Friday, October 31, 2014

Plans, I has 'em

All year round, I find myself thinking about what I want to do next in the yard and garden, but never more than at the end of the season. With successes and failures fresh in my mind, I contemplate what to repeat, what to do better, what to abandon, what new thing to try. These daydreams always chase away any gardener blues I may succumb to now and then.

Before fall cleanup

Something I would really like to improve is weed control in the vegetable garden, especially between beds. I've tried mulching with this, that, and the other, with minimal success. For my next method, I will try mowing. Toward that end, my SO helped me shift the raised beds to make the paths wide enough to accommodate the Toro.

After fall cleanup (more or less)

Next year's big "something new" will be the mini orchard, starting with apples and cherries. I think. I get a little overwhelmed with the choices of fruit trees available, but am narrowing my first choices to varieties that are naturally resistant to pests and diseases, the better to ensure some success.

It's not just the backyard that receives my scrutiny. The bed by the front walk is filling in nicely, but I am discovering the arrangement of the plants is not the best. Specifically, some taller things need to switch places with shorter ones, and some varieties would benefit from clustering together rather than standing in isolation.

This summer I filled in a few blanks with marigolds, simply because I started more seedlings than the vegetable garden could accommodate. Next year I would like to use its cousin calendula instead, which should self seed. I hope that does not turn out to be a mistake.

I'm done with the old fashioned (i.e. mildewed) lilac by the driveway, so whacked it down; an almond tree may grow in its place. The burning bush will get a severe pruning, to give the gold mop a chance to fill in all around.

I'm also done with most of the ornamental grasses in front of the house - just too floppy - and plan to move them to the backyard. I think a maple leaf viburnum would be a nice replacement by the front porch.

This 'Hameln', however, gets prettier every day in the autumn. I think I'll keep it.

I visited a tree nursery several years ago in search of a tulip poplar. The owner shamelessly flirted while extolling the virtues of the sugar maple over a tulip tree. Yes, sugar maples are striking this time of year, but I like the tulip poplar I eventually planted. So much so, I want to plant another, to someday shade the deck.

The observant will notice some big blue stem in the photo above. It and its neighbors, a little blue stem and two varieties of asters, are destined to move to the back corner where they can spread out to their natural size. The plants I moved to the south side of the house this past summer will probably join them. Then I get to decide what to do with the newly vacated location. I get excited just considering the possibilities!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Garden cat on duty

Now that the bulk of the garden is done for the season, I'm leaving the gate open so Finn can hunt the wild rodentia, specifically voles. These little critters have ruined more than one crop in recent history. While I don't approve of the way Finn sometimes tortures his prey, I'm not too sad about their demise.

Salomon Farm is a city park near my house which, among other things, boasts a large organic garden. A good portion of this garden is completely unfenced. WTH? I fend off rabbits that girdle shrubs and trees, woodchucks that destroy sweet potato plants, tomato-sampling gophers, voles that wipe out seed potato plantings, pea-eating sparrows, strawberry-stealing robins, etc. Salomon Farm is a working 1930's farm, so maybe I need to replace my lawn with field corn and soybeans to lure the critters away from the garden.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Got pumpkin?

We've had a couple of light frosts, the last one damaging. That was good enough for me, so I harvested the squash and pumpkin. They are curing on the *new* deck. This isn't all of them - I've eaten a squash (in soup) and given away a squash and a pumpkin. I have to say I am quite pleased with the harvest, especially considering I don't usually have much success with these. My only complaint was the way the vines took over the garden, making other garden activities difficult. At least, that is my excuse.

Let them eat cucurbita

Waltham Butternut squash

Small Sugar pumpkin

Rouge Vif d'Etamps pumpkin

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Third Plate and a shifting paradigm

After hearing an interview with Dan Barber on the Splendid Table, I picked up his book, The Third Plate, at the library. Although written from a chef's perspective, this book is opening my eyes to a whole new way of seeing my yard and garden. I consider myself somewhat knowledgeable about organic gardening in the backyard, but now I realize I am "old school".

