In my first large post about gardening, I discussed how to "start gardening, and stop worrying about failing at gardening." I discussed the need for any gardener to establish realistic but desirable goals for planting and managing garden beds, food plots, and other planted areas. I also spent quite a bit of time describing some of the common "sideboards" that serve as common sense limitations to plantings, including soil pH, USDA zone, and pests.
As a summary, I also wrote that, "in some cases you will learn that your primary goal(s) may not be achievable, given outside constraints.....be adaptable. Change your objective, change your budget, or if possible, select a new site that could help you meet your original goal." Those are the topics I'd like to delve into today.
So let's talk about failure. You established a goal for your piece of land - whether it be a 10 gallon pot, a 10' x 10' cold frame, or a 10 acre woodlot. You solicited professional advice on how to best achieve your goals. You followed the advice...or your best instincts (often, just as valuable). And you failed.
The first instinct of most gardeners and wildlife managers is to do one of two things: try the same thing again, or immediately try something different, no matter how ill-advised. Both of these actions fall under the heading of, "I can't afford to lose this growing season!" And both of these actions can be valid....in time. After a failure, the first thing you need to ask yourself is "why didn't this work?" The most common answers to that question are:
- planted / fertilized incorrectly
- did not anticipate pest, bird, or herbivore damage
- freak conditions during growing season (flood, drought, late/early freeze)
- poor site selection
Regardless of your answer to "why," once you have a good answer, it's important to move on fairly quickly and decisively to do one of two things:
- change your methods to achieve your original goals/vision for the site
- revise your goals/vision for the site to reflect the reality "on the ground."
This approach, often called "Adaptive Management," is gaining a huge amount of popularity in wildlife management circles. While it drives bureacrats and project budget managers insane, it's often the only way to guarantee a positive outcome for a garden or habitat site. The reason why is a virtual Pandora's Box of philosophy and ecology: traditional "static" management does not work in most locations because natural systems have been altered so significantly that wilderness / pioneer-developed theories about plant production no longer apply, and resources (time and money) do not exist to study the "new ecological reality" of most places.
This is basically reflected in the US Department of Interior's Adaptive Management Initiative, which allows agencies to "make complex land management decisions...with uncertain or incomplete information," as opposed to the traditional decision-making process, which is entirely based on long-term comprehensive plans that may be 30, 40 or 50 years old. If the old plan shows that "Field 101C" is a "deer plot," and the geese eat all the deer food every year, that's too bad, because The Plan tells us we must manage it as a deer plot. Under adaptive management, the managers could choose to aggressively manage the geese to limit their ability to damage the deer plot, or plant an experimental food plot that might not be of interest to the geese, or admit that the site should not be managed for deer at all.
So, back to gardening and small plot management. And back to your failure. Here's the bottom-line series of questions for you to answer, before moving forward:
- How important is it for you to achieve your goal, whether it's to grow pumpkins for Halloween, or to grow turnips for deer food?
- Will there be a significant cost (time, money, opportunity) to trying the same thing again (see #4)?
- If solving the "problem" requires more time or money, are you willing to invest it?
- Are there small changes you can make to improve your site's performance? Particularly things like innoculation of legumes, addition of organic material to soil, etc.
- If the answer to #3 and #4 are "no," have you thought of another site that might produce your desired benefits? And can you think of another "site objective" for your failed site?
There are a lot of other ways to ask these questions, but the important part is that you critically evaluate what you did, how hard you're willing to work (or spend) to make it a reality, and whether you should explore some other options for gardening and wildlife management.