Monday, October 11, 2010

The Fall Garden

Has it really been 6 weeks since I've written in this blog?! If there's anyone out there who reads this I just want you to know that it's not because I haven't been gardening, on the contrary! The garden continues to give us great food. It's just that school has started and I've been back to teaching full time. Getting the school year going for a class of fourth graders takes an enormous amount of time and energy. Unfortunately the blog was one of the items pushed off the plate. But today is Columbus Day and while I detest the idea behind the holiday I love the extra day off. Shallow, I know.

I've been working in the garden on and off all weekend. Actually I could say that I've been working in the garden on and off over the past 6 weeks. But for this weekend's worth...what a glorious weekend! I had two main objectives this weekend. One - harvest anything that a hard frost will take because we've had 1 or 2 soft frosts already. With that in mind I harvested all the squashes, melons, and tomatoes. The second objective was to plant the garlic. Not much of a to-do list I know, but we also had two and a half chords of wood to stack. We stacked the wood on Saturday so I can devote my attention to the garden. I got the tender veggies picked and the garlic planted. Now what!? Well it really is time to start cleaning the garden and putting some of it to bed for the winter. Every year I say I'm going to plant a cover crop and I never seem to get to it. I understand the benefits of this practice so why can't I get it together to do it? One year, many years ago, I planted winter rye (a cover crop) over my entire garden. It grew beautifully! Then the spring came and for some reason or another I didn't get the rototiller going on time and the bloody rye took root and hold of the garden. What a mess!! Note to self, follow the guidelines when planting a cover crop. Another year I planted clover in all my pathways with the good intention of just mowing them each week. Well, I made my rows too narrow and couldn't fit the lawn mower between the beds. What a mess!! So you see my reluctance. Here's my more current dilemma. I don't like to use a rototiller. For the past 10 years of so I use one only to break ground in new garden areas. I don't know, I guess I worry about the worms. I hate the thought of tilling the poor things in. Silly, I know. I've talked with folks from FEDCO and Johnny's about a "non-rototil" option and they don't seem to have one. Or they tell me to be sure to turn it at exactly "this" stage. Well, the likely hood of getting something done at "just the exact stage" is slim at best. So I've shied away from planting a cover crop. I guess I also figure that for the 7 or 8 years that I've been gardening in these spots I've put enough manure and compost in to totally alter the physical make up of the soil. It's pretty good stuff out there. So if you know of a cover crop that I can use that is gentle and doesn't require rototilling or exact timing of turning it under to prevent it from taking hold in a garden please let me know!

Garlic....I just searched my blog for garlic and see that last year at almost this exact time I had the same routine! Planting garlic, harvesting pumpkins, garden clean up, stacking wood. Aren't the natural cycles just reassuring? Every year I buy a few heads of garlic, gently pry the bulbs apart, and wish I bought more. This year is no exception. Although the reality is that the garlic I plant (about 6 heads/30ish bulbs) is usually enough to take me through most of the winter. Usually the last few we eat are just beginning to get a little brown and soft around the edges. So I guess I plant enough. For every bulb you plant you get a garlic head. Now, you could probably plant garlic bulbs from the grocery store but I don't recommend it. We want to plant the best of the best. Bulbs from suppliers are just that. I know they will make gorgeous garlic plants and heads for harvesting. When it's time to plant fall time, I find I follow a simple routine. Just like last year, and every year before, I pull out a bed of plants that are done. This year it was one of my heirloom tomato beds. I harvested all the green tomatoes that were left on the plants, pulled the plants and hauled them off to the compost pile, turned the soil, added compost, and planted the individual bulbs about 8" apart in rows about 8" apart. Every year I pick a different spot to plant the garlic. Rotating plantings of all garden plants is important. This simple practice helps trick the pesky bugs and ensure the same nutrients are being used by the same crop year after year and thus depleting your soil of specific nutrients. Following beans with corn for example is good because corn likes the nitrogen that the bean roots add to the soil. At least I think that's how that goes. Also, it's good to keep those pesky squash bugs guessing by moving pumpkins around so they are growing in different areas of the garden each year.

