"Soil, you're getting sleepy, very, very sleepy…"
Winter is nearly upon us, and it's time to put your veggie beds into a cool weather state of mind! Dormancy means understanding that all that good soil you've been creating needs some tender, loving care to be able to brew during the winter to emerge supercharged and raring to go when you are ready to plant crops next spring.
Essentially, most plants, and thus the nitrogen cycle that promotes their growth, go into slow motion during the winter, where they gather ingredients in the soil to explode once the sun heats the ground in spring. Your job this fall is to add ingredients that can marinate over winter. You do this by covering the ground with mulch and then planting a cover crop to provide the soil critters, bacteria, nematodes, and fungus the ingredients the soil needs to cook.
You do not want to add any fertilizer right now; instead, here are a few suggestions that will allow your plants in the spring to make their own nitrogen: It would be best if you didn't clear your beds of all the remaining weeds and plants. Instead, cut them to the ground, leaving the roots intact to serve as a source of nitrogen in the soil's brew. Rototilling is the worst thing you can do! It kills all the good soil "stuff" you have built up over the years. Once you have cut things to the ground, smother the plants’ crowns with a thick top dressing of mulch, then plant a cover crop on top of the mulch… clover, hairy vetch, peas (Austrian winter and Cowpeas), and winter rye grass.
The mulch is the trick to creating a great soil from which all fertile measures will mature. You can make compost from kitchen scraps and leaves or pick some up locally at one of the soil outlets… Bottens, Recology Organics, or Wilco. Now is the best time to apply that compost to marinate and percolate down the soil matrix to feed all those lovely living things down there.
Get out there before it gets any colder and cut those weeds and spent veggie stalks down to the ground, smother the remaining stubs with compost mulch and then plant a cover crop. Good luck!
I’m throwing down the gauntlet!
Last year I entered the Yamhill County Fair flower and fruit competition with a Lily, and I won! Not only did I win in my class, but I won “BEST IN SHOW!” and came home with a giant blue ribbon and a prize-winning $10. I still have the ribbon on my refrigerator. Can you tell from my gloating that I have never really won anything before? Beginners luck. I have to admit, however, there wasn’t much competition. We need to change that.
This year, with inflation raging and the cost of vegetables soaring, many people have set upon growing their food. Edible Landscapes of Yamhill County had its annual giveaway of plant starts in May, and by now many of those starts are no doubt nearing harvest. Okay, maybe a bit behind given the strange beginning to summer with all that rain but getting close. I challenge anyone and everyone to enter their flowers, vegetables, flower arrangements, and even scarecrows in this year’s contest. Bring in your huge zucchini or giant head of cabbage. Strange tomato or crazy rutabaga. House plants, strange grasses, single stems of hydrangea or roses and, of course, Lilies. You might win a prize. Just try and beat me! The categories to compete in are crops, fruits and nuts, vegetables, preserves, baked goods, and floriculture. Get the kids to make a scarecrow. How fun is that? It’s free to enter and a great way to show support for both the fair and the gardening/farming community.
The Yamhill County Fair is the oldest Fair in Oregon (1854) and McMinnville is so lucky to be the bullseye city amongst such fertile farmland. The fair is for everyone and entering the flower/vegetable contest is a fun way for adults and kids to participate in the union of our city-to-rural friendships. So, let’s swell the vases and showcases of the Fair Grounds this summer with the bounty of Yamhill County’s edibles and flowers. And, don’t forget to come to the Wiser Horticulture Pavilion during the fair to see all the entrees and prize winners.
To enter, contact Superintendent: Daryll Alt – (971) 241-1529; email: email@example.com. Feel free to call or email your questions. The Exhibitor’s Handbook, with many more details, is found under the "Resources" section above and will also show up on the fairground’s website any day now. There isn’t much to know; just grow, then harvest your best specimens and bring them to the fairgrounds July 30, the Saturday before the fair opens (this year, the fair runs Wed August 3 – Sat 6th.)
Good luck winning a blue ribbon!
Climate change is a daunting prospect in all our lives. Most climate scientists believe we have little time to stave off the oversaturation of atmospheric carbon. Predictions read like a horror movie. But, I’m afraid it is true.
Given the stakes, we all must do as much as possible to avoid this worst-case outcome. Edible Landscapes of Yamhill County was formed to instill and instruct gardening practices to reduce carbon emissions while growing local produce to feed ourselves and those less fortunate.
Carbon remediation (sequestration) through gardening is very simple. Keep vegetation covering the soil at all times, and DO NOT DISTURB THE SOIL. For decades, we all rototilled our veggie plots and pulled weeds out by their roots. Little did we understand that those horticultural acts were contributing to releasing carbon into the atmosphere and depleting soils of the natural ingredients necessary to lock carbon into the soil. Unfortunately, we were so intent on making things “Weed Free” that we neglected to consider the consequences of our actions to the health of the ground.
