Year 3 – More fruit, garden design begins, how mulch changed everything.
This year I wanted to bring more fruit to the garden, so I added raspberries (1), blackberries (2), gooseberries, rhubarb, elderberry bushes and red, white and blackcurrants (3). I also added some day-neutral strawberries. I already had a bed of June bearers (which produce all their berries within 3-4weeks), but the day neutrals would give me fruit for for longer.
I wasn’t sure I’d get any harvest at all until the following year, but by the fall the raspberry canes produced a small crop. Our summers here in Nashville are so hot and humid that I knew many of the other fruits might either have to be moved until I found the right amount of sun for them, or struggle to grow at all. Still, I was in this for the long haul so if I had to wait a year or three that was ok. The currants and gooseberries were planted in a small space along the house where they would be protected from the afternoon sun.
The elderberry was placed on the opposite wall, in late afternoon sun, along with the rhubarb. Almost everything seemed to be growing well but I would have to wait until the following year to know for sure. The only imminent disaster was the rhubarb. By the end of the season it was clear that the plant was dead so I would try again with new crowns in a cooler location the following year.
My great loss this year (which I genuinely mourned) was my apple tree. The city performed some sewer work in my front yard and unfortunately the workmen didn’t install it correctly and the pipe leaked very close to the tree. I knew the fruit trees would be challenge enough without this kind of setback, but I replaced it as soon as I could, at the end of the winter, and into the following year.
The vegetable garden was very similar to the previous year with the pumpkin omitted (to save space) and a few more varieties added, (including lots of carrots!).
I also started to add some structure to the garden. I knew I needed some better tomato and pea supports so I built some tomato cages and taller pea trellising, along with some supports for the berries and currants. I also added a home made compost bin. And I began edging beds using cedar fencing. I still haven’t found a better way to edge my beds. I cannot recommend enough using edging throughout your garden. Not only does it keep it looking neat, but it means you can mow and weed up to it without different areas spilling out onto each other.
By July, the garden was bursting with life. I had over 120 varieties of fruits, vegetables and herbs on 1500 sq ft. But in all honesty, I was struggling to keep up. I had been traveling more this year in my life as a musician and I would come home exhausted from the road, only to discover three days worth of weeding awaited me. A garden had always been a dream, and although I knew it would take work, I wondered if it was becoming too big to manage on this scale. So, I thought about what was happening and what I could do about it.
I realized I was spending about 80% of my time in the garden weeding. That’s 80% spent managing the one thing that didn’t give me anything back. I wanted to spend that time taking care of the plants that were going to give me sustenance, they were the reason I started the garden, after all. My priorities had gotten topsy-turvy. Get rid of the weeding, get back on track.
The previous year I had started to read about mulching, and I struck lucky when a tree company was cutting down a tree on one of my neighbour’s properties. They dumped it straight onto my driveway and after a week of shoveling 20 barrowfuls a day, it was spread over the garden. As the fall approached, there was hardly any weeding, and watering! Suddenly, I had the hours back to care for the garden again. To this day, mulching remains the single most effective addition to my garden.
(See also lessons from 2015 and 2016 shopping list)