If you read my last post, you will know that I am experimenting – isn’t all gardening experimenting? And that’s what makes it really fun!
About 10 days ago, I planted seeds for broccoli raab, cauliflower, and collards and placed the 4″ pots in a wicking bed. Well, yesterday (at 9 days) I checked them.
The broccoli raab had sprouted, as had the collards. However, the cauliflower was having difficulty. Since the cauliflower was on another wicking raft, I moved it to the raft with its cole buddies. Also, I was told that sometimes it is necessary to top water till fully moist before the wicking is started – sort of like priming a pump.
Here’s a picture of the little seedlings! It’s another 70 degree day today and tomorrow, with temperatures dipping into the 60s in the next couple of days. But still not close to freezing. I’m optimistic that I can grow them to transplant size. Although, in the wicking bed I could easily protect them, while the water reservoir maintains a more constant temperature.
Note the bits of green to the left and barely visible in the middle.
Various planting guides stop at about November, while others continue on through the winter, recommending what plants can still be seeded.
In the past, I’ve tended to plant my carrots as late as the first of November (when the tomatoes are dying back), and reap a harvest in February and March of great carrots that grew slowly but fully during the winter. I’ve also planted turnips in October, to have very juicy turnips for Thanksgiving.
This year, I decided to try an experiment and plant (by seed) three crops even this late – I’m writing this November 17. The three crops are winter-hardy: collards, cauliflower, and broccoli raab.
I’m fortunate enough to have a nifty bottom watering container on the property where I’m renting. See the picture.
If you have taken a permaculture course, you may recognize this concoction. It is an IBC tote that has had the top third cut off, PVC pipe is inserted so that a greenhouse or shadehouse can be created; the tote has water in it, upon which is floating styrofoam rafts covered with fabric (wool or cotton). The fabric wicks the water up to the top of the rafts, on which you place your pots with seedlings. The next picture will show what the collards and broccoli raab containers look like, all floating on their raft.
So… I took some 4″ pots left from transplanting herbs into a garden bed, filled them with rich, rich soil from the keyhole bed I’d built (a compost pile by any other name) and which we’d broken down and salvaged the soil.
Then I planted seeds and soaked the seed medium. Then I placed on the wicking raft. I’ll watch the plantings for the next several weeks and see if they (1) sprout; and (2) become viable transplants this late in the season.
Leaves – they are appearing by the bagful on curbs all over the city. And I’ve been driving about, collecting as many as I can. I particularly like the large clear bags of leaves so that I can be sure it’s just leaves, and not trash.
Leaves are gardener’s gold. They provide carbon for the compost pile. They are a good soil amendment and are great for mulch. I use them prolifically in my hugelkultur beds.
And most important – They are free.
So save your leaves and put them on your garden beds or work into your compost pile now and gather a few extra bags for use later in the year.
Remember that hugelkultur bed I installed a month or so ago? The greens are taking over! We had our first dish of greens – collards and mustard – from the garden last week. And I go through and remove ragged leaves for the hens – which they, of course, love. The greens have weathered our almost-freezes well, and the chard is beginning to take off.
Now, we’re going to be installing a spiral garden in another part of the yard, and more growing space. Stay tuned for updates!
“So what should we do with the garden this winter? It seems like it wasn’t growing things as well as it has in the past.”
That’s the question I was asked this last week.
My first response was: if they are not growing any winter vegetables, to bury the garden in leaves – several inches thick, watered down. Even some cardboard, well moistened. This will help put organic matter back into the soil. Another way to help the soil is to grow a cover crop during the winter – maybe hairy vetch – which fixes more nitrogen in the soil.
Leaves are so plentiful this time of year. If they do not come from your own lot, you can easily find bags carefully left on the curb – ripe for the removal by scavenging composters and gardeners like me! The last place they should be going is the landfill. Many community gardens are lacking the carbon/brown needed for a good compost pile – leaves on the curb are an excellent source.
Compost is another treatment you could use for wintering over, layered a few inches deep on top of the soil, and then maybe spreading some azomite to add trace minerals to the garden bed.
Azomite is said to contain as many as 70 trace minerals that are needed to grow healthy plants. We have systematically removed these trace minerals from our soils, by growing plants with simple, commercial fertilizers. The plants take up the trace minerals and, when the plants are removed, so are the minerals. However if we mineralize the soil, the plants take it up, we eat the plants and our health is improved. Then, when we compost the waste and then put it on the garden, those minerals are returned to the soil.
A good garden soil will be rich and soft. So soft, you can easily grab a handful from deep down. If it’s dry and dusty, then it is lacking in organic material.
If you are growing winter vegetables, make sure they are mulched deeply. This will not only help the plants weather cold spells, but that mulch will work its way into the soil and help improve soil fertility as well as water-holding capacity.
The bed pictured on the left was well mulched with straw before the cold weather hit. It is still growing mustard and chard, and the mulch protects the feet of the plants from freezes, as well as holding in moisture – and that protects the plants from cold, drying winter winds. By spring, the straw will have started decomposing and becomes compost to feed new plantings.
And the soil….this is where it all starts! If the soil is not healthy (read: full of micro-organisms) then it will not produce healthy plants. I’ll talk more about soil in another post – as well as give you a way to inexpensively do a soil census of your soil’s living organisms.