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Fall Garden: Disappointing Results

Here is a progress report on my three raised vegetable beds (aka Project 802).


I planted seeds in early September for my first fall garden in the new raised beds. WHAT A DISAPPOINTMENT it has been so far. I am patient and I know that things will improve over time, but needless to say, if I had to feed myself on this garden, I would starve. It has been a very wet two months here and the lack of sunshine hasn’t helped.



I did manage to harvest some radishes which is by far one of the easiet and fastest growing vegetables around. Within a month of planting, I already have some to eat. I could have thinned them out a bit more and I think the harvest would have been better if did. Notice the yellowing of the leaves. Could it be lack of nitrogen or iron?


Imagine how hard things were for 100 years ago when you really were depending on your garden to feed your family.

I have a few Red Robin tomatoes producing in an old plastic pot on the driveway. Lately there has not been enough for a meal, but they do make a nice snack while walking through the garden.


My Zucchini has been blooming and growing but so far no little zucchinis.


Lately they look just awful.


First off, the insects! They are ferocious and have eaten just about everything. Trying to have an organic vegetable garden in Houston is challenging enough with the eratic weather, but the insects! This is going to take some time and work to find the right mix. My Zucchini squash toppled over and I found that the stem had been eaten through. Looks like squash borers to me.


And leaf miners have been tunneling the leaves of my Zucchini, beans and broccoli.


My broccoli was doing fine, although it has not really grown too much (I still think the soil is the issue here too), until something striped off every leaf on one of the plants.


Now look at it!


My beans have very few leaves left – they too have been eaten.



My three snap pea seedlings never got more than 5 inches tall and then they too toppled over.

My Rocky Top Lettuce is still alive, but it really hasn’t grown much in the past 3 weeks.


Healthy soil is the foundation for strong, insect and disease resistant plants. I believe my soil is still not right. [Updated: The problem is the soil and the insects.] It needs more organic material and I suspect it is still low in nitrogen (as it was when I first had it tested back in August). There may be more mulch in the soil that has not fully decomposed yet, which would be pulling nitrogen out of the soil.

I’ve decided to let it just play out until December, then remove all of the plants. I’ll add more blood meal and fully decomposed organic compost. I’ll plant more beans, since they do fix nitrogen in the soil and hopefully, next spring things will improve.

Looks like I’ll be doing some more research this winter on organic methods for controlling insects and still buying veggies at the grocery store.

This weekend I will put together both compost bins that having been sitting on the garage floor and get the COMPOST production underway. That will be the best thing I can do for the soil.

This story continues with my CSI: Compost Soil Investigation post.

15 thoughts on “Fall Garden: Disappointing Results”

  1. Jacqueline D'Elia

    Thanks. To be clear – there are two problems here. One is obviously the pests and rotation and companion plantings will help. The other is the stunted growth, yellow leaves, etc. and that is an issue with the soil which was brand new in August and is still too “green”. The organic matter has not fully decomposed and the texture just doesn’t feel right to me. Too sandy. The recipe calls for more fully decomposed organic matter.

  2. Hi Jackie, I think your radishes look fabulous. That is more success than I’ve had recently. I’m not sure the problem with your soil. I was going to suggest you get a soil test but I think you did. The yellowing could be caused by nitrogen or iron deficiency perhaps, but usually iron deficiency is a function of pH. Was you pH good when you tested it? Did you do a professional test or test it yourself? For veggies it seems they like around a pH of 7. I add tons of compost to my veggie garden and that seems to be the trick for perfect pH and good nutrients. My issue here is not enough sun. The weather may have played into it as well. Hang in there though. The beds are set up wonderfully and you’ll get it all together. Don’t worry.

  3. Sorry about the disappointments. I had broccoli and beans, and even marigolds, that looked just like yours. My problem was an overpopulation of earwigs and slugs after an unusually wet spring. It’s always a learning experience. Hopefully, next year will be better.

  4. Jackie, its such a shame for your plants – I cant believe the broccoli picture! But we can agree that this is not because of soil! And that broccoli did look very good before it was eaten…
    And I would just repeat what you have written already:
    Imagine how hard things were for 100 years ago when you really were depending on your garden to feed your family.
    Im sure that 100 years ago people didnt think about nitrogen in soil… Maybe you need some plants to fight those pests… do you do crop rotation?

    Anyways, I wish you the best for your spring restart (and compost is the best thing to do)!

