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02 October, 2009

The Garden in October, Part I









Seedlings in terra cotta pots getting ready to be transplanted into slightly larger containers. On the left, broccoli and cabbages have two seed leaves while the two pots on the right must be onions or leeks because they only have one seed leaf each.

In all the books from back east and England, you'll find fall as a season of 'going to rest,' 'putting the garden to bed' and other allusions to 'sleep' and restoration. It is not true for us! We are in our other Spring and this Spring is really closer to the Spring that other parts of the world experience. This is our shot at carrots, peas, and other cool season plants. We either have all our space filled with plants, or we've just got a part planted with big plans (dreams) for the rest. So the Winter garden is in full swing. Later this month, if I have grown any green manure cover crops I will cut them down, leaving the plant material in place and cover with a thick layer of mulch. I would like to allow this to “mellow” (meaning I want this material to begin breaking down into nutrients the plants can use) for about 2 weeks before placing the next crop in.

I tried to plant one chard plant because I only need one to provide me with enough chard for all my needs, but there are so many colors to choose from, I feel a need to grow at least three: yellow, red and I love the orange. But these plants provide continuous chard obviating the need for succession planting, but almost everything else benefits by being sowed at intervals throughout the season, a process called 'succession sowing' or 'succession planting.'

A person plants a garden to get to eat the very freshest of food – you don't pick your veggies and put them in the fridge to age before you eat them – well, at least, that isn't the intent. So, to the degree we can, only plant enough of what you can eat in a reasonable amount of time. For me, being a single person, I have found that an eighteen inch row for most things is the perfect size to grow enough to supply fresh carrots, beets, parsnips, cutting lettuces, for any given time. A typical planting schedule for me might look like this:

Week 1 – carrots (maybe Yaya)
Week 2 – beets (Golden)
Week 3 – parsnips (Hollow Crown)
Week 4 – carrots (Mokum)
Week 5 – beets (Chioggia)
Week 6 – turnips (DeMilano)
Week 7 - lettuce (Black Seeded Simpson)
Week 8 – carrots (Yaya)
Week 9 – beets (Red Ball)
Week 10 – spinach (Space)
Week 11 – turnips (Purple Globe)
Week 12 – beets (Golden)

Quickly you see that, though I do eat parsnips and turnips, I don't eat nearly as many of them as I do carrots or beets. Your situation might be different in that you could care less at all about ANY parsnips, but spinach is near and dear to your heart so you would have spinach in the rotation much more than I do – you can, of course, plant three different things per week – carrots, beets and spinach in week one; turnips, lettuce and parsnips in week two; carrots, beets and parsnips in week three. Or spinach planted in one row every week all cool season long. Tailor the program to your needs! You might also find that you need longer rows – I wouldn't imagine that an 18” row would suffice for a family of four! Play around with the scheduling and the row legnth and the mix of plants you grow until you find what your family needs. At which point, their needs will change, but you'll have a lot more data with which to figure out the new schedule.

In our smaller gardens there is no room for the proverbial 50' row of carrots, so succession planting of a given vegetable is one of the staple strategies for stocking your larder. Another good point about putting in many smaller plantings of crops is the ability to harvest these vegetables at a smaller size, which is just the ticket for a garden in pots. Don’t get suckered into the “bigger is better” routine. A huge cauliflower might serve as a great subject in a “look what I grew” contest photo, but the cauliflower you pick at half the size will be the one your tastebuds will reverently remember.

A mark of the very good gardener is one who has his/her succession sowing down to such a science that allows them to place fresh vegetables on the table without lag time or a concentration of over-abundance and the attendant wild fluctuations leaving you with nothing from the garden for intervening weeks. Learning how to do this well has been the work of a lifetime for many and, as for me, I’m still finding it a moving target. But at least I know what I’m shooting for!

More later in the month.

david

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