Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Last Fall's Cover Crops

Cover crops are recommended for garden beds that have finished growing vegetables for the year.
Last fall I planted three different cover crops - winter rye, oats and clover. They have different characteristics. Winter rye - shown here - survives the winter and grows quite thickly. The patch shown here was something of a disappointment because the winter rye did not germinate in most of the places where I planted it. In fact, I went out and bought more seed because I thought the seed from the previous year was not viable. Last year it had grown very well. Rye does not fix nitrogen but it obviously holds the soil in place. It needs to be dug under in the spring and allowed to break down before planting in those areas.

One of the other cover crops I tried was oats. Oats are not winter hardy as can be seen from the thin dry layer of oat remains in this photo. The soil surface is protected and the dried up oats can be lifted off and added to the compost pile, leaving a nice surface for planting this year's crops. Oats don't add organic matter or nitrogen to the soil.

The third cover crop I tried was clover. I don't recall whether it was red clover or white clover - I had only written "clover" on the bag. I had used clover during the growing season last year in among the kale to reduce weeds. I suppose that is like choosing clover as your weed and using it to block out other weeds.

I thought I had read that clover did not survive the winter but clearly that wasn't true for what I planted. Now it needs to be dug under so that what grows in this bed during this year is what I want to eat and not more clover. Time will tell if I have introduced a new weed to my garden. I assume that since the clover has not been allowed to go to seed that it will not be a problem.

Using and learning about cover crops is one of the items I had put off until I retired.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Early Spring Garden

Global warming brought us some very warm early April days. The high was 87 degrees yesterday. Today was a little cooler but very sunny and comfortable. In short, great weather to be in the garden.
Typically there wouldn't be much in the garden at this time of the year. But
with the new cold frames we are nearly ready to begin eating. The lettuces in this photo are the ones that I started last October and which were in my old glass covered frame during the winter. The frame is now behind the lettuce and is covered with row cover material. The frame contains Chinese cabbage, pak choi and komatsuna (another Asian green) that I had started indoors on February 11th and that I transplanted out five or six days ago. Initially the row cover material was to protect the transplants from the sun since they were hardened off only for a couple of days. But my Asian greens have often been a food source for flea beetles and so the row cover now keeps off any flea beetles. [I don't know if they would be around this early in the year.]

In one of the new cold frames I transplanted lettuce, spinach, and zen around four weeks ago. This frame is not insulated and doesn't retain as much heat as my other two new ones. One of them is pictured below.

This frame, which is insulated (the insulation is covered with black plastic to protect it and presumably absorb more heat), contains some red lettuce in the lower corner, then a group of mache (corn salad), some spinach at the top which is mostly overgrown with zen (the larger leafed plants). If you could see closer up you would see from the holes that zen is a favorite of the slugs. So far it seems that the slugs concentrate on the zen and the Chinese cabbage and pretty much leave alone the Claytonia (which is in the one cold frame not shown here), the mache, spinach and lettuce.
The red object in this photo and the black object in the photo above it are the plastic covered pieces of board that I use to attract slugs. My wife suggests that if I got up earlier in the morning I could go out and pick the slugs off the plants before they scatter to avoid the sun. She got about a dozen this morning which is more than I typically find under the boards. Where do they all come from? Since I am more of a night person maybe I should go out at night with a flashlight and pick off the slugs before they can start eating.

Having the claytonia, mache, lettuce, spinach, and Asian greens available is a result of using the cold frames. But this year we had another surprise. In the fall I planted a lot of Red Russian kale. It had been so productive for us during the year that I started some late in the season and planted them in a number of places. Then winter came before they were big enough to provide anything for us to eat. I have read that Red Russian kale is not the best variety to try and maintain through the winter and so I assumed that they would end up as a cover crop. When the heavy snow that we had in late February/early March finally melted away there were the kale plants. And here is what they look like now. They are definitely growing and I would not be surprised, depending on the weather, if we have some to eat very soon.