Know Your Soil

When I moved to my little house in the mountains, one of the first things I did was to prepare for a small herb garden. It has always been a dream of mine to grow my own herbs! I found the perfect spot next to my garden shed. This little area had a built up stonewall on either side, so it had probably been used for some kind of cultivation many years ago. I bought some sage, peppermint, thyme and winter savoury and I also collected small plants of some of their wild cousins along my hiking paths. Then I planted all the green brothers, sisters and cousins together in my little garden, put a blackcurrant bush in one corner, some flower plants from a friend in another corner, and before I knew it
the area was well filled.
Next to the herb garden I wanted to create a vegetable garden. That ended up being really hard work, since I had to dig deeply into the stony and meagre ground in order to fill the area with richer soil that the coming plants would be happy to live in. A strong and helpful friend gave me a hand and soon 1 x 2 m of land was ready for sowing and planting – but first we had to fence it off, otherwise the deer would end up enjoying the crops
more than I would.
I wanted EVERYTHING in my veggie garden, but I realised that the climate up in the Swiss mountains would not allow for avocados or aubergines to grow 😉 A friend gave me plants of Jerusalem artichoke, rhubarb, lovage and horseradish, I bought small fennel, chard, beetroot plants and sowed kale and carrots.
In the beginning, there wasn’t much that actually did grow, yet the first, tiny harvest filled me with immense joy! To eat my home-grown vegetables and season them with herbs from my own garden was just a dream come true. However, the harvest was SO small compared to the work I had invested into it that it almost didn’t feel worth it. Still I didn’t question my approach, but continued that same way for two more years: trying out lots of different vegetables on my meagre soil, almost always with rather unsatisfying results …
Now I’m at my 4th summer here, and finally I’ve understood what I should use my “garden energy” for – and what not. It IS a fact that my soil is very poor, and even though I fertilize it with cow dung and horse manure it will take YEARS of cultivation until it is rich enough for vegetables like fennel, carrot, chard, leek and parsnips. They just won’t grow properly right now, despite my diligent watering (badly needed in this very dry area).
In the meantime this experience has at least taught me what does work well here. First of all the plants I got from my friend: Jerusalem artichokes, rhubarb, and lovage. Plus onions, potatoes and kale. They now have the biggest space in my garden and they thrive!
I continue to nourish my soil with compost and manure and in a small area I still experiment with different kinds of vegetables in order to broaden my choice. In ten years or so I will have a nice, rich vegetable garden, filled with big, healthy plants ☺ By then I will not only have fed my soil well enough, abut also come to know it properly, that is: what it can produce – and what not.

Parts of my very first harvest 🙂

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