Monthly Archives: August 2011

Not Growing a Fall Garden? Plant Cover Crops!

Cover Crop Seeds & Beneficial Bacteria

Cover crops, green manure, whatever you call it, fall is such a choice time to plant them.  Cover crops add nutrients, tilth, organic matter, suppress weeds, improve soil, prevent erosion, break up compacted soil and add microbial activity.  With all that, why wouldn’t you plant a cover crop this fall?  Besides, it sure is more appealing to look a lush patch of green than fallow ground.  Oh did I mention the beneficials it attracts?  Cover crops can be a mix of plants or just one variety.  Common crops are vetch, alfalfa, cow pes, fava beans, oats, clovers,  and field peas not to mention so many others.  I personally like a mix and always include legumes.   Legumes “fix nitrogen” from the air.  The roots of legumes basically pull nitrogen gas out of the air and store it in their plant tissues.  How easy it that?  Some cover crops suppress weeds chemically sort a speak, by relaxing compounds that help prevent the germination or growth of weed seeds.  Some of these crops are wheat, barley, hairy vetch, red clover and sorghum.  Deep rooted cover crops also bring up nutrients from the subsoil, making them more available in the top 12 inches of soil surface to succeeding crops.  Clover is known for this.   Cover crops can add to an acre of soil the equivalent of 10 tons of fresh manure matter.  WOW!  Maybe you only have a small garden and think cover crops are only for large farmers….Not so.  Cover crops will do the same thing to small gardens that they do to large farms.  Now have I convinced you to plant a cover crop yet? 

Planting cover crops is a one of the easiest crops you can plant.  

Cover Crops Emerging From The Soil After Just 4 Days

I like fall because that is the only time I have space in my garden for them.  Spring works great too!  Clear out old debris, toss diseased plants in the trash and compost the rest.  To give your cover crop seeds a boost, add a Beneficial Bacteria with your seeds just before planting.  Rake your area over and broadcast your seeds.  Work them in with a rake, hoe or your hand and tamp down (not by walking on them).  I like to cover mine with a layer of compost.   Water in.  Keep soil moist till seeds have germinated.  This is critical!  Then cut back on watering with fewer waterings as the season get cooler.  If your area is dry and no rainfall is in the forecast check the soil to see if you will need to give them a drink to keep them lush and green through the fall and winter. 

Legumes "Fix Nitrogen" in the soil.

Let the crops grow throughout the season.  Depending on where you live will depend on how long before your crop is ready.  Once flowers have emerged, it’s time to cut them down.  This is when they have the largest amounts of nutrients in them.  If you have a large area, you can use a mower or weed whacker.  Leave your cover crops sit for a week or so to dry out and then work them into the soil.  Now you are adding all those nutrients into the ground that your plants worked so hard to get for you!  Wait a month before planting.  This gives them some time to break down and feed your soil!   Microbial life is going crazy in your soil now.  Oh happy day! Every year you plant cover crops the better your soil will get.  One year is great, but if you continue these practices, each year you will see more and more amazing results!  Remember…………..Feed the Earth, That Feeds the Plants, That Feed YOU!  Do it organically!  Just do it!

Beneficial Bacteria

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Fall Gardening

Fall Spinach, 2010

Wow, it’s hot out there and thinking about planting a Fall garden just doesn’t seem logical!  Well starting a fall garden in most areas take place just after the Summer solstice.  This is the time to start your fall transplants from seeds indoors or in a cooler greenhouse.  Starts such as, broccoli, cabbages, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts and kohlrabi.  These are planted late summer to be ready early fall. To determine when to start planting, find out the first average frost date, count back the number of days from the first frost date to the days to maturity of the veggie, which can be found on your seed packets.  I like to add a week, just in case.  Most everything you plant in the early spring you can plant in the fall.  Many vegetables flavor improves when nipped by a light frost.  Don’t forget about the root crops.  Carrots, beets, radishes, rutabagas and turnips.  Roots crops can be kept in the ground through the winter with a covering of straw  or mulch in milder climates.  I love to store root crops in the ground.  They are fresher, and no inside storage room needed! 

