Wrapping things up…finally!
So I’ve got a lot of loose ends to tie up! What a weird, long, fall it’s been. It’s mid-November and I still have kale in the garden and spinach in my mini-greenhouse! I wish it were because I was conducting some kind of experiment on the temperatures these hardy plants can handle…but it’s just because other things have taken a higher priority. Not including the neglect of my late-season kale and spinach harvest, I did do pretty well with making the most of my harvest. I’ve tallied up 93 quarts of food that I’ve canned of froze. Check out my planting and harvesting log for the complete end-of-season preservation totals.
Now to provide the end results of this season’s garden experiments: straw-bale gardening, polycultures, season extension, a focus on brassicas, and hugel beds. (Check out post “Building Resiliency into My Garden,” and others, for further explanation and results on these experiments).
Straw Bales: their harvest was meager. The harvest may have improved had I investigated the proper amount of fertilizers to provide the bales throughout the season but pumping fertilizers into the bales just isn’t my style. If I have a problem in my garden, I look to the soil. I have faith that if I provide the soil with what it needs, it will provide for my plants. But with straw bale gardening, you put your faith in the inputs and there’s not a long-term incentive to feed the soil. So I can see how straw bale gardening would be useful in certain applications–like locations where no other soil is available. But I wasn’t thrilled with my results in my own garden. One more factor was squirrels. I did spot a few with tiny potatoes clutched in their paws.
My experiments with establishing polycultures resulted in a much more aesthetically-pleasing and wild look to my garden, and fewer pests! I couldn’t assure you that fewer pests were a direct result of the polycultures, but there were fewer pests. In particular, my cabbage is usually full of caterpillars–not this year. Was it due to the polyculture I planted of cabbage, beets, onions, and potatoes? Or was it because I started my cabbage plants even before I started my tomato plants, potted them up into my tomato planter (not in individual pots) where their roots could intermingle and roam free, and set them out in my mini-greenhouse well before they were ready to be planted. When they did finally get into the ground, they were big and robust and well prepared to resist disease and pests. But back to polycultures: I planted pole beans with carrots, sunflowers, calendula and borage. I planted cumbers with lettuce, carrots with peas, and tomatoes with carrots and onions. I’ll try this again next year, rotating the groups of plants to different sections of the garden, and experimenting with spacing and timing, and see if I still have luck. (Check out my garden maps to see how these polycultures were laid out and see previous posts for pictures of some of these polycultures).
The hugel-bed experiment is on going. This fall I dug a hole about 2 1/2 – 3 feet deep, four feet wide, and eight feet long. I filled the hold with in-tact, jack pine logs, then rotted pine boards, then sand/dirt, and one square yard of manure to top it off.
I planted a mix of plants as a cover crop and will incorporate the cover crop into the bed to build soil.
I’m hoping next year I will be able to plant some small fruit trees. The rotting organic matter will provide good nutrients and will enable the ground to hold much more water in an area where the soil is almost pure sand.
Oh yes, and the last thing: extending the season. I planted spinach, lettuce, komatsuma, and mache in later August. Ideally I would have planted it earlier so things would have had time to size up a bit before the angle of the sun gets too low and temperatures go down too much. The lettuce and mache didn’t germinate too much, but the spinach and komatsuma did well. It’s still out there today and the spinach leaves are about four inches long or so.
Stay tuned as I post my end-of-season evaluation in the next couple of weeks. And then we’ll start thinking about next year!