The Yellow Farmhouse Garden

November 13, 2018

What side are you on this fall?

Filed under: Flowers,Garden Preparation — Tags: , , — bob @ 9:40 am

While much of the country is focused on the mid-term elections, two opposing camps of gardeners are lining up this fall.  Each side has compelling reasons why they are right and the other side is wrong. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground.

One side is more, you might say, traditional in their approach to preparing perennial beds for winter. Those gardeners remove all of this year’s dead plant material from the garden and dispose of it by composting or other means. They claim that removing dead material now, in the fall, creates a clean slate for new growth in the spring. Tender new growth will less likely be damaged than if you try to remove last year’s growth when the plant is actively growing in the spring.

Some gardeners prefer to clear the debris from their garden in the fall.

Some gardeners prefer to clear the debris from their garden in the fall.

The other group says, “We care about birds”. They leave all of their plant growth untouched in the fall. All of that tangled up mass of plant stems provides valuable cover for wild song birds that over-winter. This group feels they have a responsibility to the wider ecological community when gardening. Many perennials produce seeds each fall. Leaving those old flower stalks up, they say, provides an addition food source for birds.

Some gardeners prefer to leave garden debris alone until spring.

Some gardeners prefer to leave garden debris alone until spring.

Leaving the garden alone in the fall has some other, less tangible benefits. All of that debris tends to collect and hold snow in place providing a natural insulating blanket. The protective snow cover can reduce the chance of freeze damage or frost heaving in some years. Not only that, the stalks provide an attractive visual element to the winter landscape as well, claims the leave-it-be group.

Gardeners on the other side counter those arguments claiming by the time they start clearing their gardens, the birds have already eaten virtually all of the seeds. Their small plot of flowers would not provide any really usable cover for birds either, they say. And who wants to look at a messy garden area all winter anyway? Not only that, spring is busy enough without having to do all the work you should have done last fall.

So every fall die-hard gardeners endlessly debate the merits of their position. I’m not really sure how often one breaks ranks and joins the other side, probably not very often.

Bob

 

 

 

 

June 15, 2017

Allow plenty of room for tomatoes to grow

Filed under: Garden Preparation,Vegetables — Tags: , — bob @ 6:10 am

“You planted your tomatoes too close together.” Have you heard that from visitors to your garden?  Not leaving enough space between tomato plants is one of the most common gardening mistakes. The good news is that it’s probably not too late to move them if you do it right away.

It’s so easy to look at those small tomato plants and forget how big they will get during the summer. Even after all these years of gardening I still have to resist the urge to plant them too close together.

Large commercial farmers who grow tomatoes for canning plant their tomatoes very close together. We often see them in double rows about 18 inches apart with the plants very close together in the row. The double rows are then spaced around four feet apart. Planting them like that allows farmers to get the maximum production from their land. Special varieties have been developed to allow them to be planted so densely. Those varieties also account for the difference in taste between tomato products. It’s why one brand of ketchup tastes different from another.

Home garden varieties won’t grow and produce well if grown too close together. Older heirloom varieties will take up much more space than more modern varieties. They’ll keep growing all season long and can get pretty big by the time the first tomato is ready to be picked. That type of growth is referred to as being indeterminate.  I plant those varieties about four apart in cages and up to six feet apart if I let them sprawl over the ground without any support.

These tomato plants look like they are far apart but eventually they will together.

These tomato plants look like they are far apart but eventually they will together.

Plant breeders have developed tomato plants that will stop growing once they reach a certain size for their variety. Those are referred to as determinate, we used to call them “bush tomatoes”. Determinate types of tomatoes can be planted closer together, around three feet apart in cages.

Good air circulation reduces disease problems and adequate sunlight allows the fruit to grow and develop. I remember hearing a saying many years ago that went something like: “Plenty of air and light, grows tomatoes right”. Giving your tomatoes enough room to grow will provided them with the air and sunlight they need to thrive.

Bob

 

March 27, 2017

Vegetable garden row direction

Even though the soil out in the garden is still very cold, we can still plant our garden — on paper that is.

There are several advantages to planning your garden on paper or on an app, before setting it out in the ground. The most obvious is you can get a good idea of how much planting material you need such as transplants, seeds or bulbs. And it is handy for calculating how many pounds of soil amendments you may need to add to the soil.

I was once one of those gardeners who never planned ahead very much. When it came to planting, I just picked out my favorite seeds and planted until it either looked like enough or I ran out of material to plant.  I also didn’t pay much attention to which way the garden was facing. Most of the time I had plenty of square footage to use and I could afford some inefficiency. That, however, is not the way to get the most out of a space.

Not long ago, I had a discussion with a friend of mine about which direction garden rows should run.

Sometimes there’s no choice because of the shape of the garden. A long, narrow garden spot may mean the rows have to follow the long axis of the plot. In the past, I’ve had gardens that had an irregular shape so the rows ran in more than one direction because that was the most efficient use of that particular space.

