In the past 24 hours, two things appeared in the garden: the first nasturtium flower grown from seed, and the first blush on a cherry tomato. We’ll taste the first tomato by mid-July, almost a month earlier than last year. The garden appears to be on a high road to success this summer, which reminds me of something I’ve noticed before: a garden seems to reach a sweet spot in its third year.
It takes time to build up soil fertility.
Sure, if you can afford it, go ahead and give the new garden a complete makeover. Excavate the topsoil down as far as you dare, mix it with lots of aged compost, bone meal and whatever other nutrients it might require, then shovel it back in place. Or simply truck in a load of better topsoil, robbing another piece of land to nourish your own. It’s a quick fix.
But if you want to establish a respectful relationship with the Earth, you’ll be missing the whole point. Nothing has taught me to appreciate nature than gardening slowly and the magic of soil ecology. You start with a leached, abused tract of dirt, suitable only for supporting a chemical-enhanced lawn, and gradually restore a living community. Beneficial microbes, insects and countless other inhabitants return.
The plants show the difference. They start off weak, prone to disease and insect infestation. In my experience, the benefit of adding all that organic material does not kick in until the third season.
In my garden this year there is still a marked difference between the two beds closest to the fence, established in 2012, and the third one added last year. Clumps of sage, thyme and anise hyssop, now in their third year, are flourishing.
Potatoes, tomatoes and squashes are proving an interesting test case. Tomato vines and potatoes in the old beds are vigorous and lush, while those in the new one are relatively small and pale. They will all produce in good time, but some more generously than others.
The zucchini in the new bed is another story. It is growing, but only barely struggling to produce flower buds. Its promise of over-abundance is in doubt this year. Admittedly, zucchini performed better the first two years, and by mid-July last year I had already harvested some. This indicates some mistakes I made in establishing the third bed. So it is only partly a matter of age. I’m sure the bed’s shortcomings would be addressed by next year, if we continue to live and garden here.
In contrast, the Table Queen acorn squash in the first bed is flourishing. It’s first butter-coloured flower appears toward the left in the photo above.
The container garden on our deck adds some additional successes this year. Safe from the ravages of groundhogs and bunnies, I am free to grow practically anything. Container gardening presents a different set of challenges and advantages. I’ll post more about it soon.