  5. Yep Jackie, Gotta agree with you on the soil. With vigorous growth some of the insect problems will take care of themselves. Don’t give up staying organic you’ll thank yourself later. My first year raised bed had similar issues. Blood meal is pretty fast but look into some other nitro sources ( guanos) and rock dusts. Add some kelp meal and of course compost. Hang in there. Scott

  6. It’s just plain tough, gardening in the south. I used to say, when I lived in Texas, that you had to be a macho gardener there. Then I went on a trip to Botswana where the poor lodge managers were dealing with elephants in their garden. I decided not to complain after that. 🙂 I’ve found many of the soil mixes that I’ve purchased still have too much bark in them; i.e., not composted enough. So you may be right about your issue. Too much rain and lack of sunshine is not helpful either. Good luck!

  7. Jackie, You can’t go wrong with all that organic matter. I’d even buy some compost in bags to put on your beds. When I first started my beds, I put on compost by the truckload. Had to buy quite a bit. That should turn your soil around. So sorry about all your veggies. So frustrating after you’ve struggled to get the seeds going.

  8. I would urge you to get your soil tested. Often with raised beds, it takes awhile to get the soil right. It is a shame to waste time on it, when soil tests are cheap ($10 from A&M) and it will tell you the problem straight off. I speak through first hand knowledge, I wasted 2 years, and cured my problems with one soil test. Get with the Extension office for info, etc.

    You do seem to have a healthy insect problem, but a bit of BT and good growth will help a lot. BT is o.k for organic growers, as it is not a chemical.

    I would not give up. Plant, plant, plant again. You could put in some transplants of broccoli, cabbages, cauliflower, etc. and it will grow through to spring. Seeds of lettuce, radish, carrots, and such can be planted still. Also marigolds, nasturtiums, snapdragons, onion, and many herbs.

    Good luck!

  9. Dear Jackie,

    Experienced similar probs. w/ my spinach. Darn bugs nearly wiped out my medicinal yarrow crop too.

    Why not try some “Homemade Organic Pesticide”. I’ve heard that not-so-organic Palmolive works best as the soap ingredient.

    Best of luck.

    – c

  10. Jackie, I know that’s frustrating! I hope you can correct the soil and have better harvests in future. Have you tried Nature’s Way leaf mold compost? It’s good stuff!

  11. Hi Jackie…I’m so sorry about your garden. 🙁 It’s disappointing to put so much work and psychic energy into your garden and have it not turn out the way you envisioned. I garden in the hills outside of Boerne and every season I add 4 bags of Ladybug Soil Revitalizer Compost to each of my beds. I’ve been using this stuff for years and it has improved my soil drastically. It is a mixture of hummus and compost manure (no biosludge). It’s organic and made in Austin. Maybe you can find it in local nurseries in the Houston area. Just a thought.
    And I’ve been following your blog for a while…it’s great. Your photos are amazing! Thanks for sharing.

  12. Your raised beds are great! I have not started veggie growing, yet. I hope to start in the spring. That gives me time to figure out what I need to do. I would like to start composting, too. I hope you post about your composting bins. I am trying to decide what kind of bin to use. I look forward to reading your posts 🙂

  13. Hi Jackie~~ I hate to say it but THIS is why I gave up vegetable gardening. I’ll grow tomatoes and zucchini, maybe. But the rest of the veggies either get eaten or the soil isn’t right or too much shade, not enough water…you name it. I finally conceded. Not to discourage you, but veggie gardening is high maintenance. Hang in there. Your raised beds are awesome!

  14. Hi Jackie,
    I hope your next plantings do better. I wonder what ate your broccoli down like that.

    I have problems with rabbits, insects and disease. I get the squash stem borers, or whatever they are called almost every time I plant, even with crop rotation. I get a crop, though, just a shortened season. I’m in the process of cleaning up my big garden across the street. I read that you can put the zinnias with mildew on them in a brush pile, so that’s what I’m doing with my diseased squash, potato and tomato plants, also. I hope the critters like their new additions. ;o)

    I don’t know if I’ll get the soil tested. I may just keep adding compost and will probably buy more bags of composted cow manure to improve the soil. I plan to plant a lot of peas to add nitrogen to the soil, too. The rabbits may eat them down to the stump, but I’m curious to see what will happen if I plant a whole lot of them. I may end up with a population explosion of rabbits.

  15. I really wonder what actually ate your plants. Are they snails, slugs or grasshoppers?
    Do find them out as it may not be so much to do with soil factor after all.

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