I am only partway through the book, but already I am newly excited about things like weeds. Yes, weeds. Not to eat, not to eradicate, not to hate, but to use as a means of truly SEEING the soil in my garden. As an example, one of my worst enemies is Canada thistle. No matter how hard I try to beat it into submission, it keeps coming back, stronger and stronger every year. Why? Because the heavy clay beneath my raised beds is the epitome of compaction. To get rid of thistle, I need to do something about the compaction, specifically plant cover crops like spelt and red clover; both aerate the soil and suppress weeds while the latter also fixes nitrogen. Winter rye suppresses weeds as well.

Healthy soil produces healthy plants which are naturally less appealing to pests and diseases. I saw that this year, when the zucchini just went on and on (and ON). In previous years, the plants would succumb to squash beetles and/or mildew about mid-season. Ditto pumpkin and butternut, neither of which I have successfully grown before. All that horse manure paid off. Unfortunately, it is also the reason behind the proliferation of certain other weeds.

My gardening mantra has been "Feed the soil and the soil will feed the plants" but there is more to healthy soil than what I have been doing. Different parts of my yard have different weed problems. I'm anxious to get a good weed reference and identify and correct those problems. Fun stuff!

Additional references:
Listen to Your Weeds
Cover Crop Planting Specification Guide

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Pouches stuffed

This little guy can't get into the bird feeders, but he does a good job cleaning up beneath them.

Chipmunks hibernate during the winter, but instead of storing fat, they snack their way through to spring.

When it comes to cute, chipmunks got it.

Monday, October 13, 2014

A little frosty

A mild frost Saturday night did nothing discernible to the garden except for some of the sweet potatoes. I decided to empty two bags of peat onto the blueberry bed and top that with the contents of some of the sweet potato grow bags, thereby starting the fall harvest. Those bags of dirt were heavy! To allow the use of a small garden cart, I had to remove a couple of butternut squash and a sugar pumpkin from their still green vines as they were in the way. I managed to muscle three bags over to the blueberry beds before I decided that was enough for one day.

Last year's sweet potato harvest was a total bust. This year's is not quite so bad, but it is not going to be good, either, judging by the contents of those three bags. For one thing, a woodchuck decimated the plants early on, before we built a fortress around the garden. Then my placement of the grow bags and pots turned out to be too shady once the zinnias and sunflowers reached their full height. The never-really-hot temps did not help, either; I don't think we had a single day of 90+ weather.

Now I'm grumpy about the lack of a hard frost. This is the first year I have had such success with squash and pumpkin, and I want them to hold into the winter, which means leaving them on the vine as long as possible. It's difficult to do much of any other clean up in the garden until those vines are done, as they reach into almost every corner and bed.

The weather is usually different from year to year, but the past few years it seems more different in more ways than ever before. Can you say "climate change"?

Thursday, October 02, 2014

In limbo

The weather has been so mild lately - today is is in the upper 70's - that, when I see a tree with yellowing leaves, I think, "What is wrong?!?" Then I remember fall is coming. No hard frost in the forecast but cooler temps are on their way.

I'm starting to clear out the vegetable garden, taking the zucchini and cucumber first. There were a couple of giant examples of each hiding under all that rampant growth, all of which went on the compost pile. I did harvest a few baby zukes. The root bed offered up some radishes and turnips, and the pole beans are providing a meal every few days. The roma tomatoes are basically done, and I am done with the rest, so I will clear out those beds next; the fall planting of garlic goes in there next month.

With my SO's help, I hauled in some construction blocks (on sale at Menard's for 95 cents each) to use in the orchard to create raised beds for the fruit trees. Two beds have been outlined so far; I'll fill them with the contents of the sweet potato bags post harvest, plus some of my homemade compost. Fruit trees don't need a lot of nitrogen, so we'll skip the manure.

Usually I save plant and seed selection for the winter months, but I keep studying and sampling fruit tree varieties, to get a feel for what I might like. Have you ever had Asian pears? The flavor is nothing to get excited about, very mild, but the texture is crunchy, like an apple. And they keep, a welcome trait for this canner-weary gardener.