The sun sends its first warm rays, the flowers stretch their heads upwards towards it. The fields turn from mottled white-brown to lush green. I don’t know about you, but the smell of spring in my nose always increases my motivation to spruce up my garden, balcony and the like. Elisabeth Jäger, a farmer from Eben, feels the same way. After the winter break, there is a lot of work to be done in the farm garden at the Buschberghof.
When I arrive at the farm of the Jäger family, Maja, the farm dog, greets me very enthusiastically and asks to be petted before Elisabeth can show me her garden. Because of the slope, the garden is laid out in three terraces – so the rain cannot wash away the seeds and the soil. The levels are separated by guide rails – a bit unexpected, but also kind of cool. Between the rails, rows of strawberry plants are already growing and flowering – every square centimetre is being used. However, there is hardly anything green to be seen in the beds yet. “We’re waiting for the Ice Saints days in mid-May to pass. Here at an altitude of 1200 metres, it can get really cold and icy,” explains Elisabeth. Only then will she plant lettuce and vegetables.
But before planting, the beds still need to be prepared. Elisabeth fills the beds, which were depleted last year, with fresh, rich compost. She takes great care not to mix the individual layers. Digging up destroys the natural layers of the soil and with it the habitats of countless micro-animals and spores that make for healthy soil. Only the top layer is gently mixed with the new soil until everything is nice and loose. “If the soil sticks to your boot, it’s still too wet” – I’ll remember that.
Around the flowerbeds, the garden is literally blooming already. Marigolds, primroses, snowdrops, but also the plum and apricot trees are already providing a blaze of colour. But the blossoms are not only beautiful to look at, they also attract useful insects such as bees. Elisabeth does not use artificial fertilisers or pesticides in the flowerbeds or on the flowers. Her trick is to keep pests away naturally, for example by planting lavender next to rose bushes. Insects don’t like the scent of lavender and thus stay away from the roses. In the vegetable patch, too, there are combinations that keep pests off each other’s stems. Onions, for example, help to protect carrots from carrot flies. And to keep the mice away from the neighbouring field, Elisabeth has planted horseradish at the edge of the garden, because the rodents prefer to avoid this strong smell. Another anti-mouse speciality: two plastic bottles. More precisely, a kind of windmill made of bottles stuck on a metal strut. When the wind blows, the sound and vibration are transmitted through the metal into the ground to deter mice.
Unlike mice, toads, frogs, lizards and even grass snakes are very welcome in Elisabeth’s garden. A small frog pond and many shelters ensure that they feel at home and diligently eat protein-rich insects as a midday snack. “A garden cannot and should not be sterile. I don’t fight against my garden, I rather see myself as a caretaker of nature,” says the farmer. She owes her love of gardening above all to her mother; her father gave her the manual skills. Over the years, she has acquired even more knowledge through instructive books and lectures. “And sometimes you just have to figure it out for yourself.
Of course, not everyone has so much space for gardening. But Elisabeth can confirm that it is also possible without a garden. Whilst she was studying, one of her daughters put a bag of soil on the balcony and cut out holes. In addition to herbs, she even grew tomato plants in it (without a guarantee of success ;)). Speaking of herbs: Elisabeth tells me that herbs prefer unfertilised, rather sparse soil and a sunny single spot, e.g. in a flower box in which you put individual small pots. I’m going to try that out right away at home. Do you have any special tips? And what do you like best in your garden or on your balcony?
The next time I visit Elisabeth will be in summer – I’m looking forward to seeing what her garden will look like then and what she has to tell :).
photo credits: Angelika Pfuner, Michaela Jäger