A few things to remember when planting in the fall is it is warm, warm enough that your plants and seeds will need watering more often. Much more often than in the spring!   Seeds won’t germinate if you soil surface stays dry more than a few hours.  I have to water several times a day to keep the soil moist here in Southern Utah.   When planting lettuce seeds you can plant and cover with a row cover right on top of the surface.  This will keep the soil cooler, moister and shade the seeds to help them to germinate.  You can water right over the top of row cover until the seeds have germinated and up about 1/2″.  This will also help to keep the seeds in place.  Once seeds have germinated you can cut back on watering and remove the cover in the evening time to prevent sun scorch.  This same cover can be used again when a freeze is expected.  Soil should stay moist, but not soggy.  When planting seeds in the fall, plant them just a little deeper than you would during the spring.  When planting in the spring the soil is cooler and the further down you go, the cooler the soil, the slower the germination.  Sometimes if planted to deep seeds can rot.  Fall soil is warmer, so planting just a little deeper will ensure the soil is cooler and  more moisture is there to help with the germination process.   Take peas.  In the spring I plant only 1/2″ deep and in the fall I plant a full 1″ deep.  The surface dries out very quickly in warm weather.   When transplanting your new tender starts out, do it in the evening.  If planted in the morning  they are more likely to wilt and be stressed.  Plants that have been stressed never produce to their potential. 

Planting Brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower):  When planting Brassicas, amend the soil with plenty of compost.  If your starts are a little spindly, plant them one inch deeper then the original soil level.  Work about 2 tablespoons of all-purpose fertilizer in the hole.  Make sure you mix the fertilizer with the soil.  You don’t want the fertilizer to be in direct contact with the roots.  One thing that I am always doing is experimenting in the garden.  Sometimes good and sometimes not so good.  But I never consider it a mistake, only a lesson learned.  Last year I used 1/2 teaspoon of granular mycorrhizal fungi  in each planting hole.  The results were amazing.  Twice the size of broccoli heads on the ones I used the michorizae .  This was side by side plantings in the same bed.  I will be using this on all my Brassica crops from now on.  All  Brassica benefit from a firm soil, so heel (firm the soil in around the plants) the plants in well.  Victorian master gardeners check whether plants are properly planted by gently tugging a leaf.  If it tears, the plants are nice and firm, if the plant pulls out of the ground….replant.  Cauliflowers are temperamental.  They do best in fertile soil, humus rich, moisture-retentive, free-draining soil in a sheltered, sunny part of the garden.  Cauliflowers need regular watering.  They are totally unforgiving, and you can allow them to dry out!  Kale is such a great crop to grow in the fall, because of its ease to grow and ability to hold over through the winter.  And if covered with row cover it will continue to grow all winter long in milder climates like mine.  Kohlrabi looks and tastes similar to a turnip (only better).  The bulbous edible portion grows just above the soil line.  I have used the bulb in place of cabbage for making cole slaw.  Fabulous!  Cabbages are heavy feeders that require fertile soil rich in organic matter and consistent moisture, especially close to harvest to prevent cracking.  Harvest when sizable and tight when squeezed.  Brussel sprouts should only be grown in milder climates in the fall and covered through the winter.  It takes about 3 months before sprouts first appear.  They take patience.  But then again, that is the whole gardening experience……….

Fall planting can be one of the most rewarding crops.  You don’t have near the bug or disease problems that you usually do in the spring and the weeds have slowed to a milder pace.  Fall is my absolute most favorite time of the year.  Some say it’s the end of the growing season, I call it just the beginning of another growing season.  If you haven’t grown a fall garden before, give it a try, enjoy the harvest!