Speaking of pumpkins, what a pumpkin year we had this year! Holy cow! I think they really liked that GGS (great goat sh--) that we used this year. Tons of big, healthy, pumpkins. My son and I enjoyed harvesting them all. I'll have to go back to see what type I planted. My entire upper garden was taken over by pumpkins. But it was mostly corn up there anyway so that worked just fine. Didn't mind losing the carrots and basil that was up there since we had plenty in the lower garden.

Planting garlic (from

Back to garlic, once the garlic bulbs are in I mark the bed so I remember where it is in the spring. Don't want to accidentally turn under the garlic bed! Once the ground starts to freeze I will cover the bed with a good amount of straw. Not now though. Don't want pesky mice or moles taking up lodging under the straw and into that soft soil where the tender garlic bulbs are.
Here's a neat visual "how to grow" garlic tutorial: In this tutorial they say to soak the garlic bulbs in baking soda and liquid seaweed before planting. I've never heard of that or done it but I'm going to designate a small bed this year of garlic that I do this treatment to. I'll post next year how it goes. Or if you do this please let us know next summer how your garlic grows.
If you're interested in the different garlic varieties, such as which ones to grow if you want to braid them, check this out:,7518,s1-5-16-230,00.html?cm_mmc=OGNews-_-2010_10_13-_-growingatoz-_-garlic_varieties

Fall Coldframe

This year I'm trying something new and already I see how I want to do it differently next year. I'm playing with a cold frame. I planted lettuce, spinach, onions, carrots and about a week ago put the cold frame Ger made me over them. At night I close the frame and reopen it in the morning. So far the lettuce is doing fantastic. Spinach and onions are coming but more slowly and nada on the carrots. I also stuck in a planter of mint and thyme. I didn't want to plant those plants there as they are perennial and mint especially is very invasive. Mint is the last thing I want in my veggie garden! Or any garden for that matter. I have several beds of mint that are well away from other plantings. Then they can take over to their hearts content. For next year I also want a bed of herbs in a second cold frame. I'm thinking parsley, thyme, sage and chives would be good for that. I'll try basil too but don't expect that to fair too well in a fall cold frame.

Inside the cold frame

This has been an amazing tomato year. Like all the other area tomato growers I've had tomatoes galore. My only problem is that I'm the only one in my family who likes tomatoes! It's lonely being the only tomato fan. Eating bruschetta alone is no fun. So a few weeks ago I brought in a bunch of tomatoes, a bouquet of sweet basil, some fresh mozzarella cheese, some olive oil, and reduced balsamic vinegar to work for a special treat. It was my daughter's idea. She said that someone brought in Caprese Salad to her work and it was a hit. So that's what I did. And she was right, it was a hit! The smell of basil permeated the entire hallway. LOVELY!! Another teacher brought in some delicious bread to go with the bruschetta I also made.
Here's a photo of Caprese Salad -
Speaking of basil; I read a great book to my kids this year and the main character's name is Basil. So we planted sweet basil and are they loving it. I brought in a few seedlings I had growing at home just so they could smell it while they wait for their plants to grow. It's fun to watch a child go over to the grow lab and rub the bottom of the leaf and smell it, AND enjoy it!

Alliums and herbs...this year we had a good onion harvest and it was also the first year I planted scallions. We have been using scallions all summer and I've been giving them away and I still have tons!! I'll see what happens when the frosts come as to how they hold up. Leeks are looking divine! Had some last night on fish and potatoes and they were tender and sweet. Yumm! Herbs, in particular sage and thyme are going strong and tasting delicious. I brought the rosemary plants inside as they are tender here. For the winter I will move them to a spot in front of a window in the second coldest room in the house. They seem to like it there. Remember if you bring rosemary inside don't let it dry out!! That is sure death to a rosemary plant.

I've talked your ear off (plus I've got garden work to do) so I'll close here. May well be my last post of the season. But be assured I'm still gardening even if it's only under a single cold frame. Who knows, maybe I'll use this blog to keep you all posted on how our gardening at school goes this year. Last summer was a disaster. Lousy spot, not enough sun, no water...gee I wonder why it didn't do well!? Ha!

Cheers for now. Hope you've had a nice garden season and enjoy the down time this season brings.
Remember, gardens make the world fresh and clean,