Posted in Farming

Time to Plant Spring Crops! (how and when)

I have a confession to make. Almost every early March for the past fifteen years, I have registered for school. Once farming season hits, I drop classes and begin my life outdoors for the next nine months. Then I am busy with crafts and rest. After Christmas, I redo my house, busily planning my garden in the back of my mind. Then hits February and early March. The tyranny of it all! I lose my sense of purpose. I become listless and not super fun to live with. I wonder about my life and my dreams and my….oh, time to plant, see ya later! I wish I could farm all year.

When a person first starts gardening, it is enough to just get everything in after the last frost date. New gardeners tend to plant everything at the same time. That is great, but then one might notice how quickly the lettuce went bitter and bolted, or the peas went to seed, and that will never do. So the gardener starts planting spring crops. We have just expanded our food window three months! Then the gardener gets hooked on fresh food and decides to start fall crops too. Pretty soon, you’re a homesteader with fresh food nine months out of the year and lots of preserves, a verifiable grocery store going on in your house! It’s good stuff and lots of fun. It is time to plant spring crops now.

Many plants enjoy cooler weather. They are the first things that we shall plant and there are other cool crops that take many months to grow, like rutabagas and celery, that need to be planted now. St. Patrick’s Day is the traditional day to plant potatoes. And the Irish know potatoes! Now, if you happen to live in a very wet climate, your potato starts are going to rot away within a few weeks, so if you garden in the north in a wet climate, you might need to wait a few more weeks. But here in dry zone 6, the timing is perfect (add a week per earlier zone to wait to plant).

Cold crops generally need to be consistently damp in order to germinate. Carrots are particularly finicky fellows when it comes to being insistent on moisture. So, if it is not going to rain or snow, plan to water once per day.

Did you read my last post? I have been busy hoeing trenches and filling them with soil in preparation. (So, if you have tried calling me, that is why I haven’t returned calls!) My seeds are separated into early spring, 2 weeks later, and 2 weeks after that. 2 weeks after that, I will begin summer seeds. I try to stay on top of things because I have trees coming and will have many herb seedlings to transplant during the next six weeks, so if it is nice out, I am outside. That is my happy place.

Here is what I plant in the spring.

  • field peas
  • two kinds of carrots (the third will be planted in the summer for winter storage)
  • snow peas
  • shelling peas
  • three kinds of onions (yellow, red, and bunching)
  • garlic
  • four kinds of lettuce spread out over the spring planting season
  • radishes
  • beets
  • rutabagas
  • scorzonera
  • parsnips
  • salsify
  • three kinds of potatoes (the fourth will be planted in a few months for winter storage)
  • cauliflower
  • broccoli
  • cabbage (another variety will be planted in the summer for winter storage)
  • arugula
  • spinach
  • two kinds of kale
  • swiss chard
  • chives
  • celery
  • rhubarb ( roots planted in the perennial garden)
  • asparagus (roots planted in the perennial garden)

I bet you didn’t know there were so many delicious food items to plant right now! Keep damp, and once the seedlings start to appear, mulch well with straw.

I always haphazardly put out plant markers but they end up disappearing, so I keep a ledger of the type of seed and where it is planted and the day I planted it. This helps me keep track of my favorite varieties (5 Silverbeet Swiss Chard!) and what doesn’t work (having a doozy of time trying to get brussel sprouts to grow). I also know what mysterious plant is coming up when the plant marker gets blown away.

Planting spring crops is a great way to spend a quasi-warm day out in the garden. Dreaming of crisp radishes and peas and new potatoes and asparagus…

Posted in Farming

Trench Planting; Easy Gardening Anywhere

“But how will you plant with all the rock?” the sweet librarian asked me. Her colleague looked on curiously.

I began rambling on excitedly about how to grow in this particular environment. The soil of our new farm is really more sandstone and red sand (with a little cactus thrown in) then it is soil. I can see how many people would look at it and think there is no way you can grow here.

The librarians nodded at me with sympathy. She must be new here. I have grown terrific gardens in driveways, the wild, untouched prairie, and neglected yards; a little sandstone and dry high desert won’t stop me now! There are four techniques over the years that I have come up with/learned/combined/improved upon that work in any situation. Having little money, living in Colorado in terrain that is not usually farmed by the sane, and really wanting fresh vegetables has given way to ingenuity. Trench planting was one of my first techniques. (I will go over the others in the weeks to come as we get to them.)