All Purpose Fertilizer,  Mycorrhizal Fungi

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Seeds… A Lesson Sometimes Hard To Learn

Gold Rush Beans with Empty Pods

This morning while in the garden doing the usual chores, weeding, pulling out spent plants, fertilizing.  I came across my crop of yellow beans, hummm.  Every year I plant yellow beans.    They are pretty canned, delightful to the palate and just a nice addition to the garden.  One of my favorites, among others is  Gold Rush.   7  years ago I bought a bulk bag of these seeds.  Figuring they would last for about 3 years and by then they would be all used up.  I always date my seed as soon as I get them.  This is a really good habit to get into.  Well they got stuffed in the bottom of my seed container and forgotten.  When I came upon them early summer I thought, why waste good seeds, right?  I have always taught rotation, rotation, rotation in  seed saving.   Well, did I listen to my own words of advice?  Not hardly.  I spent good money on those seeds, and by darn I wasn’t going to go buy more and toss those!  They looked  pretty good and they were stored at a cool temperature.  They came up fairly well,  slow to germinate and some yellowing.  Once they grow to the size ready to be picked, a nice side dish was planned.  Only one problem. The beautiful yellow beans were hallow, light weight, limp and lifeless.  The taste was bland, and not something to be proud of.  A common problem you can get with old seeds.  Humbling experience 9,089.  Yup, I may be a seasoned  gardener but I to make mistakes that I hope you can learn from!  Moral of the story is, rotate your seed stash.  They are living, viable and have a life cycle.  Yes, they may germinate, grow and even produce well, but I used up precious water, time, space and energy for something that I know better than to do.  I could have used those seeds a few years earlier and had them replaced with new seeds  that would perform with vigor.  My morning chores were finished off by pulling up the plants and sending them to the compost bin (I guess not a total loss).  I  did harvest the first two crops hoping for better results with the later harvests.  Something to remember…  Sometimes, crops aren’t so wonderful when they first come on and then they can better with time, so do give them a little time before ripping and tearing.  In this case that wasn’t so.  As seeds get older they lose their strength sort of speak.  Sometimes they just don’t germinate, or they are slow to do so.  Sometimes the plant it self seems to struggle inviting disease and insects and require extra attention.   Old seeds can create poor quality fruits and can carry that trait to their offspring the following years.

Old legume seeds can be grown as a cover crop in the fall mixed with other seed in case of inferior germination which no doubt you will get.  So not all is lost.  I should have done this instead!

Store seeds in the refrigerator (for vegetable seed) or freezer (for flower seed).  They basically go dormant and this will make seed last longer.  I also think you get better germination when doing this, even if only for a few short weeks of storage in cool conditions.

Store seeds in airtight containers.  If storing seeds in the freezer, let seeds come to room temperature before opening container.  This assures no moisture will develop as things do after being brought from freezing, to room temp.  Moisture on seeds sends them a message to germinate!  Don’t bring seeds to room temp and back into the cold and then back to room temp over and over!

Seeds that are stored in temperatures that fluctuate will lose their ability to germinate.

Don’t plant seeds that are shriveled, discolored, much smaller than the rest or broken seeds.

Canning jars, with new lids are a great way to store seeds.  Screw lids on tightly.  I like to use small half pint size jars for loose seeds.  Use sterile jars.

If you have old seeds, you can use them as a cover crop instead of throwing them away.  In the past I just mixed them up and plant ed them in the fall.  Once they have reached  6″ to a foot tall I simply turn them into the soil.  This is  considered a green manure.  I alway mix them with new cover crop seeds in case of poor germination.  I don’t feel so wasteful when doing this.  This is a different theory, but it does work.  I don’t use nightshade seeds though.  Legumes are the best.

Always date your seeds and don’t mix old seeds with new!  You can keep them in their original package so you still have all the information. 

