How Vegetable Gardening Is Like Songwriting

Vegetable Gardening In Nepal
Growing food takes patience – I wonder how long this took (I believe this is Nepal)

Do you ever feel like you’ll never grow a perfect 12 brix tomato, or have much success at nutrient-dense vegetable gardening at all?

It took me a long time to get past that feeling, and sometimes I still experience it even though I’ve been at it for a long time – and I would say I’m a pretty decent vegetable gardener.

I’m halfway through reading a book about songwriting, where the author is interviewing top songwriters about their craft.

Almost all of them spend at least some of their time feeling that they aren’t good writers, even after having done it for decades and having a string of number one hits.

I think most of us worry from time to time that we won’t live up to our own or others’ expectations. If you don’t, you’re lucky. I certainly do – it’s just my personality.

One example is writing this blog. I’m not a great writer and it sure doesn’t come easy to me. In fact, I may eventually partner up on this site with someone else who’s as passionate as I am about organic gardening but who is a better writer.

But I’m not ready to do that yet, so I’m the writer for now, which is cool because it’s a good skill to work on I think. And just like writing a song, I suppose it’s not something you’re supposed to be good at without having spent time working on it.

Just like writing, vegetable gardening takes patience and practice. Some people get it faster than others, but it does take time. If this is your first year, there will be failures.

The cool thing is there will be successes, too, because if you get the basics right, plants will grow for you.

If you’ve been gardening for a long time, I’m sure you’ll agree with me that things don’t always go as planned. That’s one thing you can plan on.

I’ve been doing this for a long time, and my vegetable garden still produces the odd plant that doesn’t thrive. There are always little issues. That’s part of it.

I used to piddle around with playing music in high school. I didn’t join the band or anything, but I messed around at home.

I’ve kind of kept it up, still playing piano occasionally, but never really took much time to improve (and I don’t know why I pick up the odd book on songwriting – I guess it’s just somewhere in the back of my mind that I want to write songs).

Below is the first song with words that I ever recorded. I must have been about 15 years old. I played all the instruments.

Everything about it is wonderfully bad – out of time and out of tune – which is as it should be when you record your first song.

“Laid Back” by 15-year-old Phil

Download (Right-Click)

Back To Vegetable Gardening

It’s the same with vegetable gardening. An organic garden is a complicated ecosystem, and it takes experience to get it right. But if you take the leap, there’s a very good chance you will eat your own tomatoes this year.

They may not be 12 brix, but I bet they’ll still taste pretty darn good.


  • If you’re just starting to garden this year, don’t worry about how it will go. Just do what 15 year old Phil says and be “laid back” (little did he know that as you grow older, that laid back feeling can be a bit harder to come by sometimes, but that’s another story). Enjoy the process – you’ll have some success.
  • If you started gardening last year and things didn’t work out as you planned, keep learning and try again. You’ll get there – it just takes time.
  • If you’re an experienced gardener, you already know that the more you know, the less you know – there’s always more to learn.

Once you get there, vegetable gardening and growing food of any kind is one of the most magical, awe-inspiring pastimes ever imagined.

I hope you’ll keep in touch this year, let me know how it’s going, and maybe even send me a few photos.

Question: How long have you been gardening and what are your main concerns or thoughts as you prepare to go about it this year?


  1. Africanaussie on March 20, 2012 at 10:01 pm

    Great little song – I am always impressed by people that can play any musical instruments, since I have no musical talent at all.  I enjoy the words and the upbeat feeling I get without dissecting the music.  I guess I am the same with gardening, I just enjoy it so much that I don’t expect too  much and then am mostly pleasantly surprised.  When I am out in the garden I can forget about the stressors of life, and just enjoy nature.  

  2. Jane on March 20, 2012 at 10:01 pm

    I love your song! And your writing–it has a clean authentic style with humour, openness and generosity : great stuff! (And the content’s always apposite and much appreciated.) Jane

  3. Cassie on March 20, 2012 at 10:14 pm

    Hi Phil,  I have learned so much in past few weeks of reading your lessons.  I’m a novice gardener that has had a few successes in the past.  I have planted a lovely garden this year, but did not prepare the soil the way I should have.  Learned all that after the fact.  Anyway, I’m in south TX where it is normally pretty hot, humid, but little rain. My soil from looking and playing is mostly clay.  We did till, so it was broken up pretty well.  My concern was not getting enough water to them, but now we’ve been having lots of rain.  I don’t want my garden to drown before the season even gets started because of the clay holding water.  Oh, and the wind has been issue.  (We’re about 20 miles from the Gulf.)  I’m sure it will work itself out and I have lots to learn about gardening in this area…just wondering if you had any thoughts.

    • Phil on March 23, 2012 at 11:58 pm

      Hi Cassie. Adding lots of compost and then mulch (leaves or straw) can help capture some of that water, but you may need to go so far as to create some slightly raised beds that drain down onto the nearby lawn/pathways/whatever. A raised bed doesn’t need to have wood sides or anything, just a gently slope that drains the water away.

