crop rotation

Wild Ain’t Always Pretty

As an organic gardener, I employ the art of crop rotation in my garden. Basically, after harvesting a bed of glorious bounty, I till the soil and follow the crop with something that is amenable to improving the soil, or at least not depleting it any more than it already has been. For example, after harvesting my corn, I follow with beans in my simple easy-to-follow rotation mantra beans-leaves-roots-and-fruits. (Makes for an easy singalong with kids.) Beans-leaves-roots and fruits! Beans-leaves-roots and fruits!

You get the picture. However, sometimes during my rotation process after my husband mows down my garden with his handy dandy tractor attachment and I amend the soil with my lovely compost, I find some leftovers. Hangers-on. Hold-outs. Call them what you will, but my peanut row–the one that followed my corn–is inundated with clumps of corn and squash.

While they do make decidedly nice companions, this scene ain’t pretty. Definitely not pretty. Now mind you, I prefer productive over pretty, but I’m not sensing these corn are going to be very productive. Too much, too close. Ordinarily I’d pull the unwanted plants from my bed, but this time, I’ve decided to watch and wait, and see what happens. Never know–maybe I’ll get some squash out of the deal! (You probably can’t see them, but there’s squash and that row, too.)

And yes, those are weeds you see all around. But I’ve been out of town for a bit over the last two weeks and weeds are an unwanted consequence. I find it much easier to convince my son to water my plants while I’m gone than to weed them. **sigh** It ain’t pretty, but so long as I can reap the bounty of some fabulous peanuts this summer, it will all be worth it. I’ll keep you posted!

Harvesting Eggplant

I love eggplant. Not only delicious, but it’s easy to grow and beautiful to gaze upon. From the delicate purple blossoms accentuated by bright yellow centers to the sleek black bodies of fruit, I love everything about eggplant.

eggplant-blossom

Unfortunately, I’m the only one in my family who enjoys this robust fruit, hence the reason I only have one plant in my garden. One, lone plant, tucked away within the rows of its close family member, the tomato.

eggplant-and-tomato-friends

Both part of the nightshade family of plants, eggplant and tomato can thrive planted alongside one another, however, beware of allowing them to follow one another in your crop rotation. Not a great idea, because verticillium wilt fungus that infects tomatoes one season can live in the soil for years and likely infect subsequent crops. Peppers and potatoes are also members of the nightshade family so consider these four plants as one unit when it comes to crop rotation.

A few varieties of tomatoes are resistant to this fungus, ie. Carnival, Celebrity and Santiago. I happen to grow Celebrity and Beefsteak, so I’m half-resistant! Just another example of why crop rotation is so very important in your organic garden.

first-eggplant-harvestAnd since I’m both gardener and chef in my household, I grow and enjoy eggplant as much as I want — serving it up sautéed golden brown with tomato sauce, or layered in lasagna.

sauteed-eggplant

Simply delightful! Check out my recipe section for Sautéed Eggplant full details.

Broccoli Babes

As my peanuts finish out for the season, it’s time to introduce a new crop. To best utilize my garden space, I interplant based on crop rotation rules. Crop rotation is an organic gardening practice where you change the placement of your plants from season to season. Doing so improves the structure and quality of your soil as well as minimizes the risk of disease and pest infestation. I use a rotation of beans-leaves-roots-fruits. Basically, this means that after my “beans” have produced, I plant “leaves.” In this case, beans = peanuts and leaves = broccoli. Peanuts fix nitrogen into the soil and broccoli requires lots of nitrogen to produce big green leaves so this rotation makes good sense.

baby-broccoli-and-mature-peanuts

In between the broccoli sprouts will be spinach. Both love nitrogen and are good companions in the garden. Other crop rotation considerations are how my tomatoes followed peanuts from earlier this season, corn followed my bush beans. These peanuts (shown above) actually followed okra, although I normally try to follow a fruit group, say tomatoes, squash or peppers.

my-fall-garden-2016

Above is my fall garden to date (just prior to the insertion of my tomato stakes and cables). Blueberry bushes are located in the farthest row. Black beans are in the ground next to them. Then there’s my corn, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, peanuts, broccoli and spinach. Still to come this season are sweet onions and carrots, cabbage and chard. Potatoes will go in around January. Can’t wait!

Progress Report

The kids have been diligently tending their garden, learning about the cold, learning the ways of crop rotation.  Rotating crops helps to improve soil structure, increases a plant’s ability to absorb nutrients and aids in pest control.  As we prepare to harvest and begin the new season, organic gardeners need to know what they grow, know what grows where, when and why.  Quite a mouthful, isn’t it?

But we make crop rotation easy at BloominThyme and sing our way through the garden ~ beans – leaves – roots and fruits!  Beans – leaves – roots and fruits! More

Planting Potatoes

It’s so easy, even a 9 yr. old can handle it.  Seriously.  My son helped me today and while I took on the job of tilling the row (to keep it neat and the dirt off my walkways), he did most everything else.  You see, as organic gardeners, we rotate our crops within our existing beds.

So first things first.  Decide which row to plant our potatoes.  I use an excel spreadsheet to keep everything straight, but pencil and paper work fine, not to mention there are a host of websites out there with fancy, automated, technologically advanced “crop rotation plan” drawings! Phew, that’s a mouth-full.  Anyhoo–point is, do something to keep your beds straight from season to season.  You’ll be glad you did. 🙂

Keep in mind when forming your bed for potatoes, that you will be “hilling” them as the plant grows.  This means that as your potato plant begins to grow leaves and attain some height, you’re going to want to draw or “pull” in more dirt around the base of the plant.  Hay mulch can also be used to serve this purpose.  The idea here is to ensure good coverage of the developing “tubers” or new potatoes as they grow.  Potatoes have an “upward” growth habit, whereby they will grow upward as the root system expands.  If they near the soil’s surface and become exposed to sunlight, they will turn green and green potatoes are NO good.  (They’ll make you sick if you eat them.)  You can also start with a trench when planting potatoes.  Makes it easier to hill in the future, but with my garden I simply plant them “low” and hill as they grow. 

We’re following our peanuts and beans this season, which puts us next to carrots and beets—great companions for one another and no harm to our potatoes.  Important considerations, both.  My son and I amended our soil with compost, but cow manure is also a good choice for potatoes (they love the stuff).  Next, we form holes for our potato seed–about 2 inches deep.  Then, we analyze our potato seed (aka potatoes ready for planting) and look for the eyes.

The idea here is to cut your potato seeds in half or even quarters, depending on the size of the potato and the number of “eyes.”  Each cut piece should have at least one eye, as this is where the future sprout erupts!  When planting, I like to put the cut potato piece “eye-side-up”—don’t want to make it too hard for my babies!—though I’ve since learned, potatoes and tomatoes are prolific growers.  As it stands, these two are the most likely to sprout in my compost pile and you KNOW I didn’t toss those rotten old potatoes into the compost with any regard to their “eye” orientation!

But just in case—make it as easy as possible and plant “eye-side-up.”  Now cover your potatoes with dirt and water well (excuse my hose–still working on a more professional-style irrigation system).  The rest is up to Mother Nature!

Okay, you DO want to feed them every so often with a nice mix of fish emulsion or a dose of good old-fashioned worm poop.  Potatoes can be “pigs” when it comes to nutrients which is why you want that compost and cow manure mixed in at time of planting.  You may have noticed that I only planted half my row today and this we learned from experience.  “Staggering” your planting dates ensures a constant supply of fresh potatoes, else you lose them to storage problems and whining from the family. 

“Potatoes for dinner?  Again?”

Apparently they don’t want potatoes for dinner EVERY night.  Hmph.

In about 2 – 4 months we will have ourselves a lovely bounty of fresh potatoes and let me tell you—there IS a difference between fresh-from-the-garden-potatoes and store-bought.  They taste sweet pie and smooth as butter.  YUM.

Grisly Discovery

So what do you do when you stroll out to your garden and you’re hit with an awful, horrible smell?  Well if you’re me, you may ignore it, assume it’s a small rodent nearby and continue setting up for your morning lesson.  Until that is, the first child runs out to the garden, stops short and calls out, “Hey Mrs. Venetta–there’s a dead in cat in our garden!”

What?  I whirled around and my heart stopped.  There in the middle of our row was a poor kitty in the midst of decomposition.  Oh no… Suddenly the odor becomes sickening. 

“Can we compost it?” he asked.

“No.  Definitely not.”  Germs, bacteria–I’m imagining all sorts of horrific things and none of them pretty.  Or healthy.  Or compostable, at least in this garden.  As the other children began to arrive, I sent this boy to the office.  “Let them know what’s going on out here, will you?”

“You bet!”  And with a smile, he was gone.

Kids.  Sometimes you simply can’t faze them.  Amaze them, yes–but not faze them.