Today, the “best practice” for gardening is to leave the soil alone. This allows the microbiome living beneath us to buzz and hum and churn and multiply, thereby creating soil-based carbon that significantly increases the productivity of the plant parts on top. Every time we open the soil to air, we arrest the nitrogen fixing process and undermine the soil health. The name of the game these days is to create a healthy underground world of fungi, bacteria, nematodes, and water by leaving the soil untouched.
The way we should now manage the soil is far simpler than the old techniques of pulling weeds and double digging in amendments. The word to remember is “smother!” Instead of pulling weeds out by their roots, cut them, leave the removed stalks on the soil, and smother the cuttings with mulch. Chop and drop! In permaculture, this form of mulching is called “sheet mulching” or “lasagna layering.” By doing this, you kill the weeds without yanking out the roots, which, after all, are THE carbon in the soil that we are trying to lock into the ground! Adding organic material on top of the earth, such as cut weeds and compost, nourishes the ground right on the spot. It is incredible how fast worms and soil biology decompose that topdressing, using it as needed in their underground recipe.
Remember, plants need light for photosynthesis, so if you continue to deny those pesky returning weeds sunshine by cutting them down repeatedly, they will die while leaving their carbon webbing roots in the ground. Another good technique is to smother the weeds with cardboard or straw each time you cut the weeds down. No light, no growth!
Straw is essential for good gardening these days. Once you have robbed your weeds of the sun, mulching with straw as you plant back in your desired plants is a great way to inhibit further weed growth while adding organic material back into the soil.
The name of the game in these strange climate-challenging times is to create a carbon sink in the ground of your garden. Carbon soil sequestration can only happen when the roots of all plants are left undisturbed. Mulching with green clippings, compost, straw, and cardboard are the tools we all need to do our part in repairing our gardens by not releasing soil carbon into the atmosphere. Chop, drop, smother and bloom!
March means it’s time to plant out those indoor window sills with veggie starts!!!
The sun will be rising higher and higher in the sky, meaning germinating seeds is on the gardening schedule. Look around your house and garage for any old planting pot, a cottage cheese container, or old socks… anything that will hold soil and water. Line ‘em up on a tray and get to work poking seeds into the medium. I’m telling you, want to get out of the winter doldrums? Plant seeds.
The seeds you want to start early are the plants that take all summer to mature. Don’t bother planting lettuce or carrots, or radish. They go right into the soil and will be harvestable in a short time once the soil heats up. Indoor winter planting is for tomatoes, peppers, artichoke, squash, melons, and any herbs you want to add to the mix.
While you’re at it, add some flowers. Many flowers are yummy to eat, such as nasturtiums, sweet peas, and violets. I love to plant borage, a beautiful herb that never fails to impress. Then there are flowers such as marigolds, lavender, and petunias that many gardeners claim fend off some nasty garden pests. Mix it up!
Most seed planting mixes are just that… for getting things started. Bagged soils do not have the juicy soil life and nutrients that makes plants flourish in the long run so make sure you get the starts into the ground as soon as the last frost is gone or your starts will start to look weak.
This is the month to buy and plant fruit trees and berry bushes. McMinnville is lucky to have many places to buy bare-root trees and canes of berries… Bi-mart, Wilco, Incahoots, and Kraemer’s. Oh, strawberries, too.
And don’t forget to seek out garage sale/thrift harvest baskets, buckets and mason jars. It makes the fall bounty collection and storage all the more rewarding if you know you are using recycled materials.
Edible Landscapes of Yamhill County is dedicated to increasing the plots of home-grown food to further various issues, the least of which is that food is continuously increasing in costs and harder for those realizing food shortages to come by. So we urge all of you to grow more than you need and then let us know how we can help you make sure the excess makes it to our giving box on Alpine Avenue, the soup kitchens and families who otherwise couldn’t afford organic, local nourishment. Get planting!
It is time to prepare your edible garden spaces for the growing season. Winter soil prep can hugely affect how your garden performs this spring and summer. You are probably thinking I am telling you to get to work?! No, I'm not. Luckily, the science behind proper soil care has eliminated one of the most exhausting and time-consuming old-time practices, rototilling or double digging in soil additives like compost or lime. DON’T DO IT! Let me explain.
