Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Fall Garden #1

I’ve been thinking about my fall garden since oh, February or something! My friend Melinda over at One Green Generation had a great post today that inspired me to write this little post a few weeks ahead of schedule.

Here in the mild Pacific Northwest (zone 8+) we have rain and wind to contend with rather than freezing temps for the most part. Once in awhile it freezes hard here, and sometimes it snows, but mostly it just rains and rains and rains.

What I’d like to do is just cover my entire garden before the end of September! I’ve been daydreaming about building a huge hoop house over the whole thing. I am sure it could be done, but I am not sure I want to spend that much money – and I am doubly not sure I want to go all out on my first real try at extending my garden through winter.

In the past I have stapled plastic sheeting to our fence and draped it over a couple of boards to cover my tomatoes and peppers. It worked great until December when a huge windstorm hit. Everything was torn to shreds including the plants! They were ripening happily under the plastic roof up until that point. Granted no new fruit formed and the ripening process was slow, but it was a start! I think as I get more serious about extending our harvests that speeding up the ripening process will come to the forefront.

I have read about creative ways to heat your greenhouse – everything from housing a certain amount of rabbits per X amount of square feet, to laying black plastic on the floors and placing dark colored items (stone, painted milk jugs full of water etc) all around the inside where they can radiate the heat that they collected all day. The book “Four Season Harvest” that I mentioned in an earlier blog post has a great graph explaining the interior versus exterior temperatures in a greenhouse environment. It doesn’t take much to grow Swiss Chard, Kale and the like under plastic according to the book.

In the past, in zone 8 Oregon, I have successfully grown Kale, Swiss Chard, Broccolini (Broccoli Rabe) and Carrots in a single raised bed with no cover. It was incessantly rained on and frosted over a couple of times and still everything grew like mad. It not too much time we had a HUGE crop on our hands. The Rabe was amazing. The only drawbacks were the huge amount of slugs that ate everything in sight.

These crops were direct seeded into a sandy loam, composted chicken manure and wood product organic blend from our local wood products place. The owner called it magic dirt when I bought it. He was right. I did a side by side test of two pots of sky blue Lobelia – one in potting soil and one in the magic dirt. The magic dirt Lobelia was bigger, brighter in color, and had more blooms than the potting soil Lobelia. I wish now that I had taken pictures to show you, but it will be easy to recreate next year.

Back to the crops –

We direct seeded them in this raised bed (8” x 6’ x 24’) in mid September. We watered sometimes and forgot to water sometimes, but Mother Nature helped us out by watering for us too. We got busy, and stopped looking at the bed altogether for about 3 months. When suddenly one day I noticed the contents of the bed were getting tall – and I thought hmm the weeds have taken over. So I moseyed on down there and to my surprise there were very few weeds and TONS of veggies! I pulled a couple of carrots up, and they were tiny but so so orange. I wiped it off and gingerly took a bite…the flavor was crispy sweet and amazing. Needless to say, I walked back to the house with my hands full of baby carrots! We ate from that unloved winter bed until Spring and the slugs had their way with it the next year. Imagine what would have happened had I given it a little care?

Later I priced organic Carrots, Kale, Swiss Chard and the Rabe. ALL of it was 3$ - 4$ a pound/ bunch. We got at least 100 misc pounds/ bunches from that bed. Which if you are a finance whiz means my return on investment was HUGE!!! Now if only my 401K could do so well hehe.

My challenge to you is, if I can get these results being lazy – why can’t you?


Melinda said...

Great post, Heather! I've been fantasizing about putting an Eliot Coleman greenhouse over the whole yard to keep the rain out. That is the problem here! I'm starting to read "Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades" - hopefully I'll gain some insight.

So... gotta ask: how about joining The Growing Challenge and growing some new fall goodies from seed??!! ; )

Robj98168 said...

Heather- You should join the growing challenge- I have picked up so many new tips and ideas just by reasing other's posts. And I will be checking yours out too, so I can see what others do to grow food!

Heather said...

So, I joined :)
I am really excited to put our fall garden in this week.

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

Hi - just wanted to say great blog and add Steve Solomon's book "Growing Food in Hard Times"
He wrote it after Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades.