Tuesday, April 18, 2006

garden strategy 2006

And yes, I do have one, sort of.

I now have lettuce, arugula, spinach, beet greens, sugar snap peas, kohlrabi, and Swiss chard planted in the garden, as well as the garlic I planted last fall. All this a good month before the last expected frost date around here, and when the gardening books say such crops should be planted. The norm for northern Minnesota is plant everything Memorial Day weekend or later, whether it is frost tolerant or tender annual. Didn't the early settlers here ever hear of the wonders of picking the first salad greens in May? Apparently not, but I would not miss it for the world.

So my first strategy of the year is early. This is the first year I have had so much garden space available so early in the spring, and I plan on utilizing succession planting, which the early settlers also apparently did not know about. I'll give them a break; they were hard working folks, who did not have the leisure of garden "experiments" when they needed every square inch of garden space for survival. So they went with the tried and true.

While weeding some of last year's garden beds, the ones that did not have enough plant cover to inhibit weed growth, I started thinking of my second strategy: mulch. I should be out right now, raking and collecting leaves, pine needles, and whatever else I can find to keep the weeds at bay, and also a perhaps more important function, to keep the soil moist. The disadvantage of raised beds is that the soil tends to dry out quickly. I just compared my garlic bed, which I mulched heavily right after planting the bulbs, with the other more exposed raised beds. The soil was nice and moist right underneath the leaves, while I have had to water the greens bed daily.

While I'm on the M's, I'll bring up my third strategy: manure. The horses provide plenty of it; last year I filled most of the garden beds with aged manure hand-dug from the horse pasture. The only problem with that is the work involved, especially since the horse pasture is a long haul from the garden. We may have a friend come with a tractor and do some of the work. The Hermit has been looking at tractors to buy as well. Ah, men and their toys.

With a little bit of a stretch I can keep up the M motif with my fourth strategy: days to Maturity. I learned the importance of selecting short-season varieties last year, when we were hit with frost in August, just as my Kentucky Wonder pole beans were starting to set pods. The other pole beans I planted, Ohio Cutshort, had just begun to flower. I did some research later and found that Ohio Cutshort took at least 85 days to produce beans. That just won't do around here. While last year I was trying to save space by planting pole beans with squash underneath, this year I will have to take up more garden space and plant earlier maturing bush beans.

Speaking of more, that brings up my fifth strategy, which is...more. More raised beds, more of everything, because I have never had too much of anything from the garden. Yes, even zucchini and tomatoes. Of course I realize that will mean more work for me, but there is a certain minimum amount of effort required just to have a garden; planting six beds instead of three does not necessarily double the work involved. In theory, anyway. I never keep track, and I don't intend to start.

Some time after the first frost next fall, I predict I will look back on this post and have a good laugh. "What was I thinking!"


madcapmum said...

Sounds like a good plan to me, especially the bit about more raised beds!

Last year we had quite a lot of horse manure in our beds, but I think it wasn't well-rotted enough, or maybe it was just too much of a good thing, because the plants in those beds looked like they were kind of strung out on uppers; nervous, jittery, a little browned around the edges.

the Contrary Goddess said...

I just have to say that I don't think those who came before us *who depended on what they produced* were so stupid as to not know and utilize succession planting and early planting and knowing what was hardy and what was tender. I think our "traditions" of planting on May 10 (or whenever) are a more recent product of factory farming (which easily dates from the 1800s and before). People who depend on what they produce know about the early greens that nature produces, for example.

Get lots!

But forego the tractor -- you won't be able to afford to run it quite soon!

Eleutheros said...

Deb:"Didn't the early settlers here ever hear of the wonders of picking the first salad greens in May?"

Yes, what CG said. Don't look on local traditions as being in an unbroken line from poineer days. Almost all modern gardening practices are just miniaturization of mechanized agribusiness. Hardscrabble subsistence farmers did not waint until the end of May to, as they say around here "put out" a garden.

Deb said...

CG and Eleutheros- good point, I hadn't thought of it that way. The Memorial Day garden date likely stems from gardening as a weekend hobby, and from when garden centers have their big sales!

And as for the tractor...too late!

Floridacracker said...

I waited until the end of January...

Endment said...

You are braver than I am... I have plants by the dozens (literally( all over the house, on the deck where I can cover them at night but haven't set them out in the garden yet. Weather service says we will have four days below freezing next week and possible snow the first of May. Mulch has been cleared off the beds and we will be setting out things as soon as our courage rises to the task.

I love working in raised beds. We hope to put in two more within the next week or two.

It is fun to read your experiences with your garden.