Spring bed prep for no-till garden

So last Fall I sowed a few beds with winter rye and mulched others just with rotten hay. The mulched beds remained in good condition over Winter. Just a quick layer of last Fall’s saved leaf compost, and I have started planting my early Spring crops in them. Peas, shallots, mustard, bok choi, that sort of thing. Frost-tolerant. The average last frost is about May 15th in my region.

Where my cold frame stood over the Winter, the mustards survived and are making big leaves for sandwiches right now. I can expect them to bolt soon, however. Bok choi died. The lettuces I sowed did not do well, only a few came up. But one cold frame resident did very well. A small patch of Claytonia. It is a cold-loving annual salad green with a thick, tender-crunchy leaf and a mild lettuce-y flavor. It is strictly a Winter/Spring item and will be rotated out when the heat hits.

claytonia

Quite succulent. You just grab a handful and twist. Eat the little flowers, too. It’s all good. Especially at the end of Winter when you’re craving those fresh garden greens!

After cutting, the rye grass covered beds will need time to mellow and will be reserved for things planted around Memorial Day or later.

We cut down the rye grass yesterday and I started piling on rotted hay. We are having about 14 hours of daylight now in the season, so the rye is not supposed to resprout after cutting. We’ll see. This is part of the back bed which has been struggling with fertility issues.

cut rye

My hay is REALLY rotting away now. One of the bales was basically humus in the middle. I need to start piling it really high on all the beds and also store some of the drier bales someplace where they won’t get wet anymore.

I’m interested in seeing how long it really takes for these rye beds to be good for planting in. Rye residue is supposed to have an allelopathic effect on subsequent crops planted too soon. However, the best potatoes I’ve ever grown have been started on freshly turned rye sod. Like, I chopped the rye down, turned over the rye sod, and immediately put seed potatoes under the sod clumps. Always an excellent crop this way.

Anyway. Keep you posted.

Forcing Tulip Bulbs on Accident

So, I bought a couple big bags of short single early tulip bulbs last fall, for forcing and giving away as blooming gifts in Winter. I stored them in the crisper drawer of my fridge to help give them their chill requirement in advance.

But when I was supposed to take them out, pot them up and give them away as holiday gifts, I totally spaced, forgot about them.

When I finally remembered, they had long yellow growth spikes coming out the tops. I took them out of the fridge a coupletree weeks ago and tucked them into a giant outdoor pot that was still full of old potting soil from last year. It was actually my old daikon radish pot from last Fall.

The tulips grew quickly, and when I looked outside the first ones up were blooming this morning.

tulips

Such a welcome sight. Did not expect this to work. They had zero roots when I smooshed them into the pot, which was still a little frozen in the middle. I have no idea if they ever grew roots or if this growth is all just from stored bulb energy.

Of course, that’s just one variety. If I recall correctly there were three different colors in there. But the only ones up so far are the nearly wild species bulbs. Hm.

Tempted to dig around in the pot to see what’s going on. But there’s not always sense in destroying a thing just to see how it works. I might be able to find out just by googling.

Vegetable Seed Soaking/ Presprouting

The seeds of some common garden vegetables are known to be difficult to germinate. They frequently fail completely, or take so long to emerge that the crop is a useless waste of space.

Many of these items are in the Umbelliferae family, such as carrots, parsley, fennel, and celery/ celeriac.

Others are commonly among the Chenopods: Chard*, beets*, and spinach.

Pre-sprouting these seeds in water saves a lot of time and effort, as well as space in the garden.

A few days before their normal outdoor sowing date, soak the seeds overnight in a jar of water. The next day, drain the water, and place the seeds on a damp paper towel. Roll it up, place in a plastic bag, and let the damp roll sit for a few days at room temperature. Check the seeds twice a day.

As soon as you see any signs of life on half the seeds, such as tiny rootlets, sow the bitty plants into their row in the garden as you would normally have done seeds. If it’s too early for them to go outside, sow them into flats or sixpacks.

soak

*Chard and beets sprout from hard fruit cases containing three seeds each. Ordinarily you would pinch out two seedlings from each trio after germination, leaving the third to grow on. By pre-sprouting, quite often you are able to separate the seedlings from the case and get many more beets/ chard out of one sowing.

Fall Goodies, Winter Prep

Butternuts, Delicata, and Tromboncino squashes are ripened and have been curing in the bay window sunlight for a couple weeks now. Having them there, just that abundance in eyeshot, is such a good satisfying feeling, it’s hard to describe.

