Aug 7, 2015 · 4 minute read

By: Colleen Valles

It’s the fourth year of drought here in Silicon Valley, and you can see it everywhere, as people let their lawns go brown, or rip them out altogether and replace them with drought-tolerant and native plants.

My general impression is that California has always been in a drought, and the water-saving techniques I learned as a kid are still valuable today. So it was natural that when setting up the garden, we set up a super-high-tech, two-step method for capturing and recycling water.

The first step involves hauling water from our showers and kitchen sink in buckets to my parents’ house. The second step involves pouring it into a rain barrel. OK, so maybe it’s not super high-tech, especially since I didn’t even hook the rain barrel up to the gutter downspout, but it’s effective, and for the first month or two, we were able to use just that water to keep our veggies going.


The rain barrel

It just recently ran low, and we had to water using water from the tap, but it’s really been a good addition to the garden and lets us water on the days we’re not supposed to use water from the tap for landscaping.

Ah, the garden. Let’s get to the point of this, shall we?

While I wouldn’t characterize it as an all-out failure, what I started out with such high hopes for has fizzled a bit. The soil in the hotter half of the yard is sub-par, and it produced puny ears of corn, stunted my basil and kept my pimientos de padrón from producing.

I was really looking forward to those pimientos. sniff


My one, lonely pimiento de padrón

There’s a squash volunteer that’s pretty happy over there, and some tomatoes and a cantaloupe that seem to be doing well, so all is not lost on that side.

But my plan to feed my family on what we produce in the garden? Yeah, that’s not really happening. None of my beans grew. We get tomatoes here and there right now, though I think a couple of the plants are ready to explode with tomato gifts.


Pretty, juicy tomatoes

The cucumbers gave an average of one cucumber per plant then were spent. The carrots grew, mainly into U-shapes. Don’t ask me how. I don’t know.

The lettuce starts that I bought and planted did just fine, and then bolted, but the lettuce I planted from seeds, so I could have a continuous harvest, never got bigger than an inch or two.


This is what lettuce looks like when it bolts

On the positive side, the calendula went gangbusters; I have thus far kept my stevia alive, but still have no idea how to use it; and the myrtle and goji seem to be happy enough, though the goji won’t produce for another year or two.


Blooming calendula

And the grapes! Finally, after seven years, my parents (I had nothing to do with it), got the vine to give big ol’ bunches of tasty, sweet grapes. Definitely a win.


Delicious little bombs of sweetness

So what have I learned from a half-garden-or-more failure? From a 50-70 percent garden bust?

  1. Soil matters. Sure, I dug it all up, and it was really loose, but on the side where we lost most of the crops, it was pretty poor quality, deficient in just about every nutrient. I amended it with organic fertilizer and some compost, but only after we had planted. Duh.

  2. Plant closer. The whole biointensive growing system involves putting plants closer together. Given how big most of them got, I could have planted a lot of them a lot closer, thus shading the soil and helping to retain moisture.

  3. Ugly veggies still taste good. Stunted corn? Strangely twisted carrots? It doesn’t really matter, nothing beats the flavor of corn and carrots you grew yourself.

So, the takeaway is I’m not done yet. We’ve got more seedlings started, and I still dream of a harvest that produces enough to feed us and to preserve.

I’ll keep you posted, and if you live close enough to me, I’ll even share my ugly produce with you.

garden variety

Funky-shaped carrots and stunted corn. They’re not pretty, but we grew them ourselves.


Colleen Valles
I'm Colleen, a writer, mother, knitter, pet mama and tiny house enthusiast who truly believes that everybody should slow down and simplify to make room for the things that are most important in their lives. I'm on a journey to do just that, to be able to spend more time with family and friends, riding my bike and working in the garden. Sign up to get awesome content right in your inbox, or follow me on social media.