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We’ve all had it happen. Bad weather, late planting, weed competition, bad soil. All these things can contribute to your garden just not producing enough. But if you were counting on that “free” food, what do you do? How can you deal with garden failures?
I myself haven’t had much of a harvest from my garden this year. We had a very late wet spring, so we were forced to plant later than we had hoped. My plan for controlling weeds hasn’t worked on this large of a scale. Combine all that with too much heat and too little help, and you get a garden that is sub-par at best.
Let’s go over some of the ways to combat a lackluster harvest from the garden.
Start a fall garden
If you still have time, you can plant a fall garden. As of right now, my area still has about 60 days until our first average fall frost, so I’m actually planting some green beans for my fall garden tomorrow. The green beans I planted in our main garden didn’t germinate properly, so I’ve gotten pretty much no harvest from them. And I want to can some green beans this year!
Find out your first frost date, and count backwards to make sure you still have time to grow some veggies before the frost really sets in. Lots of veggies actually enjoy the cooler temperatures in the fall, and some even get sweeter after a frost or two. So find a few fast growing vegetables that you still have time to plant, and get to it!
Use season extenders
You can also use season extenders like greenhouses, cold frames, high tunnels, or row covers to extend your harvest. If you are planting a little too late to get a good harvest before frost, using any one of these can allow you to still get a harvest in before it gets too cold. You may even be able to extend your fall garden a little more into the winter.
In milder climates, some people garden year-round using season extenders. I’m in Zone 7, and we get bitter cold winters, so I can’t garden year-round. But I could possibly get a few more harvests of fast-growing vegetables after frost comes if I use season extenders.
Visit the farmers market
Farmers markets are a great place to find lots of fresh, close-to-organic produce. If your garden didn’t produce enough of a particular item and you need more of it for canning or preserving, why not try it? You can get what you need, and help a local farmer in the process.
Corn takes up a lot of space in the garden. I know a lot of people who don’t grow corn in their garden, and instead choose to buy it since it’s pretty cheap. Potatoes are another thing that a lot of people choose to buy rather than grow.
Shop at roadside stands
A lot of people set up roadside stands during the growing season to get rid of some of their extra produce. You can find these at people’s homes, with an “honor box” type setup.
I also see a lot of people setting up a temporary “shop” on busy intersections with a truck load of produce to sell. These are a great way to get a lot of produce for relatively cheap. Corn is big in these types of shops, as are cherries and peaches around here.
Join a local gleaning group on Facebook
I am an admin for a local gleaning group on Facebook. Gleaning is taking what is left after a harvest. Whenever anyone has extra produce to share, they post it there for people to come and glean it.
Here in Idaho, there is a big annual potato gleaning event. The owners of a big potato field harvest their potatoes, then make a big announcement for people to come and glean the leftovers. Big commercial potato harvesters often don’t pick up the smaller potatoes. The field owners don’t want to be out there harvesting the leftovers by hand, but don’t want them to rot in the fields. So they “share the wealth”, so to speak.
People come from all over and pay a very small family admission fee to glean these potatoes. It is a huge help for those wanting to get fresh produce without growing it themselves, especially if they had garden failures.
Look online for excess produce
Look online, through Craigslist or Facebook, for produce that people are giving away or selling for cheap. A lot of people have fruit trees that produce more than they can reasonably use. They are usually more than willing to share.
I regularly look online for excess produce that people are giving away. Last year, The Hubs and I gleaned some free apricots from a family that couldn’t pick all of their fruit. We got a big box of apricots, probably about 30 pounds worth, for free!
I made some apricot jam, and dehydrated some. It might not seem like a lot, but every little bit of food that you can get for free should be considered a win!
Look for sales
Sometimes you can find great deals on fresh or frozen vegetables and fruits at the grocery store. These are a good opportunity to get a lot to can or preserve. Frozen vegetables can be canned if you don’t have enough freezer space. Fresh berries and fruit can be made into amazing jam.
