September 11, 2012

Garden Think: Things I Have to Change

I had plans to work in the garden the other day. Fall planting is underway as well as finishing the summer harvest. And of course there are always weeds to pull. As it was, I sat at my computer, watching another 7/10 inch of rain drizzle from the sky. So instead of working in the garden, I worked on the garden. Here's what I've been thinking I need to change next year, along with a few random garden photos.

Egyptian Walking Onions with new sprouts
Egyptian Walking Onions are beginning
their fall growth. Note the little guys
from summer's bulblets.
1. Mulch more. Of course I say this every year because every year I either run short on mulch materials, or don't get it done before harvest commences. It's been that way for decades and you'd think I'd have learned my lesson by now. Still, some decisions have been made that should help. I haven't utilized cardboard much because Dan doesn't really like how it looks, i.e. kind of tacky. But it's results we need more than aesthetics, and he sees that it works, especially for the paths between the beds. In the beds themselves, heavy leaf mulch. I also find that with the companion group plantings, the soil is very well shaded so that very little else can grow there.

2. Never leave the ground bare. Too many times this year we've gotten soil turned, only to have planting delayed (often by rain). I need to either plant something or cover it. Immediately. Preferably plant something. Bare ground never stays that way because, as the saying goes, nature abhors a vacuum. If I don't plant something I want, I'll get something I don't want.

Golden giant amaranth seed heads
Golden Giant amaranth (or is it Giant Golden, I can never remember)
from saved seed. I feed whole heads to the chickens.

3. Simplify our diet. If I can do that, I can simplify what I grow. Every summer I've experimented some with different vegetables or varieties. It's great when something new does really well and we like it. If it takes too much fussing, we probably don't need it all that much. I now have a pretty good idea of what will grow well here, and that's what I need to concentrate on rather than trying to nurture things that don't grow well.

Orange Bulldog pumpkin growing under the amaranth
Under the amaranth I planted pumpkins. This cultivar is Orange Bulldog,
developed by the University of Georgia. I have a few more growing too!

4. Rely more on seasonal foods. Not that we don't already do this, but I'd like to freeze and can less, especially veggies, because I can harvest root crops all winter long. It will mean more fresh eating, less work in preserving, and more room in my freezer. Pluses, all.

Vardaman sweet potatoes in bloom
Sweet potatoes are one of the things that
grow well here. These are Vardamans in
bloom. I found they are great keepers.
5. Biennial rotations of varieties. Squashes, for example, or melons. One year I'll plant cantaloupes, the next year water melons. We can only eat so much melon and this will make it so much easier than trying to prevent cross pollination. That will simplify seed saving.

6. Can the tomato cages. Every year I seem to have problems with things that need support like pole beans, peas, and tomatoes. Either they get too tall, or too heavy, or too something. I recently saw a photo on the internet, which inspired me to consider how to use cattle panels as trellises. They are taller and sturdier than conventional tomato cages, and movable. Dan put three t-posts into a bed, and we tied a cattle panel to it....

cattle panel as a garden trellis
Cattle panel trellis installed in newly planted fall English peas & turnips

The t-posts will be permanent in the beds, and next year we'll outfit more beds the same way. When I plant something that will need a trellis, I can tie a cattle panel to the t-posts and not have to worry about my tomato cages falling over or my bean poles leaning.

Clemson Spineless Okra beginning to bloom
I planted okra late. Still, if 1st frost holds off,
I should get enough to can gumbo. The variety
is Clemson Spineless from saved seed.
7. Grow more, save more seed. I used to think I should only plant what we needed, but without being able to predict germination, insect and disease damage, etc. extra sowing is a necessity. Some years there's an abundance, some years barely enough for a meal or two. I've learned to not worry and go for an abundance because with animals, there is no waste. In fact, the more I grow, the more there is for them. I also found myself collecting tons of seeds. Why save a half gallon of lettuce seed when we can never eat that much. Of course, if something does poorly one year, extra seed is a necessity. In a good year, seed is plentiful. Extra seed however, can be sown in those empty beds (see #2), and pasture areas à la Sepp Holzer; for us, for our animals, and to build our soil.

8. Indoor seed starting. Actually, because of our long growing season, I've done okay direct sowing almost everything. True, tomatoes are late, but I don't know actually need the earliest possible tomatoes. Or melons. Or whatever. It's more important to have at least something to harvest and eat. On the other hand, if something doesn't make it (like this year's sweet peppers and eggplants) I don't know until it's getting a bit late in the season. Oh well. Simpler eating, right? Still, with my companion group beds, I need everything to reach mulchable height about the same time. Slow germinators need to be started early for that. This is something I need to work on.

antique marigolds propping up Amish Paste tomatoes
Even though the tomato cages toppled from the weight of the tomatoes, my
antique marigolds came to the rescue. They propped up the tomato plants!