Needless to say our morning garden experience didn’t go as planned.  I wasn’t about to have these kids get anywhere near the dead animal so we discussed what we “planned” to do instead.  Crop rotation kids.  Follow your fruits with beans for good organic rotation.  Okay, that’s all for today boys and girls.  See ya next week!

Within the hour the cat was removed, the weed paper (that he was laying upon) as well and the following morning I dug the surface layer of dirt up and out of the garden.  Perhaps this was overkill but I’m an overkill kinda gal.  No germs, no how–not when it comes to kids and seeds, anyway!  

Confident all was well, the next group of kids planted black beans provided those working the “disturbed” section of the dirt bed wear gloves.  Inch deep and a hand length apart!

Great fun was had by this crew and next week we’ll make it up to upper elementary.  But this is a lesson for them in coping with the unexpected (or something like that). But take heart, your beans are climbing up a storm!

To round out the week, the primary students planted their butterfly garden.  Teaching the wee ones how to transplant was quite the whirlwind of activity but I think they all thoroughly enjoyed themselves.  And because it’s located in the small courtyard behind their classroom, they’ll get to enjoy it every day.  From what I understand, garden work is a favorite among the students.  (Doesn’t surprise me.  These kids are smart!)

What did we plant?  Details on how and what to plant for attracting butterflies will be featured on Monday’s post.  There’s actually a lot more to it than you might think!

Cover Crops and Crop Covers

Ah, but the adventure in gardening never ceases!  While I usually associate cover crops with winter, covering your crops is a necessity for us Floridians during summer.  If you want to remain sane, that is, and don’t take kindly to heat exhaustion. Good God–it’s hot around theses parts in August!  Even the poor dogs are complaining. No stretch for our yellow Lab Cody-boy.  Dog never met an air-conditioner he didn’t absolutely adore. Or covet–depending on where he was sleeping that night. 🙂  Don’t ask. Long story.

Any-who, it’s hot. Too hot to garden, too hot to weed, too hot for anything but the pool. Maybe the beach if the trek through the sand weren’t so treacherous, searing the tender skin clear off the bottoms of my feet.  Ouch–but I don’t remember that being a problem as a kid!  Eh, nostalgia 101. 

Now, moving right along, what’s a gardener to do in the scorch of summertime?  She covers her crops, that’s what she does.  If she knows whats good for her, anyway.  Not only will this action keep the weeds at bay, but it will kill those pesky grubs and nematodes too.  Yep, you guessed it.  It’s our very own rendition of the sun-baked oven.  By covering the rows with black (or red) paper we can eliminate the bugs beneath the ground.  (If you plan to research the gem of advice, the proper term is “solarizing the soil.”)  Now, professional grade paper works way better than home gardener grade, but if you can’t lay your hands on the tough stuff, you may want to double up on the home-style version for the same effect:  trap the heat, heat the soil, fry the varmints and prepare for planting.  Isn’t this fun?

I do love a multi-tasker.  Makes the world go round with the ease and flow.  The kids and I have covered just about our entire garden with plain old weed cloth prevention paper and while it doesn’t look pretty (anchor pins don’t work well against summertime thunderstorms so we used anything we could to help weigh the paper down!), it is efficient at preventing weeds–a must in our garden if we plan to avoid mutiny.

Do make sure you perform all of this wonderfully productive work during the early morning or early evening hours, else you fry your brain in the process.  But what if you don’t live in Florida? And don’t have grubs and nematodes?

No nematodes or grubs?  Why, that’s not fair!  It’s not right!  Who are you that you should waltz through the growing season without these dastardly beasts?  Not to worry. Once I’ve had my throw down I’ll haul myself up, brush the dirt from my knees, wipe my hands clean and suggest you may be interested in some cover crops. They’re totally organic, great soil conditioners and even work to keep the weeds at bay.

What’s a cover crop?  Well now, you’ve come to the right place!  Cover crops are all kinds of things, from legumes to rye, brassicas to flowers, but more important–they all have a purpose.  Say you’re an organic gardener (of course you are) and you want to enrich your soil with organic matter.  One way to achieve this is by planting a bean crop, also known as “green manure,” because beans put nitrogen into the soil.  And plants LOVE nitrogen.  This concept is not only great for amending the soil, but it’s also key to the concept of crop rotation.  For a winter cover crop, try a heavy seeding of rye in your garden like you see here planted at the Blue Horizon Farm.  Not only will it improve your soil, but it’s cold tolerant ANd thick enough to provide great weed prevention.  Gotta love that! 

