Search This Blog

30 September, 2010

The Garden In October

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 or more 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. These plants provide continuous chard over a long season, obviating the need for succession planting. 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 possible, only plant enough of what can be eaten in a reasonable amount of time. As 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 (the words in parenthesis name the varieties I like):

Week 1 – carrots (maybe Yaya, an F1 Hybrid) Week 7 - lettuce (Black Seeded Simpson)
Week 2 – beets (Golden) Week 8 – carrots (Yaya)
Week 3 – parsnips (Hollow Crown) Week 9 – beets (Red Ball)
Week 4 – carrots (Mokum also an F1 Hybrid) Week 10 – spinach (Space)
Week 5 – beets (Chioggia) Week 11 – turnips (Purple Globe)
Week 6 – turnips (DeMilano) 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.

Another way to do the same thing, for a larger family, is to 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 length 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 still find it a moving target. But at least I know what I’m shooting for!

Direct sowing of seeds gets far too much mystical billing. It’s easy. The hard part, in our busy world, is staying disciplined enough to keep them watered. Remember, the seed wants desperately to grow, that is its only “job.” If you provide enough water for the seed to break its seed coat, you will see a little pair of leaves soon above the soil. These are called cotyledons and, if there are two of them, you have what is commonly referred to as a 'dicot' (“di” meaning two). There is only one other kind of flowering plant we would be concerned with in a vegetable garden and that has only a single seed leaf and is called a 'monocot' (one-leaf). Monocots are all the grasses, which includes grains like corn, wheat, rice and barley.

Take note of all the little cotyledons of the plants you grow and soon you will be able to tell them from the weeds. This is somewhat important. If you can rid yourself of weeds before they get really big, you have a much easier job of it; if you rid yourself of all the wrong plants because you mistook the lettuce for dandelions, you'll be a very disappointed and frustrated gardener! I have done this, I am not too proud to say. It's one reason that there is a section in this book that lists all the plants I write about and has a picture of each one's cotyledons. I believe in starting things from seed wherever and when ever possible.

Composting is one of the more essential parts of gardening. Gardening is a life cycle and composting is that part of the cycle that returns nutrients and fertility to the soil. In our culture, we don't like the smell or the thought of decomposition, yet a knowing gardener loves the smell of rich compost; that smell, incidentally is from actinomycetes, a fungus that is in the same group of organisms as penicillin.

Somehow, fall always reminds me of composting probably because I grew up in those colder climes where fall signals the oncoming winter and so marked the end of the growing season. And that leads to thoughts of composting. At least that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

You can get absolutely nuts trying to build a scientific compost pile, but let me offer that I don't do all that. Decomposition just happens. Simply leave some veggies in your fridge too long and tell me they did not begin to decompose. And you didn't have even think about carbon to nitrogen rations (c:n). You do want to understand the process – especially if you don't have the space to leave something sit for 9 months, which is what I used to do – to get usable compost in less time that it takes to grow a decent cabbage.

Remember you have 'browns' and 'greens,' names that are somewhat misleading. 'Browns' refers to carbon material which is mostly brown. This is dried leaves or woody pieces. 'Greens' are those materials full of nitrogen – usually represented by grass clippings, but all of your table scraps are nitrogen sources too and they too are classed as 'greens' regardless of their color. While we can specify the ideal carbon to nitrogen ratio, achieving it is always a meandering attempt to meet an approximate target. And you never have composting materials in the right amounts to achieve an ideal c:n ratio. So, add as much of the green and the brown as you have. Mix well and water – keep moist. Make a pile that is at least three feet by three feet by three feet. Keep moist. Turn the parts that are inside, outside and the parts that are outside, inside. Keep moist. Not soggy, but moist. In about 9 weeks of warm weather, you'll be able to use fresh compost. Sift out the big honking pieces and return them to the pile (they will help get the pile off to a better start) and build it again.

Honestly? I usually dig a trench about one foot across and two feet deep and as long as it needs to be to handle what I have to compost. I pick a part of the garden I won't use for a few months and I add the compostable materials, covering with soil as I go. I add to the trench any day I need more room for my compostable materials. Eventually I'll simply plant right into that soil. No big deal and it works without a lot of reading. Or thinking.

You can find the composting technique that thrills you. The important part is that none of these rich materials, food or garden waste, gets thrown into a land fill! That is unconscionable! All of the plant wastes from the kitchen and table are the best components for a rich garden and they are free!

However, for apartment dwellers, condo owners and others with no easy access to land, vermicomposting is the answer you are looking for! And you didn't even know you had the question! It's easy, the result can be used on plants in pots and your garbage need never grace the entrance of a landfill ever again!
You will need

  • 10 gallon bin or 20 gallon bin

  • 1 lb or so of worms (you can start with fewer, the population will expand to account for what you feed them)

  • Cardboard or newsprint
  • Kitchen waste
OSH sells two storage bins that work very well for vermicomposting.  The smaller bin is a 10 gallon container by Rubbermaid called Roughneck Storage Bin #2214-08. It’s dimensions are 9” x  21” x 15” , comes with a lid and is available in various colors.  This size works well for a family of two. 

A worm bin can be made of wood, but plastic seems to work better longer because it won't rot. Your bin must be tightly covered – worms cannot live in light and you don't want them to escape! Punch or drill holes around the top third of the vertical walls to allow air to circulate – punching them with a nail is best because any larger of a hole will be an escape hatch for the explorers in your worm population. You should do the same thing with the lid. Oxygen in the bin will allow the breakdown of materials to proceed aerobically, which means it won't stink and your worms won't suffocate.

Wet a sheet of cardboard or a section of newsprint – soak thoroughly and wring out to where it is as moist of a well wrung sponge. Worms will use this as bedding, and eventually you'll need to replace it
as time goes by.

Red wigglers will reprocess kitchen waste such as: vegetables, fruits, eggshells, teabags, paper coffee filters, shredded paper towels, and coffee grounds. They particularly like pumpkin, watermelon and cantaloupe. Avoid citrus fruits because they are too acidic for them. If you pamper your worms by cutting food scraps into small pieces, the worms can finish them off that much faster. I am not, however in the business of making life wonderful for a bunch of worms – I throw my stuff in whole and they take care of it sooner or later. Burying the food scraps into the bedding will help you avoid fruit flies and adding meat or fish to the bin is not advised for many reasons.

Feed the worms your scraps as you have them available -ideally, no less than twice a wee – however, I have gone on vacation for a week and fed my worms nothing in that time and did not come back to a hell hole of a worm bin. Don't stay up nights worrying about them. These worms prefer a pH of something close to 7 and the temperature needs to be between 50 and 84 F. Don't let the bin dry out – keep it moist like the compost pile.

Harvesting the vermicompost can be done several ways, but the way that is easiest and therefore my choice is called 'side-harvesting.' Feed the worms on only one side of the bin for a few weeks which will cause the worms to migrate to that side. You can then begin to harvest the worm compost from that unoccupied side of the bin where you will eventually, once you've finished harvesting (over a few weeks), begin to add fresh bedding on that side causing them to migrate to the new bedding and allowing you to harvest from the second side.

You can make a it lot more complicated than this, but you have better things to worry about, yes?

david

0 comments:

Post a Comment