The cucumbers have long since come down, and their patch of dirt oversown with Winter Rye. The tomatoes lingered on but were finally done in (mostly) last night with a sharp frost. I’ll be taking them down tomorrow and doing some gleaning. Still some salad toms alive in there, I saw today. So, maybe one more week of fresh garden tomatoes in my meals, until next year.

Fortunately, back in late July and early August, I sowed some Fall crops that do not care about frost. Like bok choi and Japanese turnips and golden ball turnips. The bok choi are actually getting a little long in the tooth, while the turnips are just starting to size up. I’m craving greens, so these don’t have long to live. Mwaaa ha ha aaa.

bokchoi

Then there are these lovelies.

greens

On the left, an immature brussels sprouts seedling. On the right, a red Japanese mustard. The mustards will be picked all Fall to be used mainly as a spicy wrapper for meat. They taste a lot like horseradish. The mustards will eventually be winter-killed. Except for the ones in the cold frame, which haven’t been touched yet (and won’t be until later in Winter when the garden is barren).

The brussels sprouts seedlings- I planted a dozen or so of them throughout the garden- will sit there all Winter long, looking miserable. Then in early Spring, when nothing else is happening in the garden, they will grow a massive trunk and begin pumping out hundreds of delicious tender flower shoots. I normally do this same process with hardy kale plants, but last Spring discovered by accident that brussels sprouts (planted ‘too late’ in the prior Summer) make even more delicious flower shoots than kale does.

Spring is nice, but it’s downright wonderful when you plan ahead to have extra-nice things then. Otherwise it’s barely worth the effort to live through the motherfucking Winter. If we  can be honest, here. Not that I’m living through Winter just for gourmet vegetables. But just that it adds to the whole Spring thing that gets our rocks off every year.

The potted Daikon radish were a stumble-y learning process. After heavily thinning a forest of seedlings a couple of times, I got the total number of plants down to five evenly spaced nice specimens in one pot about 20 inches wide by 24 inches deep.

The potted daikons did much better than the ones sown in the garden proper. They grew fast and plowed through the enriched potting soil, and are rising up out of it like radish towers. The ones planted in the regular garden are looking like they’re having trouble making a decent root in that heavy clay. So from now on, my Daikon go in pots, or maybe very tall raised beds filled with looser media than my native soil.

Daikon Radish in a pot

Straw has been shoved into this pot about five inches deep to insulate the crowns from any real bad freezes.

I have picked two 2″ x 12″ Daikons in the past week. They were the smaller ones. The three that remain are thicker at the head and still enlarging. I’d like to see how big they get! I filled the top of the pot with hay to help keep the exposed radish heads out of the drying wind.

Since they’re not truly winter hardy, I’ll drag this pot up onto the enclosed unheated porch when it gets really cold out, just to keep them in good pickable shape longer. A root cellar is really the more ideal environment for this sort of thing, but I don’t have a root cellar. I have a porch.

The porch is not ideal, but it’s what I’ve got.

The porch is already housing artichokes, lavenders, and potted strawberries. Some are parked in this cheap plastic four-shelf greenhouse thing. I took the top shelf out because the artichoke seedlings are very tall. Hope they make it through the Winter. Never tried to overwinter them this way before but have a good feeling about it.

greenhouse

Found it hard to say goodbye to these tall, bright Dahlias that sweet Nancy gave me. So they got rescued too.

dahlias

They look nice on the porch and I’m not ready to see them get killed by the cold just yet. There’s a rosemary and some other things on the porch too. More pots will be dragged in as the weather changes. Parsley. Cannas. Onions. By midwinter there’s quite a menagerie out there.

When Spring comes, I happily evict everybody. But right now, this is cozy.

Hugelkultur Pumpkin Mound

So I’ve got a big front yard area with some young-ish woods.  I want to push the woodline back a bit and get some utility out of the area, but it’s pretty far from my well.  So, to kill many bird with one stone, I built a hugelkultur mound.  First, I chopped down all the small trees and made a big pile, then mostly buried them under about 3 tons of pasture soil we’d had hilled up by a Bobcat, rich in manure and composted hay.