But cover crops can do more than improve soil and prevent weeds.  Planting mustard has shown to suppress fungal disease populations through the release of naturally occurring toxic chemicals during the degradation of glucosinolade compounds in their plant cell tissues while other crops are planted to lure pests away from your garden.  Sort of a pest-trap-planting, if you will. 

Isn’t this great? So whether you’re covering crops or growing crop cover–there’s something to keep everyone active no matter the time of year. Hip-hip-hooray!

Compost and Crop Rotation

Calling all kids!  Calling all kids!  It’s time to turn the compost!

Talk about a good time–I don’t know which they enjoyed more–shoveling dirt or handling tools!  New toys, is more like it.  Young people are always looking for the latest and greatest and if they can’t find that, well then, they’ll settle for something new.  New to them, that is. 

Fine with me.  Our middle schoolers and upper elementary students had a field day with the job of turning their heap of hay and weeds AND they were being productive.  An awesome combination in my garden journal.  Better yet, as they worked their way through, they were amazed by the dirt they had “grown.”  Composting is pretty cool.

While these composters were at work, another group  was busy pulling out the broccoli.  The broccoli eaten, the plants bolted, it was time.  Besides, it was time to plant our scallions.  As part of our crop rotation plan, we will follow our “leaves” with “roots” as in bean, leaves, roots and fruits.  If you dance around and repeat this order in a sing-song tone, the kids tend to remember it.   They also roll their eyes, snicker, giggle and refuse to dance with you–but they do remember it.

But of course, before we can plant we must remove the weeds.  A job more fun when done with friends.  Avoiding roots and other buried treasures in our dirt bed, the kids planted their onions and covered them with a nice layer of soft dirt. 

Peering into the bag of leftover onions sets, one boy asked if he could have them.  As in, take-them-into-your-classroom-hide-them-in-your-locker-and-cause-ruckus, have them?  

No.  He wanted to plant them in his home garden.  I smiled.  There was no way I could resist that kind of enthusiasm, so of course, I handed him the bag.   

Moving right along, the lower elementary kids descended upon the garden and I had to give them some bad news.  It’s not always “sunshine and candy” in the garden.  Nope.  Sometimes gardeners (a.k.a. me) miss weather cues (too busy to watch the weather channel) and are caught off guard by surprise frosts.  Not good when you have fragile vulnerable Lima transplants in the ground.  Yep, you guessed it.  Frost-bitten.

Back in the old days, farmer kids had to rely solely on their garden for food.  Lucky for us, we don’t have to rely on our crop for survival.  But hey–look at our potatoes!  Heads turned.  See how wonderful they’re growing?

Ooohs and aaahs abounded as they forgave me, then we toured around the garden for a focus on the positive.  Our carrots are sprouting, our sweet onions are doing well…

Then, to make it up for my error, I suggested we engage in a bit of transplanting (one of their favorite things to do!)  We began with oregano.

Discovered this little guy along the way.  Ugh.  Unwelcome in our garden, he was dispatched to another section of the yard. 

Added some lavender.  One child mistook it for rosemary, whereby we did a “smell” comparison.  They touched the rosemary with one hand, the lavender with the other and compared.  Spicy, strong, soap, perfume…  We had lots of observations, to which I added, “One smells like the kitchen, and one smells like mom.”  

All in all, it was a good week in the garden.

 

If this cabbage isn’t a testament to the glory of a garden, I don’t know what is.  Simply gorgeous.

Pull Up the Covers

It’s cold outside!  But we’re not talking flannel, we’re talking row covers  —  a skill every child can manage.  They make their beds, right?

Of course they do and they can make their plant beds, too!  “Out with the old and in with new.”  Not only is this a smart tactic for winter break, but for weed prevention as well.  After all, we’ll be gone for three weeks and we need to prepare the plants for our absence.  We also need to prepare our beds for spring!

Because life in the garden continues.  Despite the season and despite our recent loss, the broccoli and cabbage will fill out, promising a luscious harvest upon our return.  The carrots and onions will hold until January.  But for now, we eagerly pull plants by their roots.

We toss them on to the compost  — another thing to look forward come spring.  We’ll have our own soil amendment!

After all our hard work, they’re gone, but not forgotten.  How could you forget such beautiful tomatoes?

And we cover and clip black paper into place. 

We’re preparing for the potatoes to be planted next month whereby we’ll practice our crop rotation; a staple of good organic gardening.  And best of all?  We get to do it all over again come spring!  Woohoo!

School’s out.