A summer garden has its roots in the hopefulness of Spring plantings. So there comes a point in mid-to-late summer where the gardener must face up to the success or failure of months of effort to produce useful crops. Has it been worth it?
Reaching this judgement is a visceral experience formed while moving through the garden on other business and thinking about other things.
Factored in here are (for me) a sense of what’s changed this year. Have I made progress with the infrastructure in the garden such as the watering system, the netting of fruit trees to win back precious fruit from the predations of wildlife, or the extent of the mulch cover that protects the soil?
All these impressions are integrated over time by the gardener, but the definitive impartial judgement is that made by the cook whose harvesting activities are the final arbiter of whether or not a garden is producing. Are the expected seasonal crops finding their way to the kitchen, the table, the neighbours, the cellar and the freezer?
In the background, the costs of operating a large backyard garden are high – water, mulch, seed, fencing, irrigation fittings, chook food and shed-building materials cost quite a bit while the income is only that of the displaced cost of eggs, fruit and vegetables that would otherwise be purchased down at the local organic store, plus the unquantifiable health benefits of an active life spent outdoors.
And this year’s report card?
A sense of weariness heads the gardener's impressions. Perhaps it’s the overhead of building a new chicken shed and restoring the old, or the battle for crop survival in the extreme heat that increasingly marks our summers. The garden feels as though it has survived but not prospered this year – this could all be turned around by a single giant thunderstorm whose rain would work a miracle of growth and energy in the garden that no amount of irrigation water seems to be able to bring about.
Fruit production – aside from citrus and berries – has been almost non-existent this season. The peach crop was zero and the table grapes failed in some mysterious way. Garlic, onions, zucchinis, kale, cucumbers, basil, silverbeet, pumpkin, asparagus and lettuce have all done well. But beans have struggled and the jury is still out on the tomato crop, due in about a month’s time.
The fruit trees – including the avocado – are all healthy, mulched and watered, which is something new; in the past they’ve been left to fend for themselves over summer. The lemon tree and banana grove have been trimmed at last, but the raspberries – bless them – are taking over the garden. The bamboo patch has been brought to order after a decade of neglect.
And the cook’s take on the gardener's efforts? Ah well, that’s a subject only a brave man would raise deliberately… She continues to be busy coping with the flow – bottling, pickling, making pesto and kimchee, feeding my greens to the chickens, producing delicious meals. Perhaps I’ll ask her after the tomato crop has come though and her own pressures are behind her when the cooler and gentler days of autumn arrive in a month’s time…