some spreading I can tell you.

200 ft of turf went on top of that. That just left the veggie patch…my 102 by 50 ft patch at the bottom of the garden.

The house was now in the hands of experts, all the unskilled, hard labour dirty jobs that would cut down on the final bills had been done. Plaster was gone from the walls, ceilings ripped down, crap disposed of. Time to garden.

I had planned this for a year, knew where the raised beds would be going, knew what to companion plant with what so cut down on pests. cart-wheel style herb garden was all drawn out. I even had the soil conditions required by my various crops written out so I knew what I had to do to make the soil perfect for my plants.

Wellies on (rubber boots to you Americans), load of garden tools in a plastic dustbin off I went, so happy to finally get going. What happened next could fill a book so I will give you the highlights:

  • 4 inches down the “soil” turned to clay. Clay so good and so pure my daughter was making models with it!
  • This clay alternated between so hard I couldn’t get a fork through it and so heavy when wet I couldn’t lift it.
  • Using bright orange spray paint I made a grid so I could work on a bit of it at a time.
  • I dug out the clay to a depth of 2ft and put it to one side. I hammered a pole into the bottom of the hole, once in each corner and once in the centre then filled the holes with pebbles to aid drainage. When the pile of clay had dried I smashed it up with a hammer and then mixed the smaller lumps with sand, grit and kitchen peelings then put it back in the hole. This was back-breaking work that moved very slowly.
  • Grid 3 found me masking up to deal with the smashed asbestos I had found. This had to be put into piles, be sealed into boxes and the boxes wrapped in cling film (shrink wrap) before being delivered to a specific centre that can deal with asbestos waste. It was encapsulated asbestos that used to be used for garage roofing and weighed a ton so I had to use small boxes. Doing it myself saved £1000’s.
  • At this point I got hold of some build bags and put topsoil in them and grew in those rather than miss another year.
  • Grid 6 threw up another issue. The soil seemed “greasy” and smelt “off”. A few more forkfuls and the source was obvious. I dug up a rusting oil can and half a dozen rusted through petrol cans. Grids 6 and 7 were contaminated. I wouldn’t be using them and would decide later what to do with them…and the grids either side of them in case the contamination had spread.
  • Forgetting grid 8 grid 9 was full of rubbish, sections of plastic guttering, broken house bricks and the skeleton of a dog, or fox, or sabre toothed tiger…something with a head at one end, a tail at the other and a leg in each corner.
  • Grid 10 was uneventful.

So it went, on and on and on. TWO YEARS later and I’m not finished. There are more and more problems as I move on. More contamination, more asbestos and more dead animals. I gave up.

What have I learned?

Tons of stuff but all those lessons haven’t given me a veggie plot. I have found though that large build bags, the jumbo ones lifted by truck mounted cranes over the fence make fantastic containers to grow in. Raised off the floor I don’t break my back weeding and by having them around the edge of the patch every bit of growing space is reachable. I have a huge space in the middle of the garden that even with the herb garden – cart-wheel design but made of same sized pots rather than planted in the ground, this design leaves room to move a wheelbarrow around.

The moral of the story?

  • Just because the weeds grow so well doesn’t mean the soil is suitable for veggies.
  • You really don’t have any idea what you are going to find until you start digging.
  • Having an alternate plan would have made it easier to switch at an earlier stage in the proceedings.
  • I wasn’t physically strong enough to achieve my goals in the time I had allowed.
  • Sometimes whatever you do your idea isn’t going to work, often for reasons beyond your control.
  • Sometimes your idea isn’t going to work because you don’t have the ability to make it work.

If we had been relying on the veggie garden to feed us we would have starved.

Accepting our limitations and the limitations imposed by the situation we find ourselves in is sometimes the only option and the ability to adapt is imperative.

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Take care


2 thoughts on “When Growing A Garden Isn’t As Simple As It Seems”

  1. Kk I know how it goes with wildlife. A couple seasons we lost most of the cabbages etc to moose. Electric fence helps. This winter a cow and calf showed up and reduced my four foot tall currant bushes to six inches. I can’t keep the electric fence working in winter.
    Lizz can you put an impervious barrier over some of the contaminated ground and put raised beds there. I know about clay. Our soil was once lake bottom. It had a clay layer under most of it. My wife made some bricks from some of the clay for a project! Fortunatly top soil is mostly a foot deep except spots there it may only be a couple inches. Lots of compost and raw organic matter like manure and grass clippings have loosened it up well. Since you live on an island can you gather dried seaweed from the shore as a source of organic matter.
    Our soil needs fertilizing one way or another. I had to start with commercial PKN bagged stuff but now have enough chicken and pig manure to keep things going. Most years we can grow enough potatoes to keep us going if we had to (plus stored beans and rice etc plus a variety of other vegetables) You never know when the moose or drought or whatever will happen so we keep our stores up. Meanwhile I’m supplying about four families with potatoes.
    Good luck.

  2. Hi Liz

    I’m almost back from the Land of the Lost. Dealing with hubby’s medical issues and I’m due for surgery in 2 weeks. But back to this post.

    I feel your pain. I felt that I had everything under control when we moved to this property. The garden struggled during the first season so we then added amendments to the soil. That garden barely produced anything. Finally created a raised bed garden. Trucked in soil and other goodies. The garden produced well but we lost to the wildlife. Apparently the deer, squirrels, rabbits, raccoons and their cohorts ate well that year.

    Last year we moved to container gardening as an experiment. The weather ricocheted between very cold and extreme heat. Most of the veggies withered away. But we didn’t have issues with the wildlife.

    In my previous house, gardening was a breeze. Drop the seeds into the soil and wait for the bounty. This place has kicked my butt many times over.

    As I sit here waiting for surgery, I read my seed catalogs (garden porn) and dream of a bountiful garden.

    In reality, I’m sure it’ll be another season of struggle to grow something. We would have starved many times over if we had to depend on what we could produce ourselves.

    I’m not quite ready to throw in the towel. What hurts the most is that the old order Mennonite family next door, dug up a new garden last year and it produced like crazy. Their garden is about 30 feet away from ours. Talk about salt being rubbed into open wounds!


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