These are my thoughts so far. They're not so much gardening goals as they are self-sufficiency goals. With an overall goal of becoming as self-sufficient as possible, we're finding we have to focus on the majors and simplify the rest. If the only thing I had to do was the garden, I could get as exotic as I want. The garden is important, but it's only a part of what we do here. Since there isn't time to do everything, I think these changes in the garden will help.


Bernadine said...

I love the cattle fencing in your garden. I needed sturdier support too for my tomatoes and cucumbers. The cages toppled right over and really were not a big help. I'll definitely try this. Great ideas. Looks like you've got solid plans.

Woody said...

I've used cattle panels for some time now. Love them! My favorite use is the arch for green beans. Easy picking and I plant lettuce and other greens that can use the shade during the heat of the summer under the arches.

Farmer Barb said...

We were having the same thought at the same moment. I over-crowded my beds this year, making it impossible to walk through the tippy supports. I like the cattle panels, though I don't have a means of acquiring them. The nearest Tractor Supply is 48 miles away. What we do have is masonry stores. They have similar welded wire that is meant to go into poured concrete for strength. I saw someone in California do it. Their tomatoes grew up 12 feet! I never thought about the amaranth in head form for the ladies. That is great! I am going to make and adhere to a plan in 2013. REALLY!

Woolly Bits said...

I have similar problems with things that need support! tomatoes have to go in the tunnel/dome though, they have no chance whatsoever outside in our miserable summers! but it's the same for beans, mangetouts etc. I don't have enough space to fix areas permanently, because I wouldn't be able to rotate crops enough, so I have to rely on bamboo stalks in various combinations! I have given up on having a brilliant looking garden, I am just glad if stuff grows, isn't eaten by that darn rabbit and doesn't topple over to the ground:) and I still fall for the occasional folly - or sow seeds that I received from somewhere. the latest failure is eggplants - they grew nicely, caught some mildew or other, flowered for a bit - and died.... why did I spend time sowing and repotting again?:) same procedure every year - there's always one that I try again, even though my head knows it won't work:)

Leigh said...

Bernadine, and I thought I was the only one with toppling cages, LOL. Makes no sense to struggle with things like that does it?

Woody, arches! Love it. I've read about shade gardens for greens, but like your idea better.

Remesh! Barb, brilliant. I've seen it for sale at Lowes, in the masonry aisle.

About the amaranth, I used to deseed the heads but sheesh, that was a lot of work. I decided it wasn't worth the trouble, especially since the seeds are so small that I didn't think I'd ever use them for us. As chicken feed though, this is so much easier. :)

Bettina, I think I've finally figured out that brilliant looking gardens are only for magazine and book photos. Who else can manage! I would definitely utilize bamboo stalks if I had a source. There are several patches around, but I've gotten around to asking the owners if I could help myself. Too leery of rampant spread to grow any myself!

Sandy Livesay said...

Your garden looks amazing. We've already picked all of our harvests and composted the remains of the garden. This year we decided not to plant a fall garden because it was to hot for things to grow.
I've prepared the dirt in my garden beds for the next spring planting. Your amaranth are beautiful. I tried growing some this year, and a neighbors cat from down the road decided he was going to dig up my front flower bed, so no red amaranth for me this year.

Nina said...

I agree with the mulching. It really does save a lot of work and hold in the water. This year I thought that I wouldn't need the cardboard and didn't get as much straw down as in the past. You can surely tell the difference. I like the idea of alternating melon crops. I always plant a new variety or a new plant/veggie than before, just to spice things up and add some variety and interest to the garden. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. Always though, I don't begrudge the small space to the possibilities which could surprise me.

DebbieB said...

Tweaking what works, discarding what doesn't - it's a recipe for success, for sure.

Mama Pea said...

Very good ideas for all of us to take to heart and/or at least give some thought to. We here in the US of A are so used to abundance and variety, learning to simplify our lives (and that includes the food we eat) just makes sense. (Well, it does to us who are trying to live the type of lives we are.) (Huh?)

I love cattle panels. SO many uses for them in the garden and if you have enough of a supply on hand, good temporary animal pens.

Leigh said...

Sandy thanks! I delayed fall planting for the same reason, the heat. I can't complain about August though, it was very pleasant. Good for you for getting your garden ready for next spring!

Nina, I think if I could perfect seed saving, especially those that cross pollinate easily. Still, it's great fun to try new things.

Debbie, thanks!

Mama Pea, spot on observations as usual. I have to admit I feel fortunate to live where the growing season is so long. It really helps.

DFW said...

What a wonderful garden. Love those marigolds in the last picture.

