Tales of a Wannabe Gardener: First Fruits and Scorched Earth

Over the month since I gave my first garden update, we’ve started to enjoy the first fruits of our labor. We’ve enjoyed the herbs for a while, but now the vegetables have started to arrive. We’ve eaten several lovely zucchinis and tomatoes. Our family has happily discovered that the quality of fresh-off-the-vine veggies beats anything you can buy.

All was going well until we took off for a week at my dad’s lake house.

A week of high temperatures and little rain meant my once-lush zucchini plants wilted. My thriving mint and tomato plants were peppered with brown leaves. The just-budding cucumbers stopped growing. The basil leaves shriveled.

We left our patio container garden vibrant and green and returned to a mini-drought.

zucchini plants, before and after

zucchini plants, before and after


It’s the Containers, Silly Wannabe

We’re learning the downside of container gardening. 

We’d chosen container gardening because it was easier to set up than garden beds. Instead of a bunch of digging, we just had to fill some containers with potting soil and add a few seeds. In no time, we had our garden. Since it was in a small space, we found it easy to water, monitor, and tend our plants.

Putting everything close to the house also kept the deer and other varmints from eating all the plants. Considering that deer have managed to eat everything we’ve previously planted in the yard, including apple trees, this was a major factor in our decision. Aside from some beetles that got into some of the pepper plants and basil, the animals have stayed away.

Tomato plants, before and after

Tomato plants, before and after

Unfortunately, though, container gardens require a lot of watering. With garden beds, roots can keep reaching down into the soil to find more water and nutrients. In containers, that doesn’t work. Once the plants use up their water, that’s it.

We’d been out of town for a week at the beach in May, and 3 days at Great Wolf Lodge in June. We lucked out with the weather for both of those vacations, however, with mild temperatures and plenty of rain.

This time, though, the weather turned hot and dry and our little garden suffered.



As soon as we got home, Little Bit and I watered the plants as best we could. I’ve kept watering, too, and maybe it’s not too late.

Aside from the zucchini and cucumbers, which are notoriously thirsty vegetables, the plants have mostly recovered., They aren’t quite as beautiful as before, but the leaves look green and healthy on most of them. The tomatoes ripen, and the basil and parsley are back to normal. We’re even starting to see some peppers developing.


The zucchini and cucumbers seem done, though. We still have a few on the vine, but they’re looking worse than they did on Friday when we got back to town. I may just pick up a little potting soil and do something else with the container.  We have a good 3 months before we need to worry about a freeze, and I don’t see us going out of town before November.

And if we do, we’ll try to move whatever plants we have to where they don’t get quite so much direct sunlight.

Eating the First Fruits

Tales of a Wannabe Gardener: First Fruits and Scorched Earth

Before our trip, however, we managed to enjoy several zucchinis and some tomatoes. Got to say, we really enjoyed the first fruits of our labor, and that made the post-apocalyptic garden we saw after our vacation that much harder to bear.

Zucchinis have never been my favorite vegetable. I love yellow squash and cook it all the time. Zucchini, though, always seemed to have a bitter aftertaste. I only picked out the seeds because they were part of the limited selection at Dollar Tree.

I guess I never ate zucchini fresh enough. The stuff we’ve been getting off our vines completely lacked the bitter aftertaste. Fresh off the vine zucchini, with a little salt and vinegar, is tasty enough that even Little Bit grabbed slices off of the plate before dinner.

That’s never happened before.

And while I’ve had plenty of vine-ripened tomatoes, I’ve never had ones I grew. Until now.

In the hot weather, I’ve channeled my Nana with lunches of tomato and pimiento cheese sandwiches. And we all love tomato and cucumber salad with fresh basil.

Summertime and Container Gardening Ain’t Easy

Maybe I got cocky. After years of subpar results, our garden looked good at the end of June. I was so excited.

Summertime made it a lot harder to successfully pull off a container garden, at least in central NC. While we got to enjoy some veggies, I can’t help but feel we squandered our garden’s potential yield by not arranging for someone to water our plants.

Or at least providing them a little cover for the heat.

As we move through the hottest month of the year, I’ll have to pay more attention if I want the rest of our plants to thrive. And I do. If nothing else, our first fruits have shown me the potential joys of growing your own food. 

It’s also made me begin to plan next year. If I try a bed instead, do we have a good place to put it? What’s the best way to build it? How do we protect it from wildlife? What other changes would that involve?

And If I continue with containers, how can I avoid a repeat (and still enjoy summer vacation time?)

What gardening setbacks have you suffered? What do you do with your garden when you can’t tend it for a while?


17 thoughts on “Tales of a Wannabe Gardener: First Fruits and Scorched Earth

    • This is the first year we’ve had any luck with anything but herbs, and we’re super excited to be enjoying our veggies. It’s the number one thing convincing me that I really want to do more of this. I don’t know why it’s made such a difference to do it myself when I grew up with gardens, but it did.

  1. Since we’re getting ready to move, we’ve skipped any gardening. We’re just trying to keep hanging baskets alive at this point. We’ve had torrential (and not typical) rains over the last few months. We got over an inch last night (we can tell in our pool – which we will have to pump out again!) Corn crops around here are drowning and I’m sure other veggie crops are too. We’ll have to see what it does to fruit crops. Gardening is a ton of work – but the fresh taste is amazing. Makes what you often buy at stores seem so artificial! This is great for Little Bit to learn about too – so that makes your efforts worthwhile 🙂 Things don’t always go as planned!
    Vicki@MakeSmarterDecisions recently posted…Forced To DIY – Money To Spend But Few To Hire   My Profile

    • Sorry that you are getting so much rain. We got a fair amount 3 weeks ago. Now, it’s just hot and humid without rain. Heat index over 100. When we drove through eastern NC last week, though, the crops (cotton, corn, tobacco) looked like they were absolutely thriving.

      I hope you get some dry weather soon. I know that for us, it’s a lot easier to get stuff done around the house and yard during good weather than rain.

  2. I’m glad you and your family got to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Fresh veggies definitely taste better than store-bought! It’s a tough lesson about watering your container gardens, but I’m glad you were able to recover some of your plants and now you have plenty of time to plan for next year’s effort. Our plants are limited to indoor ones and a hanging basket, and since we don’t usually go away more than a day or two during summer, I don’t really have any advice to share. But I enjoy following along!
    Gary @ Super Saving Tips recently posted…21st Century Retirement Strategies That Will Make You Secure, Part 1My Profile

    • Thanks, Gary. Yeah, having time to think about next year means we may make some changes. There’s a high likelihood that we’ll go out of town for a week or so most summers, and our garden planning needs to reflect that reality.

  3. So sorry to read about your gardening woes! It’s definitely been a learning experience for us. The homegrown vegetables are so much more delicious – which is why we tend to plan for the coming year too.

    One of the great things about planting in the ground (as opposed to containers) is that you can add compost to the soil. I believe our produce tastes even better because it benefits from all of the nutrients in our apple cores, eggshells, etc.
    Harmony@CreatingMyKaleidoscope recently posted…Creative Ways To Refresh Your Wardrobe (So You Can Stick With That Shopping Ban)My Profile

    • Good point about the compost. We do it, but more for waste reduction than gardening.

      I am learning more this year than I have in any other. We tried more stuff, and I read more ahead of time. Getting results has me hooked, and we’ll keep going.

  4. I tried container gardening last summer and it was a big fail because I did not water enough. This year we dug out a bed in the ground and we’re having more success. Next year I want to build the beds up even higher with more soil & compost and a wooden border. We use our own compost but my mom swears by mushroom based compost. We don’t have animals raiding our veggies so I have no tips for that. Nothing compares to fresh healthy veggies grown yourself with no pesticides!! And saves $ on the grocery bill!

    • That’s great, Holly. If I can figure out a good space for the bed, I’d love to dig one this fall for next year. It does seem like the plants might do better if they can stretch out their roots more.

  5. Hey, Emily. Sorry to hear about the setback. I had no idea container gardens were less hardy. But it makes sense. Limit root growth and you limit survivability. And you are so right about fresh vegetables. My parents gardened when we were back on Long Island and there’s nothing like a fresh tomato. I miss those days. Hopefully Mrs. Groovy and I will learn more about gardening first hand when we move up to the Raleigh area next year.
    Mr. Groovy recently posted…What Goody Are You Willing to Give Up?My Profile

  6. Ugh. Sorry you came home to the garden in that kind of shape! That is the problem with container gardens. I have raised beds and they can go a little longer than pots, for sure. Yet, it’s been so hot and dry here, I still have to water the zucchini and yellow squash every two days to keep them from wilting. The rest of the plants are okay for 3 days with mulch.

    When we can’t be here, we usually have my mom stop in and water. If we’re gone for a week, we can usually get by with her watering just once or twice. The problem is, I tend to plant a huge garden, so it takes a little over an hour to water. But, mom does benefit from the veggies all summer. 🙂

    My biggest issue the last two years is bugs. Squash bugs and cucumber beetles. This year, I reluctantly sprayed the squash, but before we started harvesting – that seemed to help. The cucumber beetles actually ate my potato plants, so that was unexpected and I didn’t catch it in time. My assumption is when we go to dig the potatoes, they’ll be really tiny.
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    • I think I’m learning the limits of the container garden. For squash, zucchini and cucumbers, raised beds seem like they’d work much better.

      We’ve had some bug issues, especially with the bell peppers and one of the basil plants. Other than that, we lost one tomato, so I’d say we’re coming out ahead. Separating like plants seems to have helped some.

      Can you try a secondary potato crop? I know that they tend to go pretty late into the fall, but I also know your growing season isn’t quite as long as ours.

  7. I have a flower bed in the front of our house, and that’s challenge enough for me! I say you’re going through growing pains – and while they are painful, they’ll see you through to new wisdom so that it won’t happen next year. Clearly, your efforts are worth it. You are loving your vegetables, and even your daughter is learning to love them. That’s a big win. Gardening is a great frugal move. Not only do you save on groceries (at least eventually), but you spend time in an activity that’s super kid-friendly and that keeps you from “going out” and spending money. Don’t lose heart! And all the best keeping it going through July.
    Fruclassity (Ruth) recently posted…Marriage and Money: Joint Accounts, Separate Accounts or Both?My Profile

    • Yay frugal wins! No, we’re doing pretty good. Jon and Little Bit are replacing the zucchini plants with a potato that started budding in our pantry, and you can’t get more frugal than that!

      Meanwhile, I’m still scouting for a good place for a bed for next year. I have one picked out…I just have to convince Jon to free up the space (There’s a hot tub there now, but he hasn’t gotten it to work in 6 years.)

  8. Beautiful! I have had poor luck growing veggies in containers, so I abandoned the idea this year. But somehow I managed to accidentally plant tomato seeds. So I have tomatoes growing on my fire escape now and I really want them to survive. But there is a squirrel. We have a lot of fights.

    • LOL, Linda. Squirrels are about the only pest we haven’t worried too much about.

      How did you manage to accidentally plant seeds? Not that I’d complain, fresh tomatoes are the bomb.

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