How did I fail today?

That is not an auspicious title for a new blog so let me explain.

It is certainly not the title that I had intended for my first post. It is supposed to be How to grow beautiful and flavourful herbs and veggies in a tropical city.

When I started my newest herb and veggie planting bed, I had planned to put the best of my food gardening knowledge into creating my most photogenic and blog-worthy bed. The perfect project to kick off my blog. I did not think it was far-fetched. After all, I had grown and eaten many rounds of herbs and veggies from my garden, and I thought I had learned enough from those times when other creatures ate them before I did.

I filled the bed with the best soil I could find – from a friend’s biodynamic farm. I couldn’t afford to buy all the soil needed to fill up the bed so I mixed in my own garden soil improved with compost and bokashi.

In seed trays, I sowed seeds of rocket, kale, amaranth, bak choy, lettuce, heirloom tomato, parsley, purple basil, lemon basil, coriander, dill, sage, and thyme. I fed them the most nutritious food for babies – liquid fish, seaweed and effective microorganisms – and these babies grew vigorously.

After a few weeks, I transplanted them into a bed of rich, fluffy soil. I had grown these plants many times before. This time, I even planted something new and striking -red bak choy and red wispy mustard – among the usual greens just for effect. I looked forward to a fine harvest.

But then, the rains came in torrents night after night. With the rains, came the  caterpillars.

And they spoiled my picture.

The stars of the bed – the red bak choy and red wispy mustard – were the stars of their feast. I am left with holey, gnarly bak choy, and weepy wisps.

Holey, gnarly red bak choy
Caterpillar on a weepy looking wispy mustard

And these are the ones that survived the cutworms. Some did not even make it this far.

True to its name, cutworms, the caterpillars of night-flying moths, cut the stems of tender young shoots at the soil line. They usually strike in the stealth of the night. In my three years of urban food gardening, I have spent many mornings mourning over my beheaded green babies, which I have painstakingly transplanted only one or two evenings before.

Of all the ways plants succumb to predators, beheading by cutworm is the one that breaks my heart the most. Such premature deaths seem evil. I think my husband, Ken, has accurately captured how I perceive a cutworm in his cartoon at the top of this post.

Tender shoots beheaded by cutworms
Tomato stem severed by cutworms

Not all the seedlings perished. Most of the herbs survived and revived after the rains slowed. But most of the leafy greens with their tenderer shoots are damaged or have disappeared.

So the material for my post is literally vanishing! What is there left to write about that is worthwhile to the reader and fellow gardener? Maybe I am not ready to start a gardening blog. Maybe I am not good enough a gardener yet.

Then I come across something that turns me.


It’s Question 3. I have never thought to ask my child or myself that question. I look up the author, Megan Conley, and find her blog post on the 3 questions. She wrote, “If we want our children to seek success with any consistency, we need to make sure they are not afraid of failure. Too often mistakes, missteps and misjudgment lead to an outcome of secrets and shame.”

No secrets, no shame then. I have decided to embrace my failure by sharing about it.

I don’t have a picture perfect herb and veggie bed to show, but I am picking off as many caterpillars as I can spot, replanting the seedlings that I have lost, and strengthening the survivors to withstand any more attacks. My next post will be about the rescue remedies I use to strengthen my plants against predators and other stresses. Maybe in a few weeks, I can show you a healthier and prettier picture. But if I fail, I fail.

And the 3 questions? I have started asking my son and myself the questions.

More information on cutworms

7 thoughts on “How did I fail today?

  1. Wotcha. There is nothing more important than being able to learn from failure, it’s the foundation of progress. I recently read (well… listened to…) Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed, who contrasted the approach of the aerospace industry with the deceit and cover-ups that often follow after a medical mishap. Fortunately in my mum’s case the hospital has embraced the failure and learnt their lessons.

    Also: nice blog!


  2. Nicely done. I suspect I’m not your intended audience – I don’t garden or even like vegetables very much – but the content was engaging enough to read to the end. Thanks for sharing the soil (failure) from which your success will grow.


    1. I know my mission is accomplished if I can convert you into a veggie grower and eater! Thanks for the encouragement – high praise coming from a pro editor indeed!


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