The soil is a living, thriving, teeming, nutrient-packed subculture of minerals, bacteria, fungi, and invertebrates (worms!) For plants to thrive above ground, that subculture below ground has to be in perfect working order. That means pleasing all the zillions of organisms that are living there. If you disturb their environment by tearing it up, especially during the wet season, the soil recipe has to start all over to create its perfect template for the plants above. These subsoil critters live in limited oxygen and do their best work when they have living pathways to move around; roots, worm tunnels, mini water channels. That is how nitrogen, potash, and potassium (the numbers on the fertilizer bag) are taken up and processed by the plants. If you dig them up, you kill what is necessary to create optimum plant life, fruits, and flowers. So how do you improve your soil without digging it up? Leave the earth underneath alone and concentrate on the surface.
Late winter garden management means clearing away weeds and replacing them with a cover crop of nitrogen-fixing plants like peas or buckwheat. If you missed sowing this Fall, you can plant many cover crops in the early spring in Oregon and let Mother Nature slowly germinate the seeds. Eventually, they will spurt just before you plant your starts out when the soil warms, just in time to kill them in their tracks by clipping them off at the roots.
When it is time to plant your vegetable seeds, cut off the cover crop and drop it on the ground. This will act as a mulch and begin to add tilth to your soil. Worms, bacteria, fungi will reach up and drag the best parts of the dying plants down to their lairs to process into the life-sustaining underworld. Plant your plant starts right into the areas of decomposing cover crop and immediately top dress with compost and straw. In essence, you are composting in place. Let the life below take what they need from the surface above.
One of the most interesting new/old discoveries I love turning people on to is Biochar. Biochar is just a fancy way of saying "charcoal." It has the prefix “bio” because it turns out charcoal can house the heretofore-mentioned community of bacteria, nematodes and, fungi in its millions of little structural chambers. It is “Old” because many ancient societies utilized charcoal in their food production. It has only been the last couple of decades or so that it has caught on in modern horticulture. Biochar holds water like a sponge, thereby acting as a sink for plant roots seeking a drink. Think of it as a permanent hotel for the most desired essentials necessary for plants to grow and flourish.
Without going too far into the weeds here (pun intended), raw Biochar by itself is not ready to throw on your garden. It needs to be pre-loaded with the proper soil biome before adding it to your garden. This is achieved by inoculating it (mixing it) with compost or worm castings. After three months of fermenting Biochar and compost together, all the charcoal chambers will be full with all the soil additives any plant could ever need to function. Spread the pre-treated mixture onto the garden as a top dressing. And unlike so many other soil additives, Biochar never leaches away. It remains in your soil for a very long time acting, as a housing unit for all the best soil nutrients and microbiology you could ever hope for. You can buy Biochar at most garden centers these days.
Next month I will write about planting seeds indoors to get a jump on spring planting. Edible Landscapes of Yamhill County has its annual plant start Spring giveaway in May, and we are counting on all of you having lots left over to donate to our free plant start event!
Gardening is the ultimate ‘feel good’ activity. If results measure success, few other pursuits have a quicker turnaround time to tangible rewards. Plant a seed and, as quickly as a few weeks, you can feed yourself. Flowers bring joy to just about everyone who grows them. Planting a tree and watching it grow is truly a spiritual act. Over the next year, I will blog my favorite gardening thoughts, facts and pursuits that I have amassed and experienced over 50 years of gardening. Hopefully, my musings will help uplift and inform the Edible Landscapes of Yamhill County Family in these crazy, crazy times.
In keeping with the gardener’s calendar, let’s start preparing for the gardening year ahead. That means going online to view seed catalogs. Before I launch into my favorite purveyors of seeds, let me remind you that Edible Gardens of Yamhill County is a sister organization to Zero Waste McMinnville. I urge you to do your shopping online rather than asking for an actual paper catalog.
Remember, Edible Landscapes of Yamhill County has a seedling giveaway each year - you can never grow too many. We will take anything that doesn’t fit into your garden and give them away to our every burgeoning community of gardeners.
My absolute favorite seed source is Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Maine. This amazing organic seed provider is a must when looking over seed selections.
For the utilitarian seed shopper, Oregon’s own Territorial Seeds cannot be beaten.
Lastly, for those who have to have the weird, unusual and, sometimes difficult to find, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is a must. Just perusing their catalog online is mind-blowing. Some of their rare “lost in time” species are worthy of a science fiction movie.
Order soon and start to gather containers to plant seeds in… egg cartons, cottage cheese and, yogurt containers; I even use wool and cotton socks (don’t use synthetic (for that matter, don’t buy synthetic)) that have become thread bare as rolled-up seed cups. I plop them into the garden, wool, seed start and all. Wool is a natural water sponge and can help establish the seedlings when placed in the garden bed.
Lastly, seed companies spend a lot of money on the actual sleeve that the seeds come in and, I honor that graphic art by spreading the seed packets out on display in my kitchen during the winter months before I plant them. It makes for a festive and impromptu art installation during the dreariness of winter.
Order soon and Happy Winter Planning!!!