  4. RamonaQ on March 20, 2012 at 10:23 pm

    Okay, I *need* a copy of this song.  How can I download it, please? 

    • Phil on March 23, 2012 at 11:58 pm

      Haha, thanks Matilde. I put a download button up above by the song.

  5. Suzanne Fulton on March 20, 2012 at 11:10 pm

    I am 59 years old & I am more passionate about gardening then ever. I think that I never let the failures get me down because I keep coming back. My first garden was morning glory seeds my mother bought me. We left for the summer holiday & I was furious when we got home that I didn’t know that it was a vine & needed support. Not even realizing how amazing it was that they grew & bloomed with all that neglect.

    • Phil on March 24, 2012 at 12:08 am

      Great story, and exactly, there are always setbacks – it’s just part of it.

  6. Heather on March 20, 2012 at 11:56 pm

    Great song!  And your writing is fine.  It is genuine, educational, pleasant and hospitable without being “noisy.” – I’m not sure if I would be as inclined to follow your blog if you partnered and had someone else write.  It would really depend!  From what I’ve been seeing, you are a great writer and teacher.I’ve piddled in container gardening for several years, mostly herbs. This year have spent more time planning it out, and I will have some herbs, a few veggies, some fruit, and some flowers, trying a little of everything.  I hope to have land down the road one day, so I’m soaking up what I can here on your site, applying what I can to my containers and filing away the rest for the future.  My gardening “thought” is that I would be interested to know if there is any advice (or book referral, or anything) you would give for someone wanting to buy property -is there any “real estate advice” – things to especially look for, from a gardener’s (soil) perspective?  We are far from having any particular location in mind due to a mobile employment lifestyle at the present, but we’re beginning to take the steps to plan towards having land (hopefully some acreage) and a substantial garden would be one main goal for the property.

    • Phil on March 24, 2012 at 12:02 am

      Hi Heather, I’m in the same boat as you. They talk a bit about land in the permaculture world. There are a lot of things to think about. I’d do anything to get on land with clean, drinkable wild river water on it, but that’s hard to find anymore. I don’t have any specific resources to share with you, but I’ll be looking for them when the time comes, too.

  7. ted on March 21, 2012 at 12:45 am

    Killer song Phil! Keep it up!Also enjoy ur insight & knowledge on organic gardening. Good job!

  8. Renate on March 21, 2012 at 4:27 am

    Phil- I always love getting the emails with your latest bits of gardening news/advice.  One of the best things about your writing is the simple way you state things.  It’s clear and everyone can understand the concepts.  It seems very honest.  If you had someone else write it, with possibly more of a polished flow, it may sound too perfect, or edited, or insincere.  Does that make sense?  Frankly, it’s more natural if you type it just as you would say it in casual conversation.  That’s what it feels like now… that you’re conversing with us on the topic of gardening, while possibly taking a stroll through your yard or garden….and Cassie in South Texas… you will soon realize the need to amend your soil!  I live in Central Texas, east of Austin (Bastrop) and while it sounds like we have less clay in our soil than you, it still has needed a healthy dose of nutrients and a LOT of compost.  I’m not sure exactly where you’re located, but if you’re within reasonable driving distance of Gonzales TX, you should take a pickup truck there to the Kitchen Pride mushroom farm and get a load of spent mushroom compost.  They will fill the back of your truck with a bulldozer- nice rich black compost for only thirty dollars.  It’s about three cubic yards.  This is the time of year when everyone wants this dirt, but last week, the pile was huge still.  They apparently sell out every year though. And Phil, (sorry, I veered off on a tangent there…)  LOVE the song, by the way!

    • Phil on March 24, 2012 at 12:05 am

      Thanks Renate. I agree with all your advice. The only thing is I’m not a big fan of non-organic mushroom compost because of the pesticide residues. Not sure if your source is organic or not. Sometimes you have to take what you can find and work with it, but I’d be careful.

  9. Wansbek1968 on March 21, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    I put a little cover crop in my raised beds…….put fence around it so the chickens wouldn’t bother it……..cover crop doing good, managed to raise a litter of four wild bunnies smack dab in the middle of it too!! Glad I can help the local wildlife.

    • Phil on March 24, 2012 at 12:05 am

      Ha, very cool.

  10. Annasubrosa on March 21, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    I love your song!  Thank you.  I’ll play it back in my memory next time I’m in the beds.  And maybe when I’m doing the washing up, too!

  11. Mary on March 21, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    I think your song is great!  Think what you can do today!!  Look forward to all your gardening tips.  I just bought a piece of property in the fall and am looking forward to starting a garden.  I will be going over all your tips.  Wish me luck.Mary

  12. Phil on March 24, 2012 at 12:07 am

    Thanks to everyone for your comments and insights! This was an important week for me to feel the love.

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