Are You a Failure if You Can't Grow Carrots?

Erica at Northwest Edible Life has a great post about her imperfections as a garden, and very relevant, because all of us have our Waterloos in the garden, and it is probably a bad idea to take them too seriously. But we do.

I've imbued my personal Golden Grass Fed Cow of urban homesteading with magical properties and strapped it to my identity one cheerful blog post at a time.

The Punk Gardening Angel of Reasonable Expectations pats me on my shoulder and consoles me: "It's really okay...Carrots are healthy and your kids like to eat them, and you do buy the bulk organic bag, after all, and peel and slice them yourself. Beside, honey, everyone knows that life gets complicated and time gets short. Crops get planted too late or get eaten by maggots and that doesn't mean you don't deserve to eat carrots. Just buy the carrots like normal people and stop worrying about everything so much!"

But then The Nagging Devil of Martyrdom and Perfectionism on my other shoulder says things like, "If you didn't grow enough carrots you should just do without. Figure out ways to substitute beets. You have a lot of them. Don't be a hypocrite - eat what you grow, grow what you eat. You'll have no incentive to figure out how to grow good carrots on a large enough scale ever if you just pussy-out when the growing gets a little tough!"

Your thing might not be carrots. Carrots might sound trivial to you - hell, they sound trivial to me, though what they represent does not. But I'm guessing you have some area where you hold yourself to standards that are just a smidgen unrealistic too.

I have this problem too - a lot of people read my blog, and they conceive a vision of what my life goes like, and imagine because I talk about all the things I grow and make, it all goes smoothly and perfectly, that we never eat anything that we didn't grow ourselves, we never had a crop failure or made a stupid mistake, and that it all looks just perfect. Despite the fact that I try really hard to point up my own failings on the blog on a regular basis (see here, for example, or here or here and I could go on...), I know I'm guilty of making some of y'all feel bad about your garden imperfections - after all, Sharon said you were supposed to be able to do this.

Well, like Erica, there are a bunch of things I don't do all that well in the garden. I don't grow carrots particularly well either - I get most of my carrots from down the hill in the valley most years. I have nothing that was produced after late August in my house that is truly really local, since my crops and everyone else's were washed away by a hurricane or two. And since my book is due in four days, I bought a secret stash of Reeses Peanut Butter cups to get me through 20 hour days at the computer - and I'm pretty sure they are neither local nor organic, much as I would love to pretend they are.

Here's the thing - it is great to keep challenging yourself. it is important to keep pushing your limits and trying to do better. There is a fine line, however, between moving forward and making yourself feel like crap - and it is an important line not to cross.

That's one of the reason that until this past year, I was doing the Independence Days Challenge, and I think I'm going to bring it back. The whole idea was to once a week write down all your accomplishments, take full credit for them and make sure you stop seeing just what's undone and what isn't right and where you've failed, and look at what you succeeded at. It also helped me say "ok, even a little bit matters - rather than convince myself it was only worth preserving if I could dry a truckload or so." It is the little things that add up and make real change.

Erica's point is an important one - it isn't that the carrots don't matter, they do. But having a sense of perspective about how much they matter, and where they fit in the picture is what really counts.


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Steve Solomon's Gardening in hard times or some such name for his book (am bad at that) recommends fluid drilling carrots after soaking the seed a bit to get it primed.

Fluid drilling requires a baggie that you're willing to cut the corner off of and some gelled cornstarch cooled but not chilled so a goo-ey set. Mix with carrot seed and put in baggie. Cut corner and squeeze into your row.

It's a brilliant hack on how the pros do it. I also recommend his book, very readable, I don't agree with everything he says but it has enough useful goodies I really enjoyed it.

I can't seem to do winter squash anymore. Damn squash vine borers and squash bugs just overwhelm them. Carrots defeated me for a while, then suddenly started working. My guess is it's the lasagna mulching that loosened up the soil.

Actually there are a bunch of good lessons to be squeezed out of these observations; The Carrot Parable - could have really good legs. :-)

1) failing at something doesn't make you a failure. (never attempting anything might)
2) everything on the planet - even growing carrots - has a vast amount of critical detail to it. No, the garden is not a video game- you don't get extra lives, or extra hours- if you neglect just one of the critical details - you will harvest nothing. Ralph Nader was not able to get airbags installed in your garden. You crash, you die.
3) You're good at beets? Fabulous! Trade some beets - to your neighbor who is good at carrots. bennies out the wazoo.
4) Tomorrow is another day. Find a way to make your carrot neighbor your teacher.

I definitely like the idea of writing down what I DID accomplish in the past week, rather than just adding to the perpetual to do list. I am a beginning gardener; this is my second year gardening, but I moved last February, so it's my first in this yard. Last year my only harvest was one lonely tomato, which I didn't even plant on purpose-it sprouted in my compost bin and I decided to transplant and nurture it (it was sooo sad looking, like Charlie Brown's Christmas tree). This year, the stink bugs got all of my squash, zucchini, pumpkins, and most of my cucumbers. But, I have managed to eat about 70 green beans (10-20 at a time lol-next year I will plant more!), 2 cucumbers, some basil, thyme, and garlic scapes, and there are 10 cherry tomatoes on my plants. Not enough to sustain a family of 4 (or even just me) but much better than last year! I also learned how to bake bread and make pasta from scratch, and I have gotten braver about trying new recipes. I made country fried steak the other night, first time ever, and my husband loved it!

Erica is awesome! I hope she will be writing her own books soon enough... her writing is insightful, funny, educational and very entertaining.

My 6 year old has readers... the theory is to set the level just under what the kid can do, so they get that positive reinforcement every time they read at home, do well & feel good... they'll keep reading. Alas, my kid is like me, she thrives on the challenge of a higher level & the satisfaction of achieving more than she thought, than someone else thought, she could. I hope, and aim to help her learn, how not to beat herself up for the times she doesn't quite make it... just trying to learn that one myself first!

By dixiebelle (not verified) on 02 Dec 2011 #permalink

She's saying I don't need to live on a pumpkin-based diet? That's the only thing I did really well (300#) this year. I've accumulated several pumpkin-intensive recipes for potlucks.

By Mary Campbell (not verified) on 02 Dec 2011 #permalink

Good to hear you refering to your vegetable garden. Such a nice realistic word, garden.

Carrots defeated me for a while, then suddenly started working. My guess is it's the lasagna mulching that loosened up the soil.

t's a brilliant hack on how the pros do it. I also recommend his book, very readable, I don't agree with everything he says but it has enough useful goodies I really enjoyed it

There is a fine line, however, between moving forward and making yourself feel like crap - and it is an important line not to cross.

So... does that mean you should guide yourself with the carrot and not the stick?