Trench planting can be done in the front yard, along a strip of driveway, or in a pre-existing garden. This year I obtained an amazing new tool for the job! It glides through the sand and soil and unearths the shale as I go. I am not sure how I have lived without a triangle hoe before!

I am using the fence here as a trellis for field peas. Field peas become split peas for winter soup! The bricks suppress weeds along the fence.

Step 1: Choose where you want your rows. Corn field in the front yard? Pumpkin patch around the porch? A dignified garden inside a fence? My three gardens this year are the same size as my entire urban farm that we moved from last summer. This technique works for a 2000 sq ft kitchen garden or a nice flower garden in the front yard.

I’m saving a lot of energy here by only hoeing only where I will plant. There is no reason to rototille the entire thing.

Step 2: Pull the hoe through the soil to make a trench the depth of the roots of your plant. So, six inch trench for carrots, 3 inch trench for peas, etc. I hoe out the weeds from last year as I come to them and move large rocks out of the trench.

Organic gardening soil can be expensive on this scale. We used our hardware store credit card to get it. If that is our only debt starting a farm, we are doing good. If you consider that this size garden will save us between $2400 and $7000 a year in groceries, the $500 soil cost is worth it. From here on out, we will amend with compost so this is a one time expense.

Step 3: Fill trench with organic gardening soil. The plants won’t be growing in the rocks and sand, they will primarily be growing in the garden soil so it doesn’t matter what the native soil is like.

Step 4: Water rows. Plant seeds. Done.

Wasn’t that so easy? Well, I mean you do have to exert some energy to hoe around. The bags of soil are kind of heavy and you’ll need to do yoga to get your back in garden shape, but creating a garden is super easy.

Maryjane and her great adorer.

My granddaughter, Maryjane, was going to help me plant peas, but she was too busy playing with Gandalf! I will be planting spring crops all week! In the coming posts, I will cover planting spring crops. Until then, soak up some sunshine and get to hoeing.

Posted in Farming

DIY Seed Potatoes and Spring Planting

20180316_121644Today is the perfect day to finish the first spring planting.  When the moon is on its way to full, imagine the energy rising, so one would plant crops that grow above ground like peas, spinach, cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, and lettuces.  When the moon is waning and heading towards a new moon the energy is focused below the ground and root crops are planted like potatoes, beets, and carrots.  The Farmer’s Almanac goes into more detail but I follow the best I can and also look at the weather.

Tonight we may have rain and tomorrow light snow.  That is a perfect finale for planting!

Last week I bought seed potatoes from a local nursery.  I usually buy seed potatoes through mail order.  Seed potatoes are not cheap, y’all.  I looked at those seed potatoes and they each had one eye.  As I planted that one eye in the ground a foot a part I remembered the potatoes with multiple eyes languishing in the basket in my kitchen.  I went and retrieved them.  I planted fingerling potatoes and red potatoes along with the Yukons.

You think a lot while you are digging in the soil and I remembered a few months ago when I stopped by a roadside stand.  The man was grumpy.  He picked up produce from all over and sold them it out of the back of his truck.  We had an argument because he didn’t believe that pinon nuts were the same as pine nuts.  He wouldn’t sell organic potatoes because they rot too quick.  He pulled out a few bags of organic potatoes with eyes growing out of them attaching to the bag.  Conventional potatoes are sprayed so that they don’t sprout.

I have been a Farmgirl a long time, y’all, why am I still purchasing seed potatoes?  Buy a bag of organic potatoes from the store in varieties you enjoy.  When they start to sprout cut them into large pieces with at least two eyes on each.  Plant in loose soil eight inches down.  Cover with straw once they sprout.

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Do a rain and snow dance after you finish your spring planting!

Posted in Farming

How to Make Raised Garden Beds Easily and On the Cheap

I pour myself more sludge (strong coffee) as I write, the world encompassed in white, me not trying not to fall under SAD (seasonal affective disorder), knowing in a few weeks I will be planting those first seeds.

