First, a clarification, which I only recently figured out. Compost and mulch. Both staples of the organic gardener, but I never really understood the difference between the two.
Compost is broken down organic matter that is added to soil, usually in the spring or a few days-weeks before planting. It is mixed into the soil. (See here, here, here, here, and here to learn about my compost pile adventures.)
Mulch is something that sits on top of soil. It protects against weather and weeds. It may or may not add value to the soil, as it can be made of plastic, cloth, or organic material. Today, Joel and I spread out the leaves that I procured last week.
(In case you haven't noticed, I've been taking pictures from this spot on a regular basis, so that looking back it will be easy to see the progression of the garden from one vantage point. Also, if you click on the images, you will see an enlarged version.) These leaves will sit on top of the beds all winter, coming off just in time to add some compost a few days before seedlings or seeds go in the ground. Benefits of using leaves for mulch is it adds nutrients and organic matter to the soil. Over the next several months, micro- and macro-organisms will move those nutrients into the soil. In other news, I bought a new lens today. I was recently featured in a blog post done by a good friend of ours, so I figured that because I'm (nearly) famous, I should get some respectable camera gear. The Nikkor 18-200mm fits our Nikon D40. The photo above and below show off the zoom capabilities of this lens. They are taken from the same spot - above at 18mm, and below at 200mm. That's what I'm talking about. Lastly, a shot of the swiss chard in the fall garden (I was experimenting with the new lens.) The chard is slowly fading as the frost hits more frequently.
I am currently working out my garden plan for next year, and there are many considerations. One is crop rotation. The following is my very rudimentary understanding of crop rotations written without references.
Different vegetables require different nutrients - or different proportions of nutrients. These can roughly be grouped by families. So, cabbage, brusels sprouts, and cauliflower, all being of the same family, have about the same effect on the soil. Potatoes, tomatoes, and peppers likewise.
If I plant the same group of vegetables in the same spot year after year, that patch of soil would eventually be depleted of the nutrients needed by that group. Pest problems would probably also worsen each year, since the pests specific to that group could just stay put and wait for the new round of crops in the spring. These are two major reasons for crop rotation.
As I am putting my plan together, I am trying to use only vegetables of the same family within each bed. It's not a totally rigid rule, but will simplify the process of crop rotation in the future - next year, I will be able to keep the grouping of vegetables within the bed the same, just put them in a different bed that I did the previous year.
It does become a little more complicated than this. For example, lettuce loves nitrogen and beans replete soil nitrogen, so it makes sense for lettuce to follow beans. Other plants (such as broccoli, I believe) will produce all leaves and no fruit if there is too much nitrogen in the soil. Therefore, in one bed, it makes sense to plant beans one year to replete the nitrogen stores, lettuce the next year to thrive on that nitrogen, then broccoli the following year once the nitrogen level has been tempered by the lettuce. However, I don't have to worry about this too much right now, because this is year one in all of my beds. I'll get into the more subtle nuances of planning and crop rotation next winter. Until then, you can check out Eliot's books for more information (yes, we're on a first name basis now.)
Taking a tip from Paul Gardener, I had my eye out for some leaves this past week. I've read that uncovered soil in the winter is "naked." Winter weather compacts the soil, leaches away minerals, and does a host of other nasty things - unless the soil is covered. This is where the leaves come in. They keep the soil protected, and, as it slowly decomposes, add badly-needed organic matter.
Yesterday morning, on the way to work, I spotted a side street that seemed to have a plethora of large trees next to the road. And at the base of those large trees: leaves, bagged and tied, just waiting to be hauled away. I simply assumed that they don't care who hauls them away, and since I have no large trees of my own, I figured I could volunteer for the job. So this morning, on my drive to work, I pulled over, filled the back of the Tahoe with about twenty bags of leaves, and was on my way. Took less than five minutes, and felt like a little bit of a drive-by.
I'll probably wait to spread them out until some rain or snow is in the forecast. Otherwise, they'll just dry up and get blown all over the place. They will be the blanket for the garden this winter.
The Earth Knows My Name: Food, Culture, and Sustainability in the Gardens of Ethnic Americans by Patricia Klindienst
The books asks the following question: why do you garden? The author travels the United States and interviews several families of different ethnic groups about the impact of the garden in their lives and, specifically, how it has helped them transition to a new home. It builds on the metaphor of a plant starting in one place, then being transplanted and establishing roots in another. Great stuff. Moving and inspirational.
I have moved around a lot in my lifetime, never living in one place for more than a couple years. This book left me wishing (I almost said "yearning!") for a homeland to call my own, but also instilled hope that I can place roots wherever I am, despite my wandering.
Camie is not a big fan of green beans. Won't eat them, she says. So I'm keeping the beans under control and going with only four varieties: Isar (Johnny's #2491), which is a yellow French bush bean; and fortex (#34), which is a classic pole bean. Third variety is fava beans, Windsor (#2141), which I've never eaten before, but seem big and delicious and I'm anxious to try them. Fourth is soybeans, Butterbeans (#104), for some delicious edamame. These are also a bush bean. I may add on some dry beans later on.
