Why We Fail in the Garden (Episode 2)

There are many benefits to growing your own food (healthier and tastier food, better for the environment, lowered risk of death, and more, outlined in Episode 1), but growing is not all juicy tomatoes and delicious cauliflower in a snap. Before we started Avalow, we spent a lot of time talking to gardeners across the US and found some obvious and some less than obvious reasons for why gardeners had given up.

In fact, 70% of people who plant a garden don’t plant one the following year. This is staggeringly high — on par with how many people quit a new workout plan.

One recurring theme we’ve noticed in talking to gardeners who had given up is the frustration with dying plants. People select the seeds or starts they’re excited to see grow and then, for a variety of reasons, the plant doesn’t thrive (or even survive). This feels very personal — unfulfilled expectations crash headlong into a lack of knowledge about the specific reasons for the plant’s demise.

One of the roots of this frustration is the lack of education. Botany and agriculture classes are starting to appear in curricula for K-12 students, but are difficult to organize and maintain. There are no national programs, training, or funding sources that emphasize learning about how food grows. There are many fantastic regional programs backed by well-respected voices who are focused on gardens and farming, but this is a drop in the garden bucket relative to what we see as a very big problem.

Another key issue is the infrastructure in place to sell plants. The two major sources are local nurseries and online retailers. Organic plant starts can be hard to find at the major big box stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s, so smaller nurseries become the best option but with less consistency. Nursery staff at both the big box stores and smaller nurseries are usually very mixed in their knowledge. They have to be able to support questions across a wide variety of plants, flowers & trees and many have never grown food year-round. This leads to plant suggestions that are off-season or not suited to specific locations.

The lack of scientific data around growing conditions is another major issue that causes frustration and hampers food growing knowledge. Given the preferences of consumers to grow heirloom varieties with organic methods, there are no established standards for the necessary data on water usage, nutrition schedules, temperature ranges and light requirements. Currently, seed providers will provide planting timeline ranges based on USDA Frost Hardiness Zones and list rough requirements for sun and, maybe, an estimate of time to maturity. These data points are of questionable value, especially to new growers.

At Avalow, our business is helping people grow food in their own backyard. We use technology and focus to combat this lack of data problem described above. We are recording the ideal amount of Lux (sunlight) necessary on a daily basis, the average time to maturity based on ambient temperatures, and nutrition needs for specific garden plants. This type of data already exists for other crops. Vineyards use a heat degree day calculation to direct them which varietal will be most successful in a given location. We are building the framework to support this approach.

We are working on both sides of this problem to make it easier for people to grow food in their own yards while collecting data about how plants perform in a variety of microclimates. We are building education programs for our clients at all levels, from pre-K schools to dedicated gardeners, and our distributed grow team focuses on best practices to keep gardens healthy and productive. Our belief is that everyone should grow (at least some of) their own food and that gardens should always be beautiful. We hope you join us in growing something delicious. Shoot us a message at contact@avalow.com.


Photo credit to Daniel Cunningham