Fall gardening

This has been one strange year. Everything has been odd, including the garden. In what should have been a very bad year, drought and all, it turned out to be one of the best in terms of the home garden. There hasn’t been enough moisture to get everything damp, irrigation districts have had to cut back, but we managed quite well with a little water every couple of times during the week.

2014 11 01_2013

Grapes on the vine on November 3, and they are still green

Part of that I credit to the raised beds. When we built them, they were layered with alternating layers of straw and manure and finally topped with some garden soil. Instead of sprinklers, I fashioned an irrigation system from PVC pipe with holes drilled along the length of the pipe. With this system, I could water the entire raised bed in a matter of minutes. There was no overspray and the water quickly went through the loose topsoil and into the straw bales inside the bed.

2014 11 01_2015

sweet peppers, enough to pull more than 10 plants on November 2. just visible at the bottom of the photo is the pvc pipe I use for a watering system

I built one for strawberries and one for other produce. The Strawberry bed did not produce anything because it was so late when I got the transplants in the ground and it took a while for them to establish. They look great now, but they will be uprooted again so I can add one course to the top of the bed and get them up to where I don’t have to bend over so much.

The other bed grew tomatoes, green peppers and three types of squash. I have zucchini in the freezer as well as peppers and tomatoes. The peppers are still in the ground and they are looking as if they have something to prove, there are still blossoms on the branches and they have really sprouted up since the hot weather has gone.

2014 11 01_2016

The new artichoke plants should produce a good crop next summer. I started five plants and with one existing plant, that should be enough.

The straw breaks down into a very good fertilizer and it does a wonderful job of holding moisture in the ground. I’m anxious to see how this is going to work out in successive years.

2014 09 16_1350

the mortar I used for holding the blocks in place. the spray foam holds well, but is not so tight that I can’t disassemble and move if need be.

The beds are built from 8″ by 8″ by 16″ concrete block, stood on edge with the cell openings open at the top. The first bed I built was just two courses, but they will all be a minimum of three blocks high now, and I say minimum because the more I bend over, the more I think they should be four blocks high. They are 16′ long and five feet wide. There are four of them now, plus two made from 3″ x 12″ cedar about 16′ long. In addition, I have another smaller bed built of block that if about 4 x 5-feet. I should mention also that I draped black plastic in the first two beds to keep water from going out through the sides of the bricks. Instead of mortar, I used spray foam as an adhesive to hold them together and packed the cells with soil to create a bond that way too.

When I built the last two beds, I built them with 8″ by 16″ by 6″ blocks and for obvious reasons had to use the regular size blocks at the corners to make sure they fit properly.

2014 10 26_2029

enough squash and pumpkin to last well into the winter. I have also cooked and dried lots of squash for use in various dishes.

The latest two beds are now filled with soil and straw and one is already planted with garlic, which is poking through the soil. They will overwinter and should grow into healthy plants next summer. I planted both regular and elephant garlic and although it was the elephant garlic that was planted the deeper, it came poking though about a week before the regular variety. I think that entire bed will be planted in the onion family, once I can come up with some sets.

Egyptian onions are in with the peppers and squash and they didn’t get a good start so they didn’t produce like they will next year. I have grown them before and they are prolific to say the least. They are really expensive to buy, but once established, they will produce lots of onions.

Onion sets can be planted now if you have seed. I used to broadcast seeds give them a light sprinkling of soil and keep them watered. They will grow so closely together, they will produce sets which can overwinter for next year’s crop. Onion is something that we can’t do without now. I will probably grow more varieties now than in the past.

While on the subject, now is a good time to establish some of the winter crops. They will not grow as fast as they do during hot summer months, but they can get a good start and grow a healthy root system even though the plant tops remain small. I have chard, broccoli, lettuce and Bok Choy in the greenhouse in my tower garden. This year we put a small pool heater in the tank and they seem to enjoy having their roots warmed. The Bok Choy is wonderful and produces lots of large leaves for salads and stir fry dishes. The succulent stems are great too, and we use both in out fruit smoothies in the morning. Next year there will be more grown in the greenhouse.

I have become spoiled by the fresh produce from my garden this year, more so than any year in the past. It is really handy to step out the door and pick whatever we need. We have several pumpkins and winter squash on the rack in the garage to keep us for quite a while. The spaghetti squash has been a hit this year. Prepared just right, it is every bit as good as the regular pasta noodles.

I hope you have decided to take up winter gardening, it is both rewarding and good for you on the dinner table.

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