Fall Gardening — I Keep Trying!
When I was a backyard gardener, I made a few attempts at starting a fall crop of spinach. As far as I can remember, none ever came up. I was puzzled by this, but I wasn’t motivated enough to try and figure out why. Now at Panther’s Hollow, I’ve been more serious about making my garden as productive as possible and have read a number of articles and attended presentations on the joys of fall — or even year-round — gardening.
So far my efforts have focused mainly on growing brassicas, since they are cool-season and, I believe, mostly frost-tolerant crops. Well, last year I had a number of cabbages started when the groundhog apparently got in and nibbled them all down to nothing! This year I put a hot wire around the bottom of my fence, but I haven’t seen the groundhog since mid-summer, so I can’t say whether or not that would have helped. In any case, I now have a few decent kale plants (a first for me), a few cabbages, and some very chewed-up Brussels sprout plants to show for my efforts. But out of the couple dozen spinach seeds I sowed, only seven plants have emerged and survived — and these are pitifully small!
On the advice of a neighbor, I set out my Brussels sprout plants in July rather than in May as I used to, but I think I’ll return to my earlier practice next year. With only three weeks left in the growing season, they haven’t developed even the tiniest sprouts. I don’t think it’s entirely due to the dry weather, or the fact that I planted them in a layer of only half-finished compost mixed with a little soil over a kill mulch of cardboard and weeds.
I have noticed, though, that the rows of kale I planted in bare earth grew much better than the ones I planted in the compost mixture, and I’ve since learned that brassicas need really firm soil. I wanted to do the kill mulch because the weeds were so bad, but obviously this was a bad idea for brassicas. In fact, even the few spinach plants that came up in my bare-soil plot have done better than in the beds where I added the above-mentioned compost. It’s those darned wood shavings I use for chicken litter — they take forever to break down! I’m starting to use straw more than shavings, so hopefully in the future I’ll actually have finished compost when I want it. But here’s another thing I’m learning: it’s probably better to add nothing to the soil than to add half-finished compost!
Besides that, I guess I need to start using row covers for my cabbages and Brussels sprouts, since I’ve been plagued with a never-ending stream of cross-striped cabbage worms. I’ve been squishing them almost every day, and there are always more. It’s especially difficult with these two vegetables, since they start in the rolled-up leaves at the top where you can’t see them. I tried draping burlap over the plants, but that didn’t seem to help. I wonder if diatomaceous earth would have worked? Fortunately, the kale plants seem to have escaped their attention for the most part, along with the red cabbages.
Here’s a question about red cabbages: I understand they have to overwinter and will take a full year to mature. Can anyone tell me how this is done? Do I have to mulch them over completely before frost hits, or what?
I made another interesting discovery with regard to the cabbage worms: I’ve noticed a multitude of brownish moths feeding constantly on the marigolds that were blooming at the edge of the brassica patch. I suspect these are the cabbage worm moths, so I’ve since removed the marigolds. The intercropping enthusiasts seem to recommend planting marigolds practically everywhere, but I guess in some situations it’s best to cut them back before flowering. Too bad — they look so nice in the garden!
Grow Great Garlic: Tips from Years of Growing
Photo by Sarah Joplin Any time you have even relative success in the garden, it is cause for celebration. I’ll admit that garlic is pretty easy to grow, but like anything, the added qualifier is: if you know how. We’ve grown garlic for a number of years and learned along the way. In turn, our […]
A Guide to Broadleaf Grains
Longtime Maine farmer and homesteader Will Bonsall shares his knowledge and experience with various broadleaf grains.
Garden Crop Rotation Simplified
One of the biggest obstacles for gardeners is crop rotation. This sounds like a simple task, but when you take into account which plants are companion plants, what type of soil each needs, and try to work those into crop rotation, well it gets a little confusing. Crop rotation is necessary whether you plant in […]