Timing: I'm going to sow seeds after danger of frost has past and soil temp is above 65 degrees. I could start them indoors before that, but they grow so fast once in the ground that I'd probably only gain a few days to a week at most, and starting indoors requires some significant labor. For fava beans, they are planted when the peas are planted -- first thing in the spring and possible late in the summer for a fall/winter crop.
My rows are 30" accros, so I'll plant the bush beans (the Isar) in rows across the bed, 5 or 6 inches apart, 16 inches between rows. These need to be planted in succession because they need to be harvested about every day to prevent toughness.
The pole beans will be planted using a trellis system, comprised of (3) - 8' 2x2 @ 7.5 ft. on center driven 2 feet into the ground, with a 2x2 cross piece at the top attached with a galvanized nail (drill hole to prevent splitting). In reality, any number of trellis systems would work, but this is the one I'm planning on now. The idea is to get these up in the air so the beans grow straighter, faster, and take up less ground space.
I will put the trellis down the middle of the row, and have one row of beans on each side. Untreated twine will extend down from the trellis crossbar to each bean vine, making a sort of "A" shape. At the end of the season, the plant and the twine will go in the compost pile. One advantage of the "A" frame is that it can be easily covered with plastic to make a mini-greenhouse and extend the harvest of the pole beans past the first frost a ways.
An alternate trellis would have one row of beans down the middle of the bed with one trellis on each side. Twine would extend from the trellises down to the bean plant, making a "V" shape. This wouldn't give you as many bean plants (only one row instead of two), but would make harvesting easier as gravity would help the beans hang down from the outside on the "V" frame rather that from the inside of an "A" frame. But space is limited, to I'll likely stick to the A-frame style and just deal with the slightly increased difficulty of harvesting.
So first in alphabetical order, and first in terms of when I need to start working on it, is the artichoke. "In Utah?!" you may ask. Well, yes. Here's the plan - pretty much straight from Eliot Coleman.
Artichokes are traditionally perennials, but require more mild winters than we have here to survive. But they can also be grown as annuals with a little manipulation.
To grow as an annual, artichokes need to be fooled into believing that they are in their second season of growth. So I'll start about January 15th, starting the seedlings indoors where they can germinate in the warm temperature. This goes on for 6 weeks and is their first "summer" season. At that point- about early March, the seedlings will go outside to a cold frame, where the temperature needs to be between 25 to 50 degrees F. This is their first "winter" season, and while they need the cold weather to be fooled into their winter cycle, they also need protection from frost and freezing during this time. Hence, the cold frame (I may do a separate post on this some other time, but you can probably google it for now.) They stay in the cold frame until the last frost date, which, I've heard, is somewhere around the end of April/early May for Salt Lake City. At this point, they are transplanted to the garden, where they start their second "summer" season and produce fruit.
I'm ordering the Imperial Star Globe Artichokes (#2120), one packet contains 25 seeds for $3.95. They need 24" spacing, so I'll probably use only half of the seeds, at most. The other half will be up for trade at the seed exchange.
Now is the time of year to start planning what veggies to do next year. Most of the labor for the year is finished, just a few more beds to prep, but it feels like it's almost done. Maybe by this weekend it will be wrapped up and I can just watch while Mother Nature does her work.
Meanwhile, I'm flushing out my veggies list, going through the veggies one by one and mapping everything out on a calendar on when it needs to happen. That way, when the time comes, I can simply act.
I am ordering most of my seeds from Johnny's Seeds for two reasons. First, Eliot Coleman recommends them and I trust him. Second, my in-laws gave me a gift certificate there for my birthday. I have heard it can sometimes take a while to have seeds shipped. So I figure to have my list completed by mid-December.
Seeds are not cheap, but there are things that can be done to ameliorate the cost. This is where a seed exchange comes in. Lets say I want to plant 20 tomato plants this year. I can buy one pack of seeds and grow twenty of the same types of tomatoes for $4 (boooooring). Or, I can grow 20 different varieties, one of each variety, and spend $80 (20 varieties x $4 each). But, with a seed exchange involving twenty people, each person buys one variety of tomato seeds, brings them to the group, and gives each of the other people one seed from their packet. So, each person still spends $4, but can grow 20 different varieties of tomatoes, and they have met and interacted with twenty different gardeners and shared advice and tips. Everybody wins (except, I suppose, the seed company.) I think the seed exchange should take place around the end of January or so to allow adequate germination and seedling growth in the greenhouse before they go into the garden.
