We are now long past the first throws of the new season and without wanting to cast doom and gloom, autumn is on our doorstep and the first flush of spring is a distant memory.
The garden, while still in full swing and bearing a bountiful harvest, will be showing signs of fatigue and the inevitable end. Some plants have even disappeared completely and have been long since devoured.
However, there is still a freshness about the garden that can be brought to the table in the crispness of a cucumber or the juiciness of summer fruit and the abundance of perfectly ripe tomatoes. But there is also a freshness to be found in the memory of the gardener. The struggles and successes of the season are still fresh in mind. What is done with this knowledge can either make next season wonderful or an all-too-familiar struggle and to be honest, the preferable is to improve the state of the garden not hinder things.
So, while it is all fresh in your mind, and the garden as it is still grows before you, stop and notice it.
Have you done enough for it? Is it meeting the description on the label? Did it grow with vigour or did it struggle? Was it plagued with pest and disease? This offers up a whole range of scenarios: was there anything I could have done to prevent this? Could I have prevented it if I acted sooner? Was the harvest what was expected? Were there too many zucchini as a result of too many plants or too few peas divided up among a large family? And most importantly, how was the taste? If you didn't like it - remember the variety and don't grow it again.
Once you have investigated the plants as individuals, step back and look at the garden as a whole. How is it working for you? Is it in the right place or does it flood when it rains? Does it get enough sun or do the once-empty branches of overhanging trees now shade the garden in full leaf? Do you have enough space?
With the benefit of hindsight, did you give your tiny seedlings enough room to grow into maturity and stretch their shoots and roots wide?
If you want to extend your garden, looking about your yard for a possible new spot now is perfect, as you will see where the sun shines and where the shade falls. You will be able to decide which areas you are willing to give up for the garden as you can realistically decide how much use this area receives.
Take a stocktake of all things going on in the garden. How are your trellises and stakes standing up to the weight of the full harvest? Are they buckling under the heaviness or are your plants waving aimlessly well above the tallest point of the trellis?
Are your plants being watered well or is there room for improvement?
Is a long hose required to prevent endless trips back and forth from the tap with a heavy watering can? Or would it be better to install an irrigation system and make that one less chore to be concerned with in a busy season?
How you garden is also a great thing to consider, as if it is difficult, too big or just a struggle, you won't enjoy it and will eventually drift away from it, leaving behind weeds and good intentions. If bending down to tend the garden leaves you with a twinge at the end of the day, consider over the winter months building your beds higher.
If you struggle to keep on top of the weeds, watering and harvesting right now, in the height of the season, your garden may be too big and you should scale back or get in extra help.
Exhausting yourself over your garden is not going to give you the pleasure that can be found in a garden. You need to think smarter, not work harder, to gain the most value from tending your veggie patch.
Gardens grow on experience. They can teach the gardeners so many things each season, as long as the gardener is prepared to take the time to discover what the garden is trying to say to them.
Making plans for the season to come while the garden is still growing is a great way to ensure any improvements can be made based on the changes you can clearly see before you and the next season will be even better than this one.
Sarah O'Neil is an author, blogger and passionate gardener writing about the trials and tribulations of growing food for her family. Her books The Good Life and Play in the Garden and the recently released Growing Vegetables are available at bookstores. www.sarahthegardener.co.nz