Friday, November 14, 2014

Preparing the Garden for Winter

     I'm in the process of putting my garden to bed for the winter. First I cover it with cardboard, then add about six inches of leaves and loose straw.  I prefer to use leaves as much as possible, but straw also works very well. The Beez Neez generates a great deal of cardboard. Using it to mulch the vegetable garden is a great way to recycle it. I got a really good deal on straw from a friend at church.  I used some some of the straw as bedding for the goats, the chickens and the ducks. However, most of the straw will end up as mulch in the garden.  I top off the mulch some time during the winter or early spring with a layer of well composted horse manure.  I get the manure from a friend with a horse farm. They have an air injected compost system that results in well finished compost that is practically weed free. By the time I plant in the spring, all of the cardboard has disintegrated, the worms have moved the organic matter all around. The soil in the garden beds is soft and fluffy without the need for a rototiller. Best of all, there are very few weeds.  There is some labor involved in spreading the cardboard, leaves, straw, and compost.  The nice thing about it is that I can spread out the labor through the fall and winter. It doesn't have to be done all at once and there is less that has to be done in the spring.

   This method of garden preparation is called sheet composting. I read about it in a permaculture book and started using it about three or four years ago. I have been amazed by the results. Previously I had prepared garden beds in the spring with a rototiller.  Since I don't own a rototiller I had to make arrangements for a rental or to pay someone else to do it. Since we generally have wet spring weather, the ground can't be worked with a rototiller until it is getting pretty close to planting time for many crops. This meant I often was planting my garden later than would have been optimum. Using a rototiller also resulted in very weedy gardens, especially for a new garden area. The rototiller breaks up all of the grass roots into many pieces, many of which survive the rototilling process and grow back with a vengeance. It seemed like I could never get ahead of the weeds.

    I read a very interesting book a few years back, called "The One Straw Revolution". It was written by a Japanese man who was a college trained agronomist.  He was troubled by some of the things he observed in modern agriculture and began experimenting with traditional Japanese agricultural methods on their small family farm.  He was able to produce higher yields of rice using traditional methods than his neighbors produced with the expensive use of tractors, chemical fertilizers, etc.  I need to read the book again as I don't remember many of the details. I seem to recall that the primary way he maintained the fertility of the soil involved mulching with straw, hence the book title.

    I have decided to plant a larger corn patch next year.  I'm anxious to try out a new variety of indian corn called Mandan Red Clay.  It is used to make parched corn. You heat it in a pan and it pops, but not quite like popcorn. Its like something in between popcorn and corn nuts. Linda bought a variety pack of various healthy snack foods from some mail order place. Included in the variety pack was a package of parched corn.  It was really quite tasty. Linda and I both liked it.  Then I noticed that one of my favorite seed companies, Uprising Seeds (located in Bellingham, WA), now carried a variety of indian corn specifically designed for parching. It is also a short season variety so it should do well in spite of our cooler Western Washington summers.

     A larger corn patch means I will also have more room for the winter squash to spread.  This year I had planted my squash on one side of the corn patch and the squash spread completely through the corn and traveled 15 feet out of the corn on the opposite side.  I grew two varieties, Oregon Sweet Meat and Red Kuri.  The Oregon Sweat Meat I started from seed. I bought the Red Kuri as plants from a local nursery. The Oregon Sweet Meat did alright, but I only got a total of five squash from four plants.  I harvested a total of 17 squash from my four Red Kuri plants.  It is entirely possible that the Red Kuri did better simply because of the head start.  The Oregon Sweet Meat produces larger squash, but I don't really consider that to be a benefit.  I'd rather have more of the smaller squashes. The smaller size of the Red Kuri is much more convenient for most people. Both varieties are in the Maxima group of squashes that includes Hubbards, and they both are good keepers. They won't interbreed with squash from the other three squash groups which makes it much easier to save seed. As long as I only grow one maxima variety they should set true seed. I don't have to worry about them crossbreeding with my zucchini.  I have decided to plant the Red Kuri next year because they are a convenient size, very productive, and are good keepers,  They are also very pretty and the harvested squash look quite decorative on the front deck.

Red Kuri and Oregon Sweet Meat winter squash
    As part of my garden preparation I took down my bean poles and removed all of the vines from them. While I was at it I collected the mature pods that had escaped harvest when I was canning green beans.  The pole beans become such a jungle that it is impossible to harvest all of the beans for canning. Many pods manage to hide and grow to maturity.  I picked the mature pods in order to save seed for the following season.  I've grown Blue Lake pole beans for the past few years. I don't know that it is the best pole bean available, but it is an open pollinated variety so I can save the seeds.  I planted eight hills of pole beans, about four or five plants to each hill. It only takes about six bean pods to give me enough seed for next year's garden.  I canned seventy-two pints of green beans from those eight hills of beans.



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