Some Odds'n'Ends

Last Wednesday, we got temperatures below freezing and a mild snow. Not much stuck on the ground, but it was bad enough to turn the broccoli and cabbage limp. While we were gone for 4 days visiting family for Thanksgiving, the squirrels gnawed on some more plants and knocked our suet feeder loose. So today I ended up doing some minor maintenance, pulling up the plants that probably weren't going to make it much longer and harvesting the tender broccoli heads. Maybe we'll get a couple heads of cabbages before it gets colder; it's hard to say.

I am doing a lot of indoor herb gardening right now and reading what I can. Current picks from the library include:
Carrots Love Tomatoes, Louise Riotte
Bob Flowerdew's Organic Bible
English Herb Gardens, Guy Cooper, Gordon Taylor, Clive Boursnell
I've flipper through all three, and I'm sure I'll discuss them all later.

What I'm really wanting to learn more about, which I could find no books on in the library, is permaculture. I know a little about what it is and already apply aspects to my gardening, but I'd like to develop a more detailed understanding of its practice.
I might just have to buy a book on the subject, but I'm not quite sure where to go. If anyone reading has suggestions, please let me know.
Don't know what permaculture is? Wikipedia has a fairly comprehensive article on the subject.

Another thing that fascinates me is biodynamic agriculture, which is another type of alternative agriculture, which in this case derives from Rudolf Steiner, founder of Anthroposophy. It's one of those odd practices that segues into a full range of non-garden interests of mine.


Cleaning Up the Vegetable Garden for Winter (or not)

With bulb planting complete, this November has mostly been about clean-up and preparing the vegetable garden for winter.

The vegetable garden has been the major project this year. Originally, the backyard had a sunken patio of concrete bricks and a roughly 4'x4' plot of dirt (but mostly weeds). Last year, I double-dug this plot, mixing the soil with a conditioner, and grew beans, pumpkins, peppers, and tomatoes. For various reasons, only the beans and peppers grew successfully. We also started a compost pile from the brush left by the previous owners, dead leaves, and kitchen scraps.

Even though it was very much a beginner's attempt, I learned a lot about the quality of soil in the yard and the movement of the light. While the space does not perhaps get the best light, being obstructed on nearly all sides by trees, it's private and easily accessible from the kitchen. Initially I had planned on setting plots between brick paths, but another difficult of the space is that it slopes. We began considering raised beds to create "terraces" without having the hire a landscaper. My boyfriend and I built the beds ourselves out of 1"x8" untreated pine boards and brackets, which were a lot cheaper than the cool brackets I saw in the Gardener's catalogue. It only took a couple days to build and assemble the beds, and we filled them with soil bought from Soil Service Center nearby. We left the paths open while working on the stone patio and pathing, but over the summer we covered the dirt with landscaping fabric and the mulch you can see in the photo.

Preparation for winter began when th night began getting colder in October. Pretty much all I had to do was remove the basil and marigolds and turn the soil, which I overplanted with winter rye back in August. I left the tomatoes alone until they started wilting, then removed the plants and turned the soil over. All three plots were covered with compost.

Otherwise, there hasn't been a great deal to do, since most of what I've planted can withstand frost. I bought a bale of straw a couple weeks ago to cover the carrots, since I read that they can usually overwinter with some protection.

The carrots were an interesting learning experience this year. The soil in the boxes was looser than the native dirt, so I figured I could get away without adding sand to the mix. Not so! The carrots I was able to harvest were twisty, wobbly little things. They taste fantastic, better than any store-bought carrots I've ever eaten, but there wasn't much to use, only enough for an Asian pickle dish and thrown into a chicken potpie. Of all the lessons learned this year, the major one has been, "always mix the soil with sand when growing carrots."

Despite the near-failures with the carrots, I have been mostly satisfied with the cabbages and broccolis that have turned out to be the bulk of this garden. One nice thing I've discovered is they all hold up to a bit of frost and are still as sturdy and strong as they were in August. In fact, these plants have become more productive in the cool weather, and I've been able to use a few small cabbage heads for eating.

For both crops, I went with the All Season Blend from Vesey's, which I'm not sure I'd recommend. Since it features early, mid, and late varieties, it was difficult to know how much and when the plants were to produce. While it eased the headache of figuring out when to plant the varieties, next year I think I'll go with a heavy producing variety of both early and late.

The broccoli, though, is doing better with the cool weather, and there are several plants with reasonably sized heads, like in the photo. Just when it felt like I would never get broccoli, I walked through my garden and saw this. It's not as impressive as the heads in the supermarket, and it doesn't look like the