At the farmers’ market this morning, we had a chat with Jay, the organic farmer known for his heirloom tomatoes and other quality vegetables.  We mentioned that the plants in one of our raised beds were developing slowly, possibly due to lean soil, and in response he recounted his experience in the early years of his farm.  When he bought the land 17 years ago, the soil there was in poor condition.  The first year, Jay amended it and saw some improvement in the soil’s properties.  But it was still less than desirable and he figured that things would be better the next year (a refrain familiar to baseball fans).

Jay repeated the process again and although the soil continued to improve, it did not yet meet his expectations.  Next year will be better, he thought.  This process continued for several years and each year, Jay vowed that it would be better the next.  It was not until eight years had passed, Jay recalled (anticipating our question before we could ask it), that he did not find himself thinking that that the next year would be better.  We were not really surprised to hear it—gardening is not an activity for the impatient—and were reassured to know that we aren’t the only ones who have had this problem.  With a continuing investment of time, effort and compost, we should eventually arrive at well-balanced and fertile soil.

Jay now adds only a thin layer of compost and mulch each year to keep his soil fresh (he is also an advocate of no-till farming).  In addition to vegetables, he raises grass-fed cattle on the farm and so has a good source of materials for composting.  We do not have as much raw material—no livestock here—but plan to build compost bins anyway (it is second on our list of garden projects, right after paving around the planters).  We look forward to having on-site compost to maintain our planters and until then, will tinker away with what we have.