I told you that I was going to move the garden to the backyard because zoning had come by last fall and given me a warning post-garden to clean up my front yard into fancy neighborhood status.  I thought it would be easier to grow grass and flowers in the front yard and fence off a 25×25 designated garden in the back yard.  Enter large puppy, large expense for fencing, and here I am back in the front yard.

The weeds last year were incredible.  I have never seen lamb’s quarters ten feet tall!  I have never experienced mallow whose roots may actually tickle the top of Australia.  I was humbled.  This year I know we will still have weeds (they are medicine and food, but they do like to take over the world some…) but this year I will be a little better prepared.  Even though my crops did great in their sandy, never-been-gardened spaces I did want to amend the soil.  Did I mention on the cheap?  Because I never have as much extra money for gardening as I think I will!

This first-of-several beds coming this spring is a combination of everything I have learned over the years.  It is part Hugelkultur, part Permaculture, part straw bale gardening, part raised bed, part ingenious way to use what I have on hand.

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First I laid down sheets of cardboard.  Cardboard will break down within one season but it will help immensely in keeping weeds down.  I sure wish I hadn’t sent all that cardboard to recycling!  I would have layered on a few extra sheets of cardboard if I had it.

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I thought of large stones.  I thought of cinder blocks.  I thought of 2x4s.  I checked the bank account, and went into the back yard to see what I could find!  I have large limbs from the dying Elm tree that were ready for firewood.  We have lots of wood right now and these are so beautiful with the bark still on them.  They were easy to place in an 18×4 rectangle (with the help of my husband) to create a frame.

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Then two to three inch slabs of straw went on top of that.  The straw will suppress more weeds, will create an airy environment for the seedlings, will break down and become mulch and amendments, and helps fill the space so I didn’t have to buy so much garden soil.

Next went on pails of finished compost.  It never fails to amaze me that a banana peel in six months becomes dirt.  That scraps, and straw, and grass clippings, and chicken straw, and everything I put out there turns into rich, dark compost.  I won’t have enough for all the beds I am planning on putting in but I can purchase mushroom compost pretty cheap once I run out of my own.  It is only for this year.  From here on out my own compost will act as fertilizer in spring and fall sprinkled on the beds.  I won’t need quite as much.

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Then went on five bags of organic gardening soil.  I wanted to get it spread on the new bed now because it will have a few weeks to settle into the straw.  I want to make sure I don’t lose seeds in the settling soil!  We will know in a few weeks if I need more soil.

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The tiny trees I planted are in the tomato cages.  They will be watered regularly by being in the garden bed.  Once they grow nice and tall in as many years and begin to shade the patch, the patch can move.  Gardening is as much about flexibility as it is growing food.  Nature will work with you.  The main idea is to improve the soil and to create as many perennials so that each year we have more and more food and we are helping the soil regain health.

Done!  Now, the straw will try to sprout but the grasses easily pull out.  If a weed makes it through eight inches of cardboard, straw, and soil, it, too, will be easy to pull out.  At the end of the season I will pour some leaves, straw from the chicken coop, etc on top, and blend it in come spring.

*Side note- the empty soil bags will be set around perennial herbs and bushes with straw or wood chips placed over.  Weeds will not get through them!

Grab another cup of coffee, Folks, and hang in there.  We are almost back in the garden…

 

Posted in Farming

The Autumn Gardens (Spring and Fall Crops and the Great Harvest)

20170929_121332Fall crops grow beautifully and swiftly in their haphazard rows.

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The spring crops that I painstakingly place inches apart in the early cool of spring take awhile to germinate in the cold and then go to seed when summer decides to come on strong.  When those very same seeds are planted in  late July or early August they germinate quickly from the warm soil, ample water and light.  Then the nights become brisk and they soak up the cooling temperatures and thrive, which is why they are called cold crops!

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Of course I have all the energy in the world in April.  By then I have been dreaming of my garden for many months and am ridiculously excited to break ground.  By late summer we are getting tired of weeding and daily waterings and bugs so fall crops look more like mosaic puzzles than long tidy rows of food.

I had one bed pretty clear from the spring crops so I roughed it up with the hoe and planted-or rather, kind of threw in- a bunch of seeds.  Carrots, spinach, lettuce, peas, cabbage, and radishes came up with the colors of early spring with no help from me.  I forgot to water the seeds several times.  And yet they surprised me with their delicious arrival.

