The Fall Garden: Decisions, decisions.

22 09 2008

Earlier this year, I ordered shallots and two kinds of garlic to plant this fall.  Now, the question is, giving my limited space and the fact they will not finish growing until midsummer next year, how much space do I really want to dedicate to shallots and garlic.

This gets back to the question about what to grow.  I use piles of garlic every year.  If I grew garlic successfully, there is no way it would go to waste.  At the same time, I garlic is relatively inexpensive.  Shallots, on the other hand, are not.  I’m not sure why shallots are so much more expensive than garlic, but I tend to stave off buying them except for holiday occasions.  I wish this was not the case.   Today I planted ten shallots in the space where the pak choi had been growing.   Each shallot should give me 6-10 new shallots.  As a result, if none of them spoil and all of them grow reasonably well, I should have 60-100 shallots next year.  That would be pretty darn good, even if I save several for seed.  In theory I might not have to buy shallots again!

The question, then, is what I do with the remaining half pound of shallots and the two packages of garlic that I have.  The tomatoes will be coming out, and I could plant two rows of something there.  I also want to take out one row of chard, which would give me three rows.  The question is whether I want to dedicate that much of next year’s gardening space to garlic and shallots.  I’m going to wait another week or so before I start ripping things out.  Decisions, decisions.

On a happy note, back in March and again a few months later, I put down a couple of inches of composted horse manure.  When I turned the soil before putting the shallots in, I was very pleased with the condition of the soil.


Meet the Team

14 07 2008

One of the more humbling aspects about gardening is how little we do ourselves. Sure, when we’re nursing a blister it sure SEEMS like we’re doing all the work, but alas, I have come to think we are really just the stage hands for the real actors.

This handsome lad is the joy of my life. His darling owner feeds him (and I stuff him full of horse cookies), and he provides us with the materials for compost.

This is well-aged compost. I add it by the five-gallon bucket load. For those that this may gross out, I can assure that having cleaned literally thousands of stalls, there is magic in the process that turns fresh manure into rich, dark compost. In a way, it’s almost alchemy. Digested grass is turned into black gold. On this note, there is one thing about fresh compost that you can’t get in the bags at the hardware store: worms. The nice, loose stuff that you can buy in plastic bags is aesthetically pleasing (I used it on the herb garden shown below), but the fact of the matter is that it has been sitting around in plastic bags. It doesn’t have these guys:

This little worms are my best helpers. They take compost or any organic matter and turn it into nutrients that feed my plants that then feed me. It’s not quite a full circle, but Feed the Horse –> Feed the Worms –> Feed the Plants –> Feed Me is one step closer to sustainability.

My little yard really needs both worms and the organic material to feed them. When I have been pulling ivy, I haven’t come across a single worm. As I am surrounded by concrete on four sides, they’re not going to magically appear. Tonight, I added 20 gallons of compost to the 4X4 bed I am making. I hope this is a step toward a much healthier little yard.

Now for a couple of team members you may not have expected:

Have a fish tank you need motivation to clean? The water and gravel is packed with nitrates that need to be removed from the tank on a regular basis. Plants love aquarium water. Rather than do large water changes every few weeks, try taking a gallon or two out of the tank every couple of days to water the garden. It only takes a couple of minutes, and the fish really appreciate getting small infusions of fresh water on a regular basis.

Admittedly, there is one staff member who thinks we should give up this gardening business and raise chickens instead:

I figure we can take her opinions under consideration when she learns to shovel.

How to start a kitchen garden.

14 07 2008

I’ve taken up guerrilla gardening in the front yard of my apartment. The landlord let it get overrun with invasive ivy, aka Enemy #1. I have been (with permission) systematically ripping out the ivy and turning the yard into an herb garden that I hope will be established by the time I leave the apartment. I have four lavender plants, oregano, garlic chives, sage, and tarragon. When I ripped the soil out, it was completely dead. With the ivy over it, there hadn’t been any organic matter added to it in years (decades?). There were some places where weeds wouldn’t even try to grow. I mixed in a bunch of organic fertilizer and mulched with compost, but I think it is going to take a long time to restore the soil to some sort of sustainable condition. I am hoping over the next year, the lavender and sage will largely fill out this space.

This is my other guerrilla project. I ripped out more ivy and put in a 4X4 raised bed. This is a very primitive raised bed, but it will work. I had the fellows at the lumber yard cut 2X10s into manageable lengths, then we nailed them together. I still need to add more soil and compost, but I’m happy with how it is coming along. I’m going to try growing purple sprouting broccoli in it over the winter, in order to have some homegrown food early next spring before anything else is available. Obviously, there is more work to do on the ivy.