Anonymous said...

I have read your blog for a while & always enjoyed it, but today's gardening one just really hit the spot with me. Where do you get the cattle panels? & what area do you live in? I am in west central GA, & you mentioned Univ. of GA in one of your writings. Your garden looks wonderful. Also where did you get the old fashioned marigold seeds? Thanks for sharing. Mary Ann Cauthen

Unknown said...

All very sound goals.. I'm with you particularly on mulching, never leaving soil bare and saving seed. Biennial rotation of varieties is a brilliant idea btw!

Quilter Kathy said...

Such great wisdom and learning in this post!

Woolly Bits said...

about the bamboo - you can plant it inside a "spread-save", such as the the outside of a large oildrum etc.. alternatively you could use that old pit you still want to remove to grow it in:) bamboo is one of the plants that doesn't go rampant here - unfortunately. we have had to buy the poles in, but they last quite a long time (unless DS cuts them into pieces to make a roof base or somesuch....)

Leigh said...

DFW, thanks!

Mary Ann, welcome. Cattle panels are available at most feed stores. I get mine from Tractor Supply because I can get 3 for the prince of 2 elsewhere.

The pumpkin seeds were sent to me by an internet acquaintance who teaches at UGA. I have no clue if they are available from the University. I got the original marigold seeds in a trade with another reader. If you're interested, please contact me at leighsfiberjournal at gmail dot com. :)

Tanya, I feel like I have to do it this way because I have so much trouble with cross pollination!

Kathy, thanks! For both your kind words and the blog visit.

Bettina, I can see how something like that might work. I've read about folks burying boards to keep it from spreading. At first I thought maybe the goats would enjoy it too, but apparently goats don't care for bamboo.

Anonymous said...

I love seeing how you think these things out....thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Renee Nefe said...

my garden this year has been very blah. I think I might have gotten about 15 green beans...not plants...actual beans. And these were planted after our hail I don't know what they're problem is. my slicing tomato appears to have blight now. my cherry tomatoes are doing well, but the romas I've gotten 3 and they refuse to ripen. I got a few peppers and I might be getting one egg plant. The pumpkin and squash will flower, but no fruit. Maybe the bees can't get at the flowers with the netting to keep the birds out?

I think what I need to do are to move the garden to the area on the south side of our house. I'm pretty sure that area is full of sprinkler lines I would have to build raised beds. Then I need to come up with some sort of hail protection.

Sigh, perhaps I should just give up and buy at the farmer's market.

Leigh said...

Stephanie, thanks. Hopefully you'll be settled soon and gardening too.

Renee, if anybody has had gardening challenges, it's been you. Sounds like moving the location to the south side of the house would be a good idea. Are your pumpkins making female flowers? One year I only got male flowers from my pumpkins. The females are bulb like at the base of the flower. I have to hand it to you for sticking with it. Only someone who loved gardening would do that!

Norma from Misty Haven Alpacas said...

I always get great tips and reminders from your blog gardening entries. The cattle panels idea is great. I have leftover fencing I can cut for that and likely some of those small T posts somewhere amongst the shed mess. I'm writing a post on my blog about my year's garden experiences...I'm way behind you in learning...but you've reminded me of things I mean to note for next years attempt.

SmithGang said...

Awww being from Georgia ima jealous of those Pumkin seeds!! Update on how they turn out and their name is totally cute;)
I learned to grow Black Oil Sunflower seeds for the chickens from your blog then found out quickly just how valuable they were to my rabbits then goats. So I'm very interested in those Giant Amaranths . Do u grow these in full summer ?? I have learned the more I grow on the farm for the animals keeps money in my pocket. Heck the more I grow to feed these teenagers let's me keep my money too. I love the fact I can put a pot of peas or collards on my table and get raves from my kids just as quick as their once a week drive thru treat. Funny how their friends always say things always taste so good here.mmm:) so I gotta learn more bout those Giants.
O yeah Mr.Roo is doing alittle better. I would just love for him to find a voice lol I can't wait to hear the kids early, early on Saturday mornings waking up hollering moma tell him to hush lol.what Joy I am waiting on.I'm an early riser hehe.
The cow panel idea is awesome my tomatoes didn't do well this year this maybe the trick.
Ty for sharing this post.

Leigh said...

Norma, seems a great use for leftover fencing, doesn't it. I'd say this isn't so much learning as desperation to succeed. :)

SmithGang, I bought the amaranth seed from Baker Creek Heirloom seeds. They have quite a few varieties I'd like to try, including a drooping red one, can't think of it's name!

Glad your roo is doing well. He will likely come into his own yet!

Unknown said...

We used cattle panels too for our berry area. Worked great! Everything looks so green!

Leigh said...

Nancy thanks!