While waiting for spring to arrive there is time to look back over photos of the garden from earlier years. If you have been gardening in the same place for several years you will notice just how much your garden has changed over that time, along with your own life changes.
We’ve been gardening on our farm for close to 20 years and our garden has gone through a few very distinct stages. When we first started we really worked hard to improve our sandy soil by adding mountains of manure and organic compost. This allowed us to have quite a diverse group of plants that we more or less continued to spoon feed with nutrients and water.
A few years into the property and we were soon to discover that our well was turning against us, great water but less and less of it. Eventually there was barely enough water to support the household and not a drop left over for gardening. We collected rain water from run off, stored water every way we could and continued to water what was possible by hand. Not a realistic plan for the long haul. Plants that could not survive the new conditions were soon discarded, grass was removed and the startling change began.
Move ahead a couple of years and the well almost ran dry, and due to other developments near by we were able to hook up to the domestic water supply. With adequate water again for the garden, new and different opportunities within the garden emerged. However, upon close inspection of the soil, for all our supplementing nothing had really changed. We still had mostly sand. Seems that organic particles are smaller than sand so slowly sift through with the sand rising once more to the top. As well we learned that humus does not combine with sand in a way to build up the structure of the soil and retain nutrients as it does with clay. Although applications of organic materials does help to add to the nutrient level of sandy soil, it is relatively short lived and regular additions are required to sustain that increased level.
This added fertility can also have undesirable consequences for your garden. Many of the plants which have naturally adapted to cope with infertile sandy soils will be hampered by the extra level of nutrients.
Our decision was to leave things alone, water or no water. Those plants that survived and flourished over our drought years are what we would stick with, and if needed simply grow more of them. Without realizing it, we had created a self-sustaining garden. The success of our garden is based on choosing appropriate plants for our setting rather than attempting to alter the soil and water conditions to sustain a broader range of plant material.
Our previous method of gardening was trying to make our garden patch suitable to all plants. Now we are more concerned with matching plants to our specific garden and climate conditions. It stands to reason that this is a much more natural approach to gardening, growing plants that will combine together, survive and flourish. In other words a sustainable garden. It has also become apparent that in this setting there are fewer areas for weeds to catch hold of the soil which should eventually lead to less work for the gardeners. This in itself is a good thing, as the gardeners aren’t getting any younger either.
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