What if you have a square or nearly square garden with one of the sides facing south, should the rows run north and south or east and west?

Imagine the position of the sun in the sky during the growing season. It appears to us to travel across the sky from east to west. As it moves through the sky, the angle of the rays of sunlight changes in relation to the stationary garden plants.

In an east to west configuration,  much more sunlight will strike the south side of the plants than on any other side. In other words, the south side will receive more solar energy while the north side is shaded most of the day.

Rows planted north to south will receive sunlight more evenly. In the morning, the east side of the row receives sunlight. The plant is bathed in sunlight all day as the sun moves until late afternoon when the west side gets sunlight. So the plant receives sunlight on three sides instead of just one.

The cross-hatched areas represent rows of garden plants. The arrow heads represent rays of sunlight. Note how just the south side of the plants in the east to west rows receive sunlight. Sunlight penetrates deep into the rows that run north and south.

The cross-hatched areas represent rows of garden plants. The arrow heads represent rays of sunlight. Note how just the south side of the plants in the east to west rows receive sunlight. Sunlight penetrates deep into the rows that run north and south and contacts more of the surface area.

Not all gardens are situated facing a cardinal direction in an open area. Take for example a southeastern facing garden that is shaded from the afternoon sun. It should have its rows running northeast and southwest to receive the fullest amount of sunlight. Since the garden would get no direct sunlight in the afternoon, it would be a good idea to try to capture as much of that solar energy as possible.

We have a couple of months before our main outdoors planting happens. So now is a great time to sketch out a diagram of of your garden that, in addition to the size and shape, includes direction, and potential sunlight.

Bob

February 23, 2016

Community garden great alternative for those who don’t have room

Filed under: Garden Preparation — bob @ 10:37 am

I’m fortunate to have a fair sized plot of land to do as much gardening as I want. But there are a lot of gardeners who used to have space but now live in a place where there is no where to plant a garden. And there are plenty of others who have never gardened before and long for a plot of soil to start gardening.

More and more community gardens are popping up all over to meet this need.  They are being started by churches, cities, towns, parks and rec departments other community groups.

Most community gardens offer individual plots. It’s a place where you stake out your claim and no one else is allowed on your spot unless you say so.  That means plot boundries are clearly marked so no one encroaches on someone else’s area Some community gardens are communal meaning everyone pitches in and work one big plot of land and all share equally. That however takes a special group of people to successfully pull that one off.

Almost all community gardens charge a fee to help defray costs such as springtime tilling of the soil. In addition to land, most gardens provide access to a water source — although the most rugged ones may not. Sometimes compost and mulch is available for gardeners to use. You’re most likely to see that in gardens sponsored by city parks departments that collect large volumes of leaves in the fall.

Generally the larger the fee, the more amenities provided.

It's quiet now but soon be buzzing at St. Mary Organic Farm community garden.

It’s quiet now but soon be buzzing at St. Mary Organic Farm community garden.

Now’s the time to start searching for a community garden near you. Plots are normally rented out on a first come first served basis. Often plots are gone well before the gardening season starts. Early March would not be too soon to reserve your spot. Thankfully, the internet makes it fairly easy to find a community garden. Local MSU Extension Offices are a good place to start too.

Community gardens are especially good for beginning gardeners because they are places where experienced gardeners are most likely to hang out and a novice can find a mentor.

If you know of a community garden who has room for more participants, let us know in the comment section.

Bob

Chickens help recover garden

Filed under: Chickens,Garden Preparation,Weather,Weeds — bob @ 10:24 am

Earlier this week I decided to move some of my chickens into the lower garden. That area is poorly drained and water sits there almost every spring.

Since the last couple of summers were so damp and rainy, that spot was waterlogged for much of the growing season. I couldn’t plant anything. I couldn’t even till the area, so I let it go fallow.

Right now the spot is dry. Since it has been so warm, the soil is not frozen and there is no snow cover so the chickens will be able to scratch to their hearts’ content.

There’s an old garden shed in that spot that I sometimes use as a temporary chicken coop. And I have the area fenced to keep out deer, woodchucks and those wascally wabbits. It also keeps chickens in.

The weeds in that low spot really took over after two years of non-use. Some weeds grew over three feet high last year. That will be a real challenge this spring. I’ll have to cut down all of that plant material and try to till it the best I can. The chickens can help quite a bit by tearing into those tough weeds ahead of time.

Chickens

Scratching in the weeds is a chicken’s favorite pastime.

So why even bother with that area? Why not turn into lawn or let it revert back to a wild area? Well, the National Weather Service is predicting a warmer than average spring and summer. They are also predicting below average precipitation, at least through spring and maybe well into summer.

If it turns out to be hot and dry,  my sandy-soil upper garden — which did very well last season– will probably be too dry to grow much of anything without a lot of irrigation. During past years when we’ve had droughts, my lower garden rarely needed irrigation until well into the summer.

So that’s where I’m placing my gardening bets this year. If things change, I can always move the chickens back to their normal spot.

Bob

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress