Growing a Vegetable Garden – 3 Unexpected Challenges

wicker basket with green vegetables on pathway in garden

I have had many, many setbacks in my vegetable garden this year. Growing a vegetable garden should be simple right? Plant some seeds, give them some water, maybe a bit of organic fertiliser, and before you know it…. a bounty of organic fresh fruit and vegetables right in our backyard. I was so wrong.

I have had to deal with a few mishaps and challenges this year, but here are 3 lessons I have learned.

vegetable garden

A Late Spring

We had a very wet winter here in Port Lincoln, South Australia. Spring simply didn’t turn up in September like it was supposed too. In fact, it was only late November when the rain started to ease and I started to see some warmer spring like weather.

This meant that the plants that I would normally plant in Spring, didn’t really get going until late November.

And then, just to make things a little bit more complicated and difficult for a beginner gardener like me, Spring only lasted about a month. A decently warm summer turned up in late December /January.

Plus, we have been dealing with a lot of cloud cover here in Port Lincoln.

All this unseasonal weather has not made planting and growing my vegetable garden easy.

What I have learned is that rather than planting according to what the weather should be, I will be paying more attention in the future to the actual weather and planting accordingly. Becoming more in tune with nature. Rather than following a set of instructions for a season that might not be correct.

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crop faceless woman planting seedling into soil

Snails Are A Headache

The next problem I encountered in my vegetable garden was snails. Devouring every small plant that was in the garden. And the large ones too. Since we had such a wet winter, and winter went for longer than usual, I had many, many, many snails.

I could not find a non toxic snail bait. And I was not prepared to put snail baits out because we have a young, quite small dog. Having experienced first hand the devastating effects of dogs being poisoned by eating snail baits (this happened to our family dogs when I was a child and unfortunately one could not be saved) toxic snail baits were simply not an option for me.

The solution – a large bucket and a two dollar packet of salt. Every morning I would go out to the garden and fill the bucket with snails and dump salt on them. Until eventually the snail population had dwindled and was no longer such a huge problem.

I was told to get some ducks or some chooks as they would eat the snails. As much as that is a fantastic and easy option to controlling the snail population in a vegetable garden, unfortunately this was not a choice for me at this time. They are still animals that need looking after, and I am currently choosing not to take on any more responsibility in that department. Maybe in the future, but not this year.


Blackbirds Are Very Hard to Deter

After the snails, came the blackbirds. These little blackbirds love digging around in the vegetable garden looking for tasty worms and other grubs to eat. Which is fine, they are actually aerating the soil which is a good thing. But they like to dig at the roots of the plants. So if the plant is a seedling and not mature, you can say “sayonara seedling”. The blackbirds will dig it out. They will happily even dig at the roots of larger plants, exposing the roots, damaging the stalk, and pushing the plant over.

These birds have caused havoc in my vegetable garden this year and I have tried many different things to deter them such as……

The String Maze

I tried creating a string maze around the plants, supposedly making it difficult for the birds to land and dig due to the string getting in the way. Unfortunately this did not work, as they simply just hopped over the string. Not sure why I was expecting them to fly in, since they clearly can walk as well as fly. I thought this was a great idea, hoping to save my baby snow peas from being ripped out of the ground over and over whilst giving them something to climb. But no. This was a fail.

photo of perched common blackbird
The Predator Bird Flop

I purchased a fake plastic owl in the hopes that a predator bird might scare the blackbirds away. They just seemed to laugh at the funny looking fake bird while they merrily dug away in my vegetable garden looking for their dinner.

Lots of Shiny Things

I then tried hanging cd’s and shiny tin foil pie plates on string all over the vegetable garden to deter them. It was noisy as they clanged against each other in the wind. This worked! But only for one day. Then they got used to it, and couldn’t have cared less about it.

Bird Netting

Lastly, I succumbed to buying large amounts of bird netting. This was something I didn’t want to have to use because I did want the beneficial birds, the ones that would help pollinate the plants. Plus it looks pretty ugly. Did it work? Sort of. Here’s the thing…… even if there was the tiniest gap, the blackbirds would get in under the netting and dig, dig, dig. It was mind-blowingly frustrating!

Catching Blackbirds in a Rat Trap

I had also heard that you could catch blackbirds in a rat trap. Months had gone by and I was at my wits end. I don’t want to take the life of an innocent creature, but by this stage it was war. I had spent weeks and months growing plants from seed, only to have my hard work undone in a night by these birds. Plus, this vegetable garden is meant to feed me and my family not the blackbirds. If it meant us eating over them, I had to take steps.

I purchased two rat traps from Bunnings and put a tasty red strawberry in as bait. I placed these traps underneath the bird netted areas where I knew the blackbirds were still getting in and digging. Guess what….these sneaky little birds managed to take their tasty red strawberry treat out of the trap without it triggering. Instead of trapping them, I just fed them dessert!

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A Solution to the Blackbirds?

What I can say is that the birds netting worked enough to allow most of the plants to grow and mature. It wasn’t perfect, but it helped a lot. I have also heard that it is beneficial to check your property and remove any of their nests that you find. We have found one and removed that. And we will keep on trying to deter the blackbirds from our vegetable garden. Next year I will put up the bird netting earlier in the year to give my plants a chance to grow and mature.

As much as I thought growing a vegetable garden to feed myself and my family would be easy, I definitely encountered some unwanted and unexpected challenges this year. But I have also learned some valuable lessons, found some solutions and am hopefully more prepared for next year.

woman planting vegetables on the garden

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