There are still tomatoes and other delicious summer crops in the garden.  The weather speaks of a freeze coming Monday.

Seeds and plants want to grow.  They are hard wired to do so.  As an experiment when the flea beetles came to town to chow down the cruciferous crops, I left a few of the broccoli and others to see what would happen.  I think we will have broccoli cheese soup tonight.  This garden has been a lovely experiment this year, one I allowed myself to do being in a new climate and a new place with un-amended soil.  Amazing.  Plants never fail to thrill me.  I think I will have radishes for breakfast.

Posted in Farmgirl Gardening Series

Farmgirl Gardening Series- Week 2 (Potatoes and Other Spring Crops)

Well, it’s snowing again.  As I write, warm in front of the fireplace with a cup of hot, earthy coffee, I watch the rain/snow mix fall weightlessly to the ground.  Maryjane thought Santa was coming the other night.  But, even folks that live in Colorado forget that April is one of our snowiest months and we have two more weeks before Santa can put his snow boots away! Still, the finches are singing and a quiet hush is over the land as the blossomed fruit trees drink and the earth softens with moisture.

Last week if it were even fairly warm I was at the Community Garden.  Opening a little late, leaving a little early from work, goodness, it’s a very good thing I can’t fire myself! (so this summer should I be missing from my shop go to the community gardens…)

Now, let’s get to work, spring crops are going in!  I lined the paths I created with thick blocks of straw.  Underneath, as I empty the bags of garden soil, I slip the bag beneath the straw as weed suppression.  I will place walking stones across these as money allows to hold everything in place.

Use a good old fashioned hoe to rough up the areas and to easily pull up errant, non-medicinal weeds.  You see that I purposely am gardening around the Cherokee roses and mullein!

The first row of potatoes (russet) will be joined by garlic.  Any organic garlic from the store will work (conventional vegetables are sprayed so that they cannot be planted).  A row of potatoes every foot and a half or so and a long row of garlic cloves next to it.  I used this marker to show where  ran out of garlic cloves, cause I’ll be damned if I waste even two feet of space!  In went kale seeds.

The next two rows of potatoes were joined by yellow onions.  When I ran out of onions, I planted chard.  Just dig a hole, nestle seed potato in, cover with garden soil.  Cut a thin row with your hoe, put a few seeds per few inches, cover in garden soil.  That is how we will plant everything.  Water, cover the whole thing with a light, and I mean light, covering of straw. We aren’t trying to suppress weeds here yet, just keep the soil from drying out too fast, and leaving little seeds exposed.

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I use tomato cages to hold up vines.  Around the outside of the tomato cages every three inches or so goes in a pea seed.  Four cages of snap peas, four of my beloved purple snow peas (just like immigrants and travelers and migrators of old, I have carried my seeds with me through our journey this last year), and four of Alaskan shelling peas.  In V shaped lines zigzagging between cages went four different kinds of lettuce, and more kale.

I had room at the end of the peas (see how many vegetables you can get in a small space?) I planted a few seeds in each hole a foot a part of quick growing cabbage.  Greyhound cabbage, it’s called.  I love it because we loved and miss our greyhound!  In a tick tack toe grid between the cabbages went radishes.

Another row went in of another kind of cabbage and Doug’s favorite, cucumbers, every other.  The last foot and a half is for corn, beans, and pumpkins, and sunflowers but we won’t put those in for two weeks.  I left a foot on the north end as well for the same.

In the other bed Maryjane and I started one row that contains beets, three different colors of carrots, pak choi, spinach, and cauliflower.  Then one of broccoli who will probably be interplanted with soy beans.  Seeds will grow, planting 1 or 2 in each hole is quite sufficient, unless you have a three year old gardener.  I think she planted 20 cauliflower seeds in each hole.  She was so cute doing it though!

Paths in, seeds lightly covered, now we wait for the rain and snow to moisten, then Nudah (sun) to come out and spread enough warmth to germinate the seeds.  Soon it will be summer.  See you next week!

 

Posted in Farming

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!

Posted in Farming, Homestead

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.