One more word on old seeds.  Sometimes you may get and old heirloom seed that is priceless.  Please don’t throw them away.  I once was very lucky to have the opportunity to grow  Anasazi bean seeds that came from a cave and they were supposed to be 800 year old seeds. Priceless!  I carefully prepared my garden bed and gave these seeds the best attention possible.  They were treated like my own children, only I kept them away from other bean friends.  I only had a few dozen seeds and three germinated.  That was still so exciting!  They struggled, and grow slow.  At the end of the season we finally got a few blossoms.  They did indeed get a few pods with few seeds in each before the season was over.  Normally you will start to harvest beans from 50-70 days depending on the variety.  These beans took a 165 days to reach dry bean harvest.  I am so glad we live in an area that has a  long growing season.  From two dozen seeds we went down to 6 new viable seeds.   But they were new seeds from our past!  Each year they grow a little stronger, gaining few at a time.  After 12 years I have 41 seeds.  This is preserving our heritage seeds, not performing dinner for 20.   I hope you can see the difference in keeping seed for production and keeping seed for heritage.  Maybe eventually the Anasazi bean seed will someday reach vim and vigor again, but for now it is purely grown for the novelty of it.

A fabulous book on saving seeds is Suzanne Ashworth’s book, Seed to Seed.  She teaches you how to save and preserve your own vegetable seeds.

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My Favorite Perennial Flowers

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I can pick two perennial flowers that will always be at the top of the list for my favorites.  Not just because of their beauty or their ability to grow great just about anywhere (here in the hot desert of Southern Utah), but because they look absolutely stunning together and they come in so many varieties these days.  I just think the two together are rather romantic!  Rudbeckia is an old-time favorite.  When you hear the word “Rudbeckia” you probably aren’t sure of what flower that is, but a common Rudbeckia is the “black-eyed Susan, Goldstrum”, one of which I’m sure many know.  Yes,  I love the good old black-eyed Susan, but lets step outside the box for a minute.    Prairie Sun, Chim Chiminee, Chocolate Orange, Denver Daisy, Solar Eclipse, Maxima, and so many others with and amazing array of rich colors.  You just can’t have one!  Echinacea the other sturdy, everlasting choice also known as coneflower and for its roots medicinally.   Again, there are so many to choose from.  I have several that I grow just because of their names, like; Green Wizard.  Not a flashy one but truly unique.  Milkshake, as you can imagine white, but this one has a double center as does the Hot Papaya’, but splashing with color.

Both Echinacea and Rudbeckia like the same type of soil, water conditions and light, so it’s easy to grow them together in groups.  Although the soil conditions don’t have to be great, your perennials will thrive if you give your soil a little love and care before planting.  I always add compost to the planting spot and work it in to loosen the soil.  Plant these long living jewels about 1 ft apart and water in well.  They will spread over the years, so give them some room.  I don’t like to grow these in pots.  The first year they are establishing their root system so they will require plenty of water to get them off to a good start.  Evenly moist soil will do the trick.   After about a year they can dry out in between watering without any damage.  Planting them in full sun will give them the best blooms, but even a little shade they will tolerate.  The great gift of these perennials is that they usually bloom beautifully the first year, so they don’t necessarily follow the old rule of perennials,  Which is:  The first year they sleep, the second they creep, and the third they leap.  Both of these varieties bloom from summer till frost, assuming you give them a little bit of care of deadheading them.  Just simply clip off the spent, or almost spent flowers just above the next bud in line.  This will keep your plant looking fabulous and healthy.  Perennials, including both Rudbeckia and Echinacea are considered low maintenance, but not, no maintenance.  Everything needs a little love, care and nourishment to remain happy.  After frost, cut them back to ground level.  Make sure they are marked so you don’t disturb the roots while dormant.  `Rudbeckia and Echinacea both make great cut flowers too!  What a pretty center piece for a casual outside dinner.   I like to feed mine an organic flower food during bloom time, but once seems to be plenty during the season with an application of compost every spring.  Few pests seem to enjoy feasting on the flowers, but grasshoppers  like the leaves, so pay attention early.  As an extra, butterflies are often found spending a leisure afternoon on the tantalizing flowers.  What a picture!

If you haven’t already found a spot to plant two new favorites I’m sure you will enjoy for years to come, do it this evening, or heck…NOW! 

Organic Flower Fertilizer,  Nolo Bait for Grasshoppers

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