Planting Fall Crops in Pots

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I am having fun in my friends’ greenhouse but even if you don’t have a greenhouse, or a garden, or a house even, you can still get some fall crops.  For some crops it is too late in the season, we should expect a frost next month (really? already?!) but you can buy a little time with a greenhouse or cold frame or south facing living room window.  Almost all the crops I planted will be ready before the frost hits and the ones that don’t could be brought indoors and placed into a south window.  Planting in pots is quickly becoming my favorite way to garden.

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The lettuce I had brought over finally went to seed (three months of salad was great!) and became bitter so I yanked it out of the pots (and wished I had chickens to give it to) and fluffed up the soil.  Then I pulled most of the pumpkins I brought over since they really were not getting going in time to produce.

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When I say pots, I mean the three or five gallon buckets I got for free from the Walmart deli and empty cat litter containers.  This is also not fresh potting soil, this is the same soil I poured in this spring and some of it is from last year.  Next year I will pour this year’s soil into a garden space and refill the pots to keep the nutrients in tact or we will create our own soil on this blog.  That would be fun, wouldn’t it?

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I planted arugula, spinach, and Swiss chard.  Greens will be ready in no time.  I planted two pots of carrots, carefully separated so I don’t have to do too much thinning and one pot of cauliflower.  We will see how long these can withstand the autumn and hope for a harvest from them!

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Now where to put the lettuce?  I scruffed up the soil beneath Pat’s gorgeous tomato plants (that I have become the caregiver for) and planted lettuce in them.  In no time, we will have fresh vegetables.

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The gardening and farming addiction doesn’t subside easily so having some five gallon buckets, some potting soil, some discount seeds, and water is an easy way to feed the soul while adding delicious, fresh ingredients to late summer cooking.

What to Plant Now (4 weeks before last frost. Hallelujah!)

It’s approximately four weeks before the last frost date.  As I sit here rather cold this morning again, I am sure post-frost date is going to feel pretty darn good.

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I used to plant everything May 12th.  Which of course endured one last frost.  I planted all the seeds for cold crops and summer crops.  No succession planting, no spring, summer, and fall plantings, just all in one shot.  Now I know a little better.  Still learning, I assure you, but I know in order to get those cold crops to finish growing they need to be planted strategically.  And anything under the ground loves a little time in the spring to get started.

Here is a modest list of what you can plant now.  Remember, only cold crop seeds and underground crops can be planted now.

4 weeks before: radishes, parsnips, kale, Swiss chard, spinach, potatoes, garlic, onions, carrots, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, Alaskan or English peas, snap peas, snow peas, and asparagus.

This year I started the broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage in a greenhouse to see if they grew any faster this year (we have a rather short growing season) so they cannot go outside until after the frost date now.

2 weeks before: herb plants, flower seeds, herb seeds, strawberries, lettuce mixes, and more of the above seeds to stretch your season!

May 15thish plant the rest!  In July plant everything above again for yummy fall treats.  You’ll miss radishes by then!

Surprise Fall Crops, Moveable Gardens, and the Moveable Farm

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I planted seeds every couple of weeks until mid-July in rows where the seeds didn’t germinate or after crops were harvested.  In the long rows where I had harvested garlic I had planted snow peas, radishes, carrots, beets, and pattypan squash.  Then I forgot that I planted them!  So, imagine my pleasant surprise when I came across a row of delicious radishes crowning from the soil and happy pea shoots waving at me.

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It pays to get an extra seed packet of spring crops and plant them later so that you get doubled the harvest of vegetables.  It doesn’t cost much, there seems to always be an open foot of row here and there and maybe you will forget and then be surprised.  I do know that many of the fall crops I planted, like the turnips and chard, did not come up.  I am sure the birds had a lovely lunch.

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Two Christmases ago Doug bought me a huge cast iron cauldron.  I wondered what he was trying to tell me. (I had expected a large carved wooden bear to add to my collection, so imagine my surprise!)  It has stood on the porch since then only coming out to the yard on Halloween.  Wouldn’t want to give the neighbors the wrong impression.

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I decided to bring the cauldron out.  I planted pepper plants and herbs in it.  I always worried it would be too heavy to move once I planted in it.  It takes two men to move it empty.  It has holes in it already.  It makes a great planter.  Why not empty the soil out when it is time to move it?  It is a great planter, I should have used it earlier!

The landlords are selling the house.  We will be moving our farm.  We have told them we will be out by spring in order to give us some time to save enough money to move and clear some things out.  I will want to move all of my herb gardens to the new homestead.  Sometimes I feel panic come over me but then I remember that we put it out there that we wanted a homestead.  One much cheaper than this one, one with a wood stove and a well, a barn, places to walk.  It is coming!  I am excited to find it.

Farming Lessons (turn on the water!)

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It was a beautiful morning yesterday.  The calm before the storm.  The chickens at Debbie’s house were playing, her chocolate lab waited patiently for us outside the garden gate, and all was well in the greenhouse for my “farming without killing plants” lesson.

In the outside beds we planted rows of carrots, cauliflower, and kale.  The kale we planted a month ago never came up probably due to our fanatical weather and the extreme cold temperatures.  This time should work!  It’s May 1st for crying out loud!

Then I helped her prepare a bed for planting.  A lesson like no other.  She sprayed it down very well, puddles welled  up, and the soil was lovely and damp.  We turned the soil with a spade.  Dry.  The ground was dry!  I sprayed it really well for a second time.  Turned it with the spade, dry.  Debbie mentioned that this scenario is the very reason many gardens to do not succeed.  We sprayed it once again and it still was not damp through and through.  The fourth time did the trick.  My lesson?  Never assume that because the top layer is wet that anything  below is drinking water!  Always use a water gage or the poor (wo)man’s water gage…your finger.  The soil should be damp up to the second knuckle, if not, it needs water!  I came straight home and turned the sprinklers on!

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This is a long time idea in my head that I have to reverse.  Reading gardening magazines and books for 20+ years has taught me one thing….don’t over water!  It causes diseases, fungal stuff, root rot and possibly world hunger.  I have adhered to that sentiment with fervency.  Don’t over water!  Here is the thing they never specified, they aren’t talking about Colorado or other dry areas.  It’s so dry here your nose may start bleeding at a moment’s notice, so dry my lotion flies off the table at the shop, so dry weeds died last year here!  One would really have to work at it to over water in a dry state like this.  I have been more diligent, twice daily checks on the soil in the garden.  The reason I have NEVER had a carrot germinate is because the soil must remain moist the entire time until it gets its foothold.  So, my soil has been consistently wet.  It will need more once the roots spread down and need more drinks.  The radishes have germinated in thanks.

In my garden, there are onions and garlic coming up, the herbs have returned, last years onions that never came up are making a grand display in the wrong bed, and the cold crop seeds are slumbering quietly just beneath the surface which I hope by this weekend will be light carpets of tiny greens.

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Debbie’s herbs are so happy in her greenhouse they were jumping ship.  Comfortably spreading out and lounging all over the bed.  Because a good chunk of them needed to be evicted, I was the proud new recipient of twelve pots of oregano and cilantro.  Which brings me to a great way to spread the wealth among farmers.  Wendy brought me a few chive plants she split off, Diane is bringing me borage.  Don’t worry about having herbs that spread all over, split them up, stick them in a pot and give as instant gifts!

Not Killing Cold Crops

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I was going to plant all the cold crops around St. Patrick’s day.  I heard you could.  But then I thought maybe we were moving so I didn’t.  Turns out I would have killed off everything if I had!  I think my friend/teacher/Master Gardener is determined to make a proper farmgirl out of me and help me actually grow stuff.  (As a proper farmgirl should be able to provide food for her family and not just adorable stunted plants that could feed gnomes.) Our lesson last week started with me telling her about my cold crop planting plans and she asked, “Did you take the soil temperature?”  …what?…no.

I have a candy thermometer, a baby thermometer, a root cellar thermometer, no thermometers for the dirt lying around.  That is going to change.

Cold crops can be planted when the soil is 45 degrees.  My cold crops consist of yummy peas, Swiss chard, kale, collards, carrots, potatoes, lettuce, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, potatoes, radishes, and broccoli.

Use milk cartons with their bottoms chopped off for cloches.  Put the screw top lid on at night and off during the day.  If I start my barrel of potatoes, use the trash can lid to cover at night.  Keep all the kids warm and tucked in while the night sky is still chilly.  During the day let them play and take in the sunshine.  In a few weeks I ought to be eating good, fresh spring fare.

She recommended that instead of continuing the soil pattern in the potato barrel (adding 6 inches of dirt every time the leaves stick up) add 6 inches of straw.  We are just trying to keep them in the dark.  Straw is lighter, easier to dig through.

She uses a drip line for 20 minutes daily.  I told her about my absolute loss of any common sense when it comes to watering.  So I am picking up a water level checker thing too.  Just so I know when to water or not.  I have not had any problems overwatering if she is watering 20 minutes a day, more in the summer.  More than 30 seconds of watering would do my garden wonders.

I also learned that you can drill tiny holes in a five gallon bucket and place it at the base of new trees (or old) and fill with water every time you pass with the hose.  It provides a steady drip of water to the thirsty roots.  Don’t my new orchard trees wish I had learned that last year?!

So, here’s the scoop.  We are looking at one last place that we really want after we get back from Santa Fe next week.  If we don’t get it, I will stop looking until fall.  Tis gardening season after all!  I will have Doug install the drip lines here in the crumbling raised beds and grow ridiculous amounts of food from heirloom seeds in riotous colors and hone my farmgirl skills thanks to Debbie.  I have another lesson in the morning!  And I’ll be off to get a dirt thermometer as well.