All too often, I hear people talking about how they wish they could have a garden but their soil is not right. They complain of rocks, clay, lack of organic material and any number of other drawbacks to their soil. They never seem to consider "building" a garden, but instead, simply assume they can't have a garden.
My own garden suffers from these same afflictions. It is rocky (nice chunks of white chert), high in clay, low in pH, and low in organics. It is also infested with grass and weeds, and is a bit too shaded in the afternoon. Because my garden is such, I can understand. What I can not do is sympathize.
Though I have lived here at Dave's farm for quite a few years and grown quite a lot of vegetables during that time, my garden has never been all I would have hoped for. The garden spot was used for veggies before my parents bought the property, during the time they lived here and after I bought it from them, but I still don't consider it a proper garden.
The reason my garden is not a garden, has nothing to do with the piece of ground. That's right, NOTHING to do with the ground. It is, in my opinion, completely due to the practices of the people using the ground. The main method used for gardening this piece of ground has consisted of plowing, planting, tilling and harvesting. Since I have lived here, I have added some compost and removed some rocks (though not enough of either), but I also neglected this piece of ground, leaving it untended and growing nothing but grass at various times over the years.
I have begun tilling up the ground in preparation for next spring (yes, it is my intention to turn this deficient piece of ground into a proper garden). While tilling under grass and turning up rocks and clay, I found myself thinking of my Grandmother's garden, and her method of gardening.
The piece of ground my Grandmother gardened was bordered on two sides by cow pasture. In this pasture, more rocks grew than grass. What soil there was, consisted of little more than hard clay. When my Grandparents moved to that property many years before, what became the garden was no different than the pasture across the fence.
My Grandmother, for many years, removed rocks as she worked the garden. If she heard her hoe hit a rock, the rock was placed in a bucket which, when full, was carried out and dumped. The rocks were continually replaced with compost, chicken manure or anything else that would make garden soil, including such things as snakes and opossums caught in the chicken house, and spoiled milk.
By the time I was old enough to remember, she was still burying small animals, digging in compost and carrying out rocks (by that time, the rocks were no bigger than small marbles). Her garden produced like none other I've seen and the soil was the easiest worked.
Knowing the kind of garden she created and the rock pile she created it from, I can't complain about my garden soil, or sympathize with others who complain about theirs. I can only attempt to follow my Grandmother's example and build a garden from the ground I have available, and encourage others to do likewise.
Garden soil, at least in this part of Oklahoma, doesn't usually just happen. The only thing that just happens on this type of ground is rocks and trees. Anything else has to be built, just as houses and barns have to be built because they don't just happen. Building a proper garden is not easy or quick. It takes years, hard work and a love of the earth and growing things.
May we all eventually build and enjoy gardens as productive and easily worked as my Grandmother's. In return, we will eat well and have the satisfaction of knowing we will leave one piece of our earth better than we found it.