by paul spencer
Sun Jun 1st, 2008 at 10:32:32 AM EST
With all of the serious matters at-hand, as reflected in the recent diaries, I hesitate to write such an ordinary diary. But life goes on - for most of us - and gardens deliver many benefits in any kind of times, interesting or otherwise.
I returned to the Pacific NW on May 5, took a couple of days to recover, then went to work on the fallow garden. I had turned under the leaves, plus some composted bovine manure, before I left, so the garden soil was ready to plant.
As it turned out, while we were gone, this area had one of its occasional late winter seasons: snow, near-freezing temperatures at ground level, even some hail. So, at least for my area, this is not so belated as it might have been. (Somehow the peach and plum blossoms made it through and have set fruit; the apple trees were smart enough to wait for better conditions.)
Since then, it's been more rainy than sunny, but that has made transplanting vegetable sets and fruit plants easy with little set-back of the transplants. On to process - very important step - make the hole for a transplant about twice as big as you think the plant needs. Also, dig the dirt somewhat deeper than the final hole to loosen it, so that the roots can penetrate easily.
If you have substantial clay, literally dig out the hole and toss the clay out of the garden. You'll need good topsoil to replace it, and some sand is useful, too. The problem with 'solid' clay is primarily drainage. Almost no garden plant wants to stand in water.
Popping the set out of the greenhouse container can be problematic. Try to keep the roots and the surrounding potting mix together as well as you can. In all cases you will invert the container with your hand underneath and the plant sticking out between your fingers. Some of the plastic seedling containers can be compressed by a finger on the bottom to release the root-ball; clay pots can be gently rapped on the rim, say by tapping one part of the rim on a step or post.
When I start sets from seed, I generally put 3 seeds in the pot, somewhat toward the center, then choose 1 or 2 of the survivors and remove any extras early-on. I use commercial potting soil for vegetable gardens, which is not strictly 'organic', but it's one of them little 'modern conveniences' that you hear so much about. Compact this soil tightly, because it will still 'breathe' well enough. This makes just about the right situation for later transplanting in terms of maximizing root/soil integrity. (By the way - don't get excited and start sets too early. They'll just get 'leggy' due to too little sunlight; plus they'll be so used to indoor conditions that the set-back from planting will inhibit their recovery. Of course, if you have a greenhouse or cold-frame and know about these things, then you're all set.)
Throw in some topsoil and compost, as you fill in around the transplant. When the hole is full, compact the soil firmly, but not too enthusiastically. Water thoroughly; repeat, water thoroughly. If no rain is forthcoming, water thorougly again, soon and often. Mulch, if you have appropriate material. I stick to straw, leaves, wood/stem chips. I've tried newspaper, plastic sheet, and special 'matting'; but there are too many down-sides, such as plastic shreds in the soil after awhile. Plus the 'matting', which 'breathes' and the newspapers don't seem to work that well for weed-suppression. The weeds just seem to figure out how to defeat them. Same with organic mulch, but the idea there is just to reduce the quantity of weeds and to keep the soil loose for ease of weed removal.
Speaking of top-dressing (mulch, that is - I use very little fertilizer; and, when I do, I mix it into the soil) - here is a trick for small seeds, such as those of carrots and lettuce. I put sand into a small jar, add about 3 times the amount of seed that I would like to see as plants in a row (or in a broadcast), mix the seeds and sand, then run the mixture into the row (or broadcast them) at a rate that will get me from start-of-row to end-of-row. Since I tend toward parsimoniousness, I generally have some sand/seed left over - which I toss into the row anyway, so what's the point in parsimony in this case?
In the case of carrots, lettuce, and radishes, I cover the row with more sand, leaving it somewhat ditched. Carrots in particular make weak seedlings, and the sand increases germination substantially. Radishes on the other hand attract some kind of insect whose larvae make trails in the root. The sand (sharp sand, not round-grain) seems to inhibit their approach, and the radishes are rarely attacked.
Larger seeds, such as beans, peas, and corn are planted about 2 - 4 cm deep. Compost in the row is good, but composted manure is practically a necessity for heavy nitrogen-feeders, such as corn. If your soil has reasonably good organic content, compacting the soil over the seeds creates no problems. These seeds will seek the light with vigor. I plant double-rows for beans and peas; corn needs to be planted in blocks, because the pollen is transferred by wind and gravity. Lately, I have been planting corn with peas or with climbing beans, because the corn supports the vines.
Peas like cool weather, but the seed will rot if conditions are too wet and cold, but you can always plant twice. Beans and corn want sun and warmth, but you can't wait too long into many temperate-climate seasons, or the corn just won't make it. But beans are the great pay-off in almost any garden. They're prolific, as long as you keep harvesting the pods; you can easily get two succession plantings; climbers (with supports) give more per given area; and the vines will make good compost for the following year. One other thing - I have had good success with year-old seed for all of these crops, which you can generally buy for about half-price.
'Winter' squash (Butternut or Acorn) is also a plant that hates cold, but has a long growing season. This is a good candidate for sets. They're great 'keepers' - that is, the squash can be stored for relatively long periods after harvest. But they take a lot of space. I'm going to try 'caging' a couple of vines this year to see if the vine will support the fruit when hanging from the wire.
Tomatoes are similar, but there are many varieties with relatively shorter seasons - especially cherry-types. I also start cucumbers from seed inside, but they'll generally make it as sets or direct-seeded. Here, particularly, is the balance between conditions and recovery. There is always some set-back from the transplanting process. Weather is a huge factor, and the only control that you have is to water (at the bottom of the plant) regularly and thoroughly when the days are hot. I cage both tomatoes and cukes to give the plants just enough support to keep most of the fruit off of the ground. My strong suggestion is to plant plenty of Roma (pear-type) tomatoes, because they are the most disease-resistant, split-resistant, storable, and freezable tomato - in my opinion.
Also - watering at the bottom - tomatoes are the best argument for soaker hoses, because they don't like too much water on their leaves. Of course, soaker hoses make sense for water conservation, too; but they are somewhat recalcitrant as far as setting them out in the Spring. They just want to go wherever you don't want them to go at first, and you have to work with/around them to get them to cooperate.
I'm throwing in one picture of the grape arbor. I don't know if you can tell the difference, but this was a mass of last year's canes in my Winter-garden diary. I pruned them in March, and the vines today are laying out a uniform pattern over the top bars.
One last note - if you read my Winter garden diary, then you may have noticed the fence around it. It's to keep out the deer, and it's made of concrete re-enforcing wire (15 cm openings, 0,3 cm wire size) on 10 X 10 cm posts. That does not keep out my other 'enemy'
so I made up bunny-proof cages for some of the crops that they like best, such as cabbage and swiss chard.
From the number of them around, I'd say that they're finding sufficient food sources in any case.
I'll be putting in a second planting of lettuce and radishes today and of beans next weekend. I'm resurrecting our former garden on the east side of the house, starting with a deer-fence. Other than that, it's a bit of weeding and get ready to harvest some lettuce, radishes, and swiss chard soon - plus a few volunteer red potatoes.