Step by Step Organic Vegetable Gardening, by Shepherd Ogden
The second most influential book I have read, a close second behind Eliot Coleman. Also a cold-winter gardener in New England. This book is nicely geared towards home gardeners and, like Coleman, Ogden offers his version of the principles of organic gardening with tips and recommendations based on his experience. Easy to read, and well organized, it even includes some pictures of Shepherd working in the garden in his jean shorts. Awesome stuff.
His grandfather, Sam Ogden, wrote one of the first organic gardening books about forty or fifty years ago - way before organic was cool. Shepherd builds on the foundation that his grandfather built, and includes more recent research and practices, and makes some alternative suggestions to his grandfather's techniques. Each chapter begins with a quote from Sam's book. Great section on the importance of compost led directly to the pile in my backyard.
The five stages of preparing the garden beds where the driveway used to be.
Starting point: asphalt Step one: bust up the asphalt with a sledge hammer and take it to the dump. Step two: use pick-axe to loosen up the ground underneath the asphalt, which, as you can see, is pretty much full of both large and small stones. Step three: double dig the bed. This involves digging down to a depth of about 12 inches, removing all stones, and mixing in compost. Step four: after letting the bed sit for about a week, plant the veggies - in this case, garlic. Step five: wait until next summer and harvest.
In this last picture, you can see most of the different steps:
The first real snow of the season fell last week, and the fall garden is only a little bit worse for the wear. The victim was the peas. The plants are fine, but the pea pods took a major hit and won't recover. I shelled several of the pods for part of my lunch today. Also for lunch were swiss chard, kale, and a handful of lettuce, all from the garden. The broccoli is starting to flower. Slowly, though. We'll see what happens with these - who knows how long it will take to get to the point where we can harvest them. So far, we've only been eating some of the leaves, mixed with kale and swiss chard and stir-fried.
As part of my efforts to start a local gardening club, I made this sign over the past couple days and installed in on the fence this afternoon. The idea is that passer-by's will see the sign, go to the website, send me an email, and after a while, we'll have a community of gardeners all connected and helping each other out.
When I told Camie what my plans were, she agreed to let me put a sign up, as long as it looked nice. I hope this one is satisfactory.
Working out in the garden today, trying to complete my list. I looked at the grapevine, and remembered that I had left one cluster on the vine, just to see what would happen. I had forgotten about it for over a month. To my great satisfaction it was still there, and the grapes: delicious!
In my mind, this is part of what growing your own food is all about: a quiet moment out in the garden, taking a break from the work, and enjoying a bunch of grapes grown a few feet away. Then, back to work, with the taste still lingering.
I moved the compost pile again last weekend, because it had cooled down significantly. I've been curious to see how it would do with the cold weather and the moisture that we've had. Well, it was warm. Not hot like it has been previously. Temperature? I'm not sure, because I think my thermometer is broken. I think it may be too wet. The micro-organisms need oxygen to work, and if there is too much water, they can't access the oxygen. So, after I took this picture, I put a tarp over it to protect it from the winter wetness. I'll probably leave it on until the spring. I'm hoping that when I pull the tarp off the pile (with a flourish, of course) it will be a dark brown crumbly mass ready to feed the garden.
I've been putting off planting the garlic until one of the beds was ready to plant, and today was the day. I planted four different varieties: early red Italian, German brown, Chesnok red, silver white (aka Silverskin). My initial bias is towards the Chesnok red, which had a nice purple color and large cloves. These are shown planted in the picture below. I planted all four varieties - two pounds total - in one bed, dimensions 15' x 30". It took 6 rows. I probably spaced them about 4-5 inches apart, even though 6" is recommended. I should cover them with straw, so I'll need to track down a bale of it somewhere.
I'm keeping my garden plan/journal on the computer via a combination of the blog and drawing on Google SketchUp. In this first image you can see the garlic planted in the front right bed.
In this one, a view from the top down showing the approximate locations of the garlic varieties.
Sorry for the delay. I know you wait eagerly for every new post. Two problems: it's dark before I'm home, so I can't work or take pictures after work; and I'm in a busy rotation this month so don't have as much time to work outside. But this weekend I'll have both daylight and time. I look forward to it (and I KNOW you do too).
Four Season Harvest, by Eliot Coleman The New Organic Grower, by Eliot Coleman
Eliot Coleman lives in Maine, and grows vegetables year round. In Maine. It gets cold there. This is not an easy thing to do. And, if he can do it there, we can do it pretty much anywhere (I'm assuming none of you live north of Maine.)
The principles of organic gardening are explained beautifully, and he dispenses his wisdom based on years of experience. "The New Organic Grower" (TNOG) is geared more towards market growers - legitimate farmers. "Four Season Harvest" is for the backyard gardener - it is not as comprehensive as TNOG, but stands pretty well by itself. I recommend both, using FSH as a guidebook and TNOG as a reference. These books, more than any others, have dramatically influenced what I am doing in my backyard. They contain a ton of information, which is wonderful, but I have to keep reminding myself that I don't have to try all of it during my first real season of gardening (but definitely in my second.)