Saturday, May 28, 2011

The garden is a fickle lady

In our five years at Bent Barrow Farm, we've had good potato years and bad leek years; great years for basil and poor years for broccoli; bountiful greens and lousy root crops, and the other way round. We've had bumper crops of this and miserable flops with that, and sometimes visa versa. We've succeeded here, failed there, then succeeded again. Until we get a few more years' wisdom under our belts, I think we'll continue to be victims of the garden's fickle mood. It seems we never know whether to plant too much or too little, because what grows and flourishes one year might struggle and fail the next. We haven't yet come to understand exactly why.

Some of it, I'm sure, is weather. In this cold and cloudy spring, we've had a delay of about 60 days from what we experienced with 2010's early greens. Our first peas never came up. March's lettuce is just one inch tall.

Some of it, I'm sure, is rotation. We try to apply what we've learned and plant things in an appropriate succession, but there is much that we have yet to understand. Neither my husband nor I have a great deal of experience with vegetable gardening, and we're learning as we go. We could do worse.

I sometimes envy those second, third, and fourth-generation farmers who were weaned from the breast onto the kitchen garden, and who know (because their daddies knew, and their daddies before them) that this is the time to plant and that is the time to harvest. Who know what follows what, and why, without referring to their bookshelf. I wish I had an inborn or ingrained understanding of the soil, the seasons, and the reasons for one season's bounty and another's scarcity.

We seem to want to garden intuitively, digging in compost when it seems to be needed and mulching with straw at other times, but perhaps there is more to the specifics of soil chemistry than we've been willing to concede. I know we have acidic clay soil, but we have a lot of lovely compost, too. So far, things seem to be going along well, but a bit more soil testing and a bit more attention to our crop-by-crop feeding might be in order. Perhaps we've made the mistake of treating all crops equally.

I wonder—does the experienced farmer have seasons when his brocolli raab bolts before it's big enough to bother with and seasons when his onion sets rot in the ground? Are these the pitfalls of ignorance and inexperience, or is this just part of life?

As organic gardeners, we want to treat our garden as a healthy system. We want holistic wellness—birds, bees, soil, greens, animals, compost, people. It's a system, and when something doesn't work I want to know why.

So tell me . . . are we missing something, or is this just how it goes? What could we do better?

In the meantime, I know we'll end up with plenty of something. Last year, the basil and parsnips went wild. Two years ago, our potatoes and carrots kicked butt. Three years ago, the broccoli and cauliflower could have won ribbons. This year, something will flourish—I just don't know what!

1 comment:

  1. Reading about your garden makes me so homesick. Growing things is something I miss so much. (I can't believe you've lived out there for 5 years already!)

    When I choose my Kiva loans I follow a few simple guidelines.
    1. I like to loan to women (I've read that often the female in the family is more likely to spend their profits on food and education).
    2. I don't loan to businesses that are involved with meat (butchers, chicken farms, etc.)

    I also like to loan to people in countries I've visited, but most of the time that's not an option. Then I just read through a few profiles and choose. Sometimes they just seem nice or I like their business (like the lady I loaned to who had a business of growing yams and fixing motorbikes).

    That's it!

    Happy to hear from you!


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