Ok, so fall is really here, and that means you need to be thinking about the next steps in your garden. Hopefully you all read Amanda’s last blog and have been wrapping your heads around the idea of pulling up your beloved plants!
In the coming weeks I would like to start coming around and getting you started as you plant your cover crop, garlic and onions and potatoes if desired, or else just bringing some straw to mulch over the winter.
Cover crop is not a food crop.
Here is what you need to keep in mind to help you make your decision:
Cover crop is not a food crop. You grow it to chop it down, likely sometime in late Feb or early March. Why, you may ask? Because the blend of crops fixes Nitrogen in your soil which is necessary for plant vegetative growth, plus it adds organic matter (also sometimes called Green Manure) to your soil which is also beneficial for adding nutrients, increasing microbial activity and water holding capacity. These are all good things.
Who should grow a cover crop?
I would mostly recommend cover crop to those of you who have beds directly in the soil, and not in boxes. If you are growing in boxes and still want to plant a cover crop you need to be prepared to do the work of chopping it down and turning it under in late winter. This needs to be done early enough so that it has mostly decomposed by the time of our first spring planting…..which happens in the first part of April. Pulling the plants is an option….if you do it before the plants have gone to seed you may still get some benefit….however, I have observed more soil loss from pulling stuff out than you will gain from growing a cover crop. Long story short, if you are growing in boxes I would recommend a simple straw mulch (which I can provide) or even better, try doing a lasagna garden like Amanda talked about in her last blog.
If you do have beds in the ground and would like to cover crop you will still need to do the work of chopping it down (very small pieces) in late winter/early spring, but then it can simply be tilled under and left to decompose. The hitch here is that there is no way that we will be able to get around to everyone with the rototiller (just being realistic here….)… so if you have a friend with a rototiller that would be a good time to call in that favor they owe you! Again, we’re talking late Feb/early March….weather permitting, of course.
What about Garlic and Onions and Potatoes?
I love growing garlic and onions, as they are two of my favorite foods. Both of these however are long term crops. Garlic is typically planted in October and harvested on or around the 4th of July. ..so it is in the ground (and taking up space) for 9-10 months. If you have a very small garden and like to maximize your summer planting, growing garlic will take space away from that. Same deal with onions, but they are in the ground for a good 4-6 months, depending on the variety. Potatoes take 3-4 months generally, and the early leafy growth is sensitive to frost, so if you are in a colder zone you might want to wait until the spring to do potatoes.
Please think about how important these crops are to you and if it is worth committing some long term garden space to them! I would say if you have the space, go for it! They can be very satisfying to grow (even better to eat), and you can just let them be for quite awhile.
How do I know when to pull my Summer crops?
It is always difficult to know when to pull your summer crops….and it can be a little painful to part with the plants that have been feeding you all summer. Keep in mind that as the nights cool down and overall day temps start to drop, fruits will not continue to ripen. For instance, my cucumbers, squashes and melons are all done producing, so I had no trouble deciding to yank them and prep my beds for the next thing. Any little immature melons were fed as a treat to my goats….since they will not ripen up at this point. My tomatoes however are a harder decision. I have tomatoes continuing to ripen, though at a slower rate, so I am not quite ready to give them up. In my case I have enough space to plant some of my winter crops so I am not too worried about it.
These are hard decisions! The trick is to get your cover crop planted when soil temps are still warm enough….definitely no cooler than 40 degrees F….but late enough that you can let the rain do your watering.
These next few weeks are an ideal time to get all of this done, so please let me know where you are at with the cleaning out of your garden, and which of the winter crops you would like to grow! I will schedule a time to come out and get you started.