Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Gardening Floyd: Intimations of Spring

Floyd has been enjoying a prolonged bout of mild weather for this time of year.  So much so, that some of our perennials have begun to make appearances in our garden.  I have mixed emotions.  On the one hand I'm hopping up and down and yelling, "YAY!  C'mon SPRING!"  On the other hand, I'm worried and trying to warn our baby fruit trees to be patient and wait.  The hard, shiny, protective shells on their buds are beginning to give way to velvet.  If at some point the weather turns back to cold seasonal temperatures and the buds are too far along we could lose any fruit we might get from them or even the little trees themselves.

Here's what I saw this morning:
The Garlic Bed
The garlic is obviously up and running.  Last year we planted it in the spring and while it yielded some garlic we didn't get much and what we got didn't keep well.  Most places that sell garlic for planting in the garden send it out in the late summer/early fall because, like tulips, daffodils, and other bulbs, it does best when planted in the fall to establish roots and winter over.  By the time we decided we wanted to plant garlic the year before most places were sold out and we made do with some unknown variety that we came across at a Southern States store last spring.  It didn't do very well.  So early last summer we ordered garlic and shallots which were sent to us later just before the proper planting time for our area.  So far, so good!

The Shallot Bed
Next to the garlic is the shallot bed.  We planted these last year in the spring and they did really well for us.  I still have a half dozen left.  They were easy and carefree to grow with a good return for the effort and I urge you to grow your own.  In pots if you have to.  It's also recommended to plant these in  the fall which we did this time.  And as you can see they are starting to emerge.  It looks a little spotty in the photo but in amongst the leaf mulch you can see green tips poking through everywhere.

Hooped Terrace
This is one of our "hoop houses".  It's the lower terrace that last year grew Amish Paste and Principe Borghese tomatoes.  We seeded it in the fall with fava beans, mostly as a cover crop and to get some nitrogen back into the soil, but also in hopes of harvesting some fava beans.  Last year we planted fava beans but they didn't do well and we got nothing from them.  Then we learned that favas prefer cooler temps.  So we seeded them in the fall and before heavy frosts began covered them with plastic.  If you were to peek in there you'd see rows of 5" high sprightly green bean plants.  More on our hoop houses below.

Some of the perennial herbs (those sturdy little soldiers!) are reaching up towards the sun!  I don't worry about them at all.  They are troopers that can take a frost, shake it off, and keep moving forward.
Bergarten Sage
Lemon Balm
French Tarragon
We are proponents of the Square Foot Gardening method made popular by Mel Bartholomew.  If you can find the original edition of his book, snatch it up.  We weren't so taken with the updated edition.  We combine that with French Intensive Market Gardening, for even higher yields from our beds.  FIMG has a long, long, and very interesting history and we came across it through other books we read but there's an offering here and here about it.  Finally, to extend the growing season on both ends and to be able to harvest some produce through the winter, we turned to Eliot Coleman's, The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses

Mr. Coleman's Book inspired us to devise our "hoop houses".  Tunnels, really.  They up the temperatures inside by at least one planting zone (we're 6B here in Floyd) which gives us winter temperatures that mimic those found around Charlotte, NC and sometimes warmer.  There are days when we have to vent the tunnels a little because they get a little too warm and humid.  The frames of the tunnels with the plastic removed and netting in place have served to keep deer, raccoons, rabbits and other marauders out of the beds when the weather gets warm.

With plastic in place
With netting in place
The hoops were very easy to build and far cheaper then fencing the garden would have been.  They are sticks of 1/2" flexible plastic conduit bent on to 2' pieces of rebar that have been driven 1' into the ground along the edges of the beds.  You don't need to have raised beds to do this.  They're covered in bird/deer netting that comes in 7'x100' rolls cut to fit.  These materials were bought at a local big box home improvement store.  The green house plastic was given to us by a friend but can be found in some nursery centers or ordered online.  Both the netting and the plastic are held to the frame with those giant winged paper clips from an office supply store.  When we want to work the beds we simply unclip the netting or plastic, push it towards the top and clip it in place.  We have drip hose in the beds which allows for efficient watering but before we had that in place we just watered right through the netting.  Be aware though that watering directly at the roots of your plants is not only more efficient but keeps the leaves dry discouraging molds, blights and mildews.  Our neighbors chuckled when they first saw our set-up but as the season progressed and we pulled in bountiful crops while the local fauna enjoyed the summer buffets laid out for them elsewhere, along with fresh cool weather crops long into the winter, we got more "How did you do that?" comments.

We also started building our trellises out of 1/2" rigid metal conduit and elbows and 4' rebar.
These were very economical to put together, can be taken apart for storage if necessary, and seem to last forever.  This one is the first one we built, the photo is from last summer, and it's going into it's thirteenth year of use.  Same deal, the pieces came from the local big box home improvement store.

All the winter crops are now out of the tunnels (except for the fava beans), the soil has been cultivated and bedded with leaf mulch, and is now warming and waiting to welcome the earliest spring cool weather crops.  The countdown has begun!

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