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January 28th, 2011

Grow Your Own Mulch

don_tnIt’s a gray day in Charlotte, but I did manage to get a plot bedded up and ready to plant Tuesday before the rains came in. I might try some cover crops managed as “in situ” mulches (cover crops left to smother weeds around crop plants) this growing season.

With in situ mulches, timing is the trick. If I overwinter cereal rye, it goes steroidal on me by mid-spring. So, I’m going to try planting it deliberately late (like now) along with a legume, probably winter pea. Then I should be able to cut it while it is still manageable, before it tillers.

Soil temps should be warm enough for germination now, my thermometer says.

I had some notable success with rye mowed short as a “mulch” at the Urban Ministry community garden in May. We transplanted tomatoes into the rye stubble and piled up the straw in the paths. Worked very well. The rye completely dies out in our summer heat.

Since I didn’t put in fall cover crops this year, it also gave me a chance to spade some plots (not much area, 1200 square feet) in November and give the freezing-thawing cycle a chance to work on the soil while there’s very little risk of erosion or nutrient loss. And now, I’ll come in with something growing (besides weeds—though some weeds are very valuable cover/nutrient-mining “crops” themselves). The soil tilthed up very, very nicely. It also gave me a chance to mix lime into the topsoil. With pH 5-ish soils, we need to do that every three years or so. Or grow blueberries. —Don Boekelheide, Charlotte, North Carolina

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January 12th, 2011

Lizards: Snail Exterminators

We usually have a hard time with peas down here in Florida. They just like it too cool for an extended period. Aren’t they one of the first things you far-north gardeners plant? When I got the first cold snap of the winter, I planted the ‘Magnolia Blossom’ snap peas that the rest of the Test Gardeners trialed last spring. Needless to say, they loved it. Great germination, still growing steadily. Some have had a bit of snail damage, and here’s the reason: My usual snail control is our great population of snakes, toads, and agama lizards. They apparently took a cruise to the Caribbean during the December cold spell, but they’re back working now. Andres Mejides, Homestead, Florida

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January 10th, 2011

The Cold-Weather Chicken Dance

debbie_tnWith respect to the recent posts about chickens and cold weather: I’ve also found that my girls (and boy) do fine in 20 degree temps (they’re heavy dual-purpose breeds). It’s the humans that have problems and worry about them.

The first time I had hens, I worried and called my “chicken mentor” (everyone needs someone like this the first time they raise chickens—or any animals, really). I’ll never forget when she very diplomatically asked me, “Why do you think they’re cold?” Well, they were alternately pulling one leg up into their bellies, then the other. OK, maybe they were cold, she conceded. She recommended I put plastic around the coop’s hardware cloth walls and straw down on the hardware cloth floor. That did the trick. The hardest thing about these low temps is making sure they have water that isn’t ice. —Debbie Leung, Olympia, Washington

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January 7th, 2011

Warding Off Frost in Florida

I’m sure those of you who are fans of the Weather Channel know what kind of December we Florida farmers had! Even though Homestead is south of Miami, we tend to run anywhere from 10 to 15 degrees colder than Miami. (No concrete, asphalt, etc. to absorb heat during day and release at night.) Several times our nighttime lows dipped to the middle 30’s.

At first glance, that doesn’t seem so bad to gardeners from colder zones, but December is the height of our planting season. This would be the equivalent of northerners getting those low temps in June, right?

Luckily, I can keep most of the farm warm with our drip irrigation system. This just involves turning on the pump at a certain low temp, and praying for the best.

The real problem for us is the microgreens that we grow. They need water to keep them warm, but too much water will do them in. They are a big chunk of our farm income, so I stay up all night and check on them every half hour.

I’ve wanted to be a farmer ever since spending time on my Uncle Ralph’s farm from preschool on. Sometimes around 3 a.m., though, I think of the adage: “Be careful what you wish for.” —Andres Mejides, Homestead, Florida

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January 6th, 2011

Seedy Saturday

linda_tnIt has been pretty cold here. My two cold hoop houses are in full production for winter now, with arugula and all varieties of mustard, chard, and kale. My chicken and ducks are sharing one hoop house with the greens—blocked off, of course, from the greens, or the greens would be no more.

I’ve got a gardening group going up here too, kind of like yours, Bill. It is a very committed but small group. We share ideas, problems, and seeds, of course.

I’m also in the middle of planning a pretty big event called “Seedy Saturday.” These events are held all across Canada. It is basically a time of learning and a sharing of open-pollinated seeds. Last year we had about 500 folks attend. If it gets any bigger this year, I’ll be seeking a new venue.

I’m still doing some CSA baskets. I had lots of storable root veggies this year, squash, and cabbage, and with the hoop house greens, the baskets are pretty darn good! —Linda Crago, Wellandsport, Ontario

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