Roundin’ up the Summer Urban Homesteading Disasters

Everyday loaf on the left, “charity” loaf on the right.

As we’ve noted in our books, part of the deal with this lifestyle is persevering through the inevitable disasters. Which means it’s time for a regular blog feature, the disaster roundup.  

Loafing Around
I agreed to bake a few baguettes for a charity function this evening. Problem #1 is that I can’t do baguettes in my small oven so I decided to do a shorter batard. Problem #2: for some reason, despite the fact that I measure my ingredients carefully with a digital scale, my dough turned out extra moist. Anticipating that the batards would stick to the peel as I put them in the oven, I decided to make round loaves in proofing baskets instead. Problem #3: the dough stuck to the proofing baskets and I ended up with edible, but aesthetically unappealing, loaves.

Moral: the more important the event the more likely disaster will strike.

I’ve blogged about it before, but my attempt to grow winter squash (Marina di Chioggia) ended in disaster. The squash vines took up the majority of one of my few vegetable beds. I got only two squash, one that was consumed by racoons and the other that never fully matured before the vine crapped out. The immature squash was still edible, but bland.

Moral: winter squash just ain’t space efficient. Next year I’ll tuck it around other plants and trees rather than have it hog up space in my intensively planted veggie beds.

Luscious compost tomatoes.

Unintentional Gardening
I built a cold frame this spring so that I could get a head start on propagating my tomato seedlings. So guess which tomatoes did better: the ones I carefully propagated from seed and transplanted to richly amended vegetable beds, or the ones that sprouted randomly in compacted soil? You guessed it, the ones that grew on their own.

Moral: nature knows best when to start seeds and where to plant them than us homo sapiens. Maybe there is something to that permaculture thing . . . 

Our Hameau de la Reine
This summer the garden generally looked like hell. It thrives during our mild winter and spring then gets baked by the merciless Southern California sun at just about the time I start slacking off on my planting duties. Then the New York Times shows up and wants to do a photo spread about a month after stuff has quit blooming. This is when I usually come running in the house to complain to Mrs. Homegrown that the garden, “does not look like Versailles.”

Moral: take a class from someone who knows what they are doing, which is exactly what I’m up to starting next month. I vow that the garden will look like Marie Antoinette’s fake peasant village (the Hameau de la Reine) by next year. Then again, I say that every summer.

Garden Follies
Thinking the garden needed some ornamentation and not wanting to go the garden gnome route, I thought it would be a good idea to cast some Platonic solids in concrete–don’t ask me why–these things, “just come to me.” Mrs. Homegrown (using her Master of Fine Art superpowers) viewed this project with considerable skepticism. I successfully cast a tetrahedron and dodecahedron and stained them with iron sulfate and proudly placed them in the garden. They kinda worked but I have to agree with Mrs. Homegrown’s assessment that the scale is off–they look like the miniature Stonehenge in Spinal Tap.

Moral: trust the MFA in your household even if that MFA was in conceptual art. 

I could go on, but I’ve failed to document all of the disasters. Next, we’ll review what worked.

Leave a comment


  1. Made me laugh! Had to start my own blog last year so I could more easily keep up with both my successes as well as my failures. Have had the same revelation as you regarding the winter squash, with the exception of Spaghetti Squash which starts producing early and keeps right on going and keeps fairly well if we keep it a constant temperature and let the skins harden.
    this year has been poor for zuchinni for some reason. Having a lot of green tomatoes, but slow ripening. Again, all the wonderful challenges of living in the american southwest!

  2. I think we all have these gardening skeletons in our closets.
    Winter squash does tend to swallow everything up, kind of like kudzu. A couple of years ago I planted butternut squash (my favorite) and when the plant had reached a good size, I started trimming back the growing tips. Naturally, the plant produced two new tips for each one I cut, but I persisted and managed to get a good harvest from plants considerably smaller than usual. Maybe this will work for you. If I had a trellis big enough, I’d have given that a try, too.
    Thanks for the link to Spinal Tap! I needed a laugh today.

  3. Mrs. Homegrown here:

    I just had to chime in and say that our intentionally planted tomatoes did quite well. I’ve been drying cherry tomatoes for the last week, just trying to keep up with them. So I wouldn’t call them a failure by any means. However, the volunteer tomatoes are indeed doing very well, making me wonder if intentional gardening is all hubris, and if it wouldn’t be possible to do an all-volunteer garden. It may be possible–but it sure as heck wouldn’t look like Versailles!

    (I have no official comment on the Plantonic solids, except to say that they are just the right height to trip over.)

  4. Ha! I absolutely love the idea of a failure round up! We always post about our successes, but we rarely share our failures from which we learn so many valuable lessons.

    I visited the Hameau de la Reine once…I wish you the best of luck on your endeavor to recreate your own lush little paradise garden.

  5. Have you tried growing your squash up a tree? I planted buttercup squash in a raised bed at the base of one of my 15′ evergreen trees. It’s all the way to the top and there are at least four squash dangling among the branches like overgrown Christmas ornaments. Totally cool, and no sprawl whatsoever. One of the baby squashes is 12 or 13 feet off the ground, however, so I’m not sure what will happen when it’s ready. If I wait until after the first killing frost, it just might come down by itself. Which will be good, since I don’t do ladders.

  6. . . . don’t forget to secure your pantry, so when real disaster comes in full force, you won’t be eating broken glass with your sun dried tomatoes.

  7. Winter squash is indeed a behemoth, although it pales in comparison to a healthy watermelon vine.

    Last year I planted Waltham Butternut, which ended up taking about 40 square feet of space, outgrew anything the squash bugs could do and produced 50 squash averaging about pounds each! That is the point at which I pulled the vines out despite it’s desire to keep producing until frost 2 months away. It kept well in my 60F basement and I gifted (and gifted) as well as feeding myself, until February when I cooked and froze the rest. (And I still have some.)

    All things considered, that’s a lot of food for 40 square feet. This year, I have a volunteer vine growing under a jujube tree, in the grass, which has been left totally on it’s own and struggling with drought. I have two smaller squash. If I had given it some water it probably would have done just fine.

    Next year I will try a smaller winter squash variety. I couldn’t face the idea of planting more this year!

  8. Let us add from shivering Seattle: worst tomato year in remembered or imagined history. So far, 3 cherry tomatoes. Three. Lots of gorgeous heirloom plants sitting there with green fruits (though not that many, really, far less than a typical year, even in Seattle…)that will never ripen, not even in our dreams. Alas.

  9. Thank goodness! You are human after all.

    I have named this growing season “The year of much fruit and not so many Vegs.” Bad weather,too many days at work and a garden digging rooster have been one tough battle.But we are winning it!

    And to borrow a phrase from another blogger- I think your bread looks “ugly delicious”

  10. Don’t give up on winter squash! It grows great on a teepee – we’ve successfully squeezed into our little .10 acre!

  11. Er. Re: winter squash. Use cattle panels or hog panels. Can buy at Fleet Farm or other farm implement type place 20 dollars will get you more than you need. Cut in half and lean together over a bed. Which becomes a good place to shade tender plantings for a fall harvest when you pull everything else out.

    Squash can be trained up it and the height keeps off squirrels and other city creatures. Can pull them out and store flat over the winter.

  12. Regarding the Platonic solids, I got D&D, not stone hedge, but thanks for the flashback

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