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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Cover Crop to Mulch & Compost

So I planted a cover crop of peas & oats in a few of my garden beds this spring.   I have already turned over the bed where the hot peppers were placed.  My last bed that has to get turned over to plant is for the beans.   The cover crop was over a foot tall by now, and has done a wonderful job of keeping weeds down in beds that won't be used till the soil warmed up.  When I turned the pepper bed the crop was only like 4-6" tall so wasn't a big deal to just turn the crop and all over.  But when over a foot tall it would have been tough to dug all that up and turn it over.  So I decided to hand pull it.

I didn't worry about getting it all out, just the majority of it.  A small bit and some of the root systems were good to keep there to turn over and add more organic matter into the soil to break down.  I did put some of it on the compost pile as I'll have more goat stall bedding to add to it, so needed more green to go with the carbon from the straw. 

After I put some on the compost pile I had a bright idea.... what about putting some of it around some of the other plants as mulch instead?  So I added it to the sides of the other tomatoes, tomatillos and ground cherries.  Plus with the added weight it would help keep the paper mulch from getting blown up. 

cover crops as mulch around the tomatoes.

The other bed I still have cover crop on is the potato bed.  It was actually by accident that I put cover crop seeds on that bed but worked out very much in my favor.  You see potatoes do NOT like really cold / frosty nights and we have had a few since the potato leaves have sprouted.  But the cover crop is taller than the potatoes so it protected them from getting too damaged.  Now that the frost night BETTER be over after this weekends frosty nights - I think I might start pulling up the peas and oats and just lay it on the ground around the potatoes to keep the weeds from getting light to germinate.  I did a little bit of it but will wait another week to finish the bed - JUST in case.

Potatoes with the cover crops pulled and laid down as mulch.

This was 1st year of using cover crops in my planting rotation and will definitely keep using them!!  The seeds are very cheap to buy - and all you have to do is just toss it on the beds and rake it around a bit - very easy planting!  And all the good weed control, mulch, compost... its called green manure for good reason!  I bought my peas/oats mix from High Mowing Seeds.

Here is just a little photo garden update on the rest of the beds....

Sante Fe peppers

Black Pearl - just an awesome looking pepper plant in general!!

Hot Hungarian Wax pepper - the pepper is almost bigger than the plant itself!

The is a Great White tomato - my 1st year for planting white tomatoes -can't wait to see how they taste.

Amish Paste tomatoes - future pasta sauce.

Anaheim Peppers

King of the North Bell Peppers.

Lots of onions...  broccoli, kohlrabi, and brussels sprouts.

Cabbage and onions - I think the onions are keeping the cabbage worms (moths) away!!

Lots of collard greens - we have to use some of these soon so I can thin the area out.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Mothers Day Cold Front - Protecting My Babies!!

As gardeners we always worry about that last frost.  Most of us get the itch when the weather starts to get nice to plant things even though a little voice in our heads tell us there is still a good chance it will get cold.  Here in Ohio we are going through that in the last week.  We had some great weather - days in the 70's and sunny - perfect gardening weather.  No massive rains to make the garden too wet to work in (lots of tractors in the big farm fields around here due to that fact!).  So on the weekend of May 4th I couldn't help myself - I had to plant some peppers!  I planted 10 sweet / mild peppers that I had been growing in my basement since late Feb.  It felt so good to get some plants in the ground!!  Also planted a few herbs we had purchased at the nursery.  So fast forward to May 10th with forecast of low 30's the entire weekend.   I was going to be away for the Mothers Day weekend so I had to get the protection put on Friday night.  Being Mothers Day it was kind of fitting as I'm sure many other gardeners feel the same way as I do - especially those who start plants from seed... but these plants are like our babies.  You nurture them as tiny baby seedlings, keep them watered, give them food, make sure they have proper light and heat - then they start to grow up so you try to get them ready for the real world by hardening them off slowly for a few weeks to be ready to be out in the garden on their own - kind of like preparing your teenager to go off to college or enter the real world of having  full-time job and living on their own.  

I used a few tools to protect my babies this weekend, the baby peppers I put some hoops over them and used a layer of row material and the plastic over that.  Many of the plants I put on tidy cat buckets (who knew our stash in the garage would come in so handy!), other 'cheap' ways is to cut out the bottoms of milk jugs and 2 litter pop bottles.  The jug/bottle cloches are great for small transplants as well till they mature a bit since they still get sunlight but protected from harsh winds and temps. 

My garden of Tidy-Cats.  When using something solid like this for overnight protection,make sure
you remove them after it warms up the next morning so the plants get the sunlight they need. 
One new protection method I'm testing out for the 1st time this year is water wells.  I bought a 3pk at the nursery - it says you can plant tomatoes up to 6 weeks early.  They are kind of a pain to setup/fill - I used Mo's help as having the extra set of hands was needed.   I did use a variety that was supposed to be more cold hardy (Sub Arctic Plenty)  anyhow (as I had extras of them if something went wrong).  I planted them in mid April and I checked them out last night and they are still doing ok - almost starting to poke out the top of the wells so glad this is supposed to be our last cold front.  How they work is that through the day the sun heats up the water surrounding them and then it releases the stored heat thru the night to protect the plants from the cold.   All 3 of the tomato plants have buds blooming right now and have grown about 8" in height since I planted them. 
Tomatoes in the water wells, basil in the 2 litter bottle cloches
Some plants are cold hardy and normally will not need any protection for a slight cold snap.  Plants like radishes, cabbage, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, greens, etc.   Normally if you can plant the plants early in the Spring, they are safe from the odd, short lived cold fronts.  I did cover some of my cold hardy plants (some broccoli, cauliflower & brussels sprouts)  with the tidy cat buckets JUST in case because I'm one of those over protective moms I guess.  =)   Tonight's low will be in the low 40's so those plants will be fine - but the peppers, artichokes, tomatoes and basil will still need some protection - they like it over 50 at night. 

Artichokes in milk jug cloches.

Peppers in their low tunnel.
 Happy gardening everyone - I'm hoping to be able to plant the rest of my 'babies' this weekend (May 18th).  I still have over 60 pepper plants and 20+ tomatoes to get into the garden...  their 'grown up' home.

Hardening off the rest of my pepper and tomato babies.  They spent the weekend
in the workshop to keep out of the cold weather and crazy winds.