After that, I planted – overplanted, really – 180 jarrahdale pumpkin seeds in the mound and watered them in for a week or so with hand-carried water from the well.

sprouted_sm.jpg

After that, I scythed the weeds around the mound a couple of times, but I mostly left it alone.  After a few months of neglect, it looked like this:

full1_sm.jpg

From the south:

full2_sm.jpg

Even had one vine grow up the oak tree (fruit fell when it got too heavy, survived the fall!):

treepumpkin_sm.jpg

Today, just before harvest, it looks like this:

harvesttime_sm.jpg

Typical ripe fruit:

bluepumpkin_sm.jpg

I’m a short-fingered vulgarian, but here’s a size reference (wrist to middle fingertip: 7″):

sizeref_sm.jpg

Now, I probably could have done a lot better on numbers if I’d made a series of smaller mounds and spread them out a bit, but I’m calling this a success.  I’ve got about 2 dozen full-size, ripe fruit out there with almost no work after the 30 hours or so of building the mound.

Update on Daikon Radish in Big Pot

One: Daikon in pot growing much much faster than the ones in the ground.

Two: The thinnings (just the green tops), when simmered in a little water with garlic and butter for about half an hour, are still as tough as a boiled catcher’s mitt.

Forget about it. If knotted together, they would make an excellent twine.

Wait for the roots to grow in Fall.

Past midway, now.

The Spring peas are wayyyy long gone, and we’ve already been eating our zucchini, tomatoes, and other classic Summer fare for weeks.

In every gardening season there are successes and failures. My second biggest FAIL this season has been the potatoes. To protect them from Colorado Beetles, I had covered that potato patch in spunbonded insect cover for nearly the entire season, finally uncovering them last week. I didn’t like what I saw. The vines had already died back quite a lot.

When I dug down under the soil, it was apparent that regardless of all the water I had poured on that potato patch all season long, our deep all-Summer drought had reduced my harvest to very little. The ground just four inches under my moist compost and hay mulch was like petrified clay powder, and the potatoes were few and rodent-chewed.

I gave up on the patch entirely, and dug them all up prematurely. Looks like I got less than fifteen pounds of spuds. A very poor return. But now I can turn that same area over to quick Fall crops and recoup something, maybe.

new bed

The site of the old potato bed, re-dug and waiting for compost and Fall crop seeds.

Fortunately, many vegetables can subsist on surface moisture in a bad season. Winter squash are good this way. This is my potting bench, now getting absorbed by the butternut squash vines. They have left the garden and are exercising their might against the lawn. Since our lawn is mostly weeds anyway, they may have it.

Although, I have had to redirect them this way and that, in order to save my potting bench and some things planted on it nearby.

butternuts

It is somewhat of a pain to not be able to walk directly from the bench into the garden, anymore.

There’s a great success to balance the crappy stuff; the cucumbers. I’m on my fourth gallon of pickles, and plenty coming along. This is especially gratifying since my cukes have been getting outright assassinated at birth by cucumber beetles for the last five or six years.

Scott built this tower for me. It’s about three feet wide and deep, and nine feet tall.

I lined it with grid fence. It was originally for my pole beans. But when I looked at the seed packet right before planting, I saw that I had accidentally purchased bush beans. The very day of planting. DAMN. The whole goddamn garden had to be switched around. And the cukes went on the tower, instead. Turned out okay.

Except that picking cucumbers now, is like being inside a crowded phone booth full of bees and spiders.

cukes

Pickles on the left, slicers on the right. Keeping them from constantly knitting together in the middle has been a real issue. And the bumblebees are real nasty cunts about sharing.

So, I’ve already started planting some Fall goodies in the cleaned beds from Spring. Golden ball turnips, hakurei turnips, two kinds of pak choi, some mustard greens, some sprouting broccoli, etc. all that sort of ordinary quick-happy cold weather loving stuff.

But the stuff I’m most excited about is a new thing, of course.

daikon

Daikon! In a great big pot.

Never grown daikon radish before. I saw one in the grocery a year ago and decided I had to try it. Plus, it’s essential in really good kimchi, which I also want to make.

This very fat, mild radish grows to very long lengths- like 18 inches and longer. I need to thin these specimens out (eating the thinnings of course) and leave just one, two, or three in the pot so that I can at least harvest a couple of one-foot long specimens in Winter. This pot will be dragged onto our protected but unheated porch for the Winter, for leisurely picking much later than nature would normally allow.

Just yesterday I planted some more daikon seed in the garden, in a raised bed. Curious to see how they do compared to the potted ones.