If you think you will use it, buy lots when it’s on sale. It might be a bit of work, but it will be worth it in the long run. And if you can find canned vegetables for a great price, stock up on those! That way, you get the long shelf life without the work.
Reach out to friends and family
Do you have friends or family who garden or have fruit trees or bushes? There’s no harm in reaching out to them to see if they have excess. They will probably be willing to share, and you might even be able to visit and catch up while you pick!
I recently scored a bunch of sour cherries from my sister-in-law’s tree. They already had more than they needed, and wanted to share the abundance. I made some cherry jam and cherry pie filling and canned it. We haven’t tried it yet, but I’m sure it will be delicious!
Visit a food pantry
If you are in a bad place after experiencing garden failures, you may consider going to a food pantry. They may have income limits, and a lot of people feel shame about going to them. But they are there if you need them!
Food pantries usually get a lot of produce from people in the area with too much. A lot of the stuff they have is close to the expiration date, so make sure you have a plan for what to do with the food. If it’s shelf-stable, it will likely be good for much longer than the expiration date. And the produce is usually pretty fresh.
Foraging is one of my favorite ways of dealing with garden failures. And believe me, I’ve had a few! I don’t have any berry bushes on my property, so we try to go berry picking at least a couple times a year in the mountains.
Huckleberries are a big favorite at our house, and they grow pretty prolifically here in our mountains. And it’s not too far of a drive for us to get to them. I actually just went huckleberry picking 2 days ago with my daughter-in-law and her friends. We didn’t get a lot of berries, as it’s about the end of the season for them. But I need to figure out what to do with the couple of cups that I got.
Our area also has a lot of wild blackberry bushes that we often pick from. They make a delicious jelly that is so nice to have around. It brings a taste of summer to any dreary winter day.
You can even use weeds as replacements for some of your garden produce. Purslane is a great addition to a salad, and lambsquarters can be made into a delicious lambsquarters pesto sauce. Dandelion blossoms can be fried and made into a nice side dish. And if you’re lucky, you might even find Queen Anne’s Lace (also known as wild carrot).
Visit your local feed mill
Desperate times call for desperate measures, right? Well, at the beginning of this pandemic, I went to the feed mill and bought 50 pound bags of wheat, corn, and peas. I decided that these could have more than one use, and be good to store. And each bag was only $9-11, so it was very economical!
We have a wheat grinder, so the wheat could be ground into flour. Or sprouted for wheat grass. Wheat is easily sprouted for fodder for the animals as well. I know most people don’t actually grow wheat for flour, but at the beginning of the pandemic, flour was hard to find on grocery store shelves. So this could be a saving grace at some point!
The corn is feed corn, so it might not be good to eat on its own (even after rehydrating). But it may make a good corn meal if I’m in a pinch. The wheat grinder can make corn meal too. I’ll have to try it sometime to make sure it’s a viable option.
The peas aren’t going to be like the sweet peas that you buy at the store, but after rehydrating, they should be edible at least. I’m not totally sure on that one, I’ll have to try it out myself. But they can also be planted to grow new peas in a pretty short time period.
Oats would be another good option to buy from the feed store. These oats should be the same as the old-fashioned oats that you buy at the grocery store. You could also grind them to make oat flour.
These staples will go a long ways toward replenishing your food supply after garden failures.
Plan better for next year
To combat garden failures, just apply what you’ve learned to get a better harvest next year. You can always learn from the experience to make it better in the future. Identify what went wrong, and do your best to plan for doing it better.
For me, I’ve been trying to garden in too big of a space. I need to take my own advice and try to make gardening enjoyable again. In the past, I’ve had wonderful gardens and huge harvests from a smaller area. So my thinking was that I could produce more food and get a bigger harvest out of a bigger area. But that’s not always true! Just take a smaller area, that will be easier to deal with, and maximize your garden space more efficiently.
I hope this post has given you some ideas on dealing with garden failures. I know that I will be using some of these, since my garden hasn’t produced nearly what it should have this year. Do you have any more tips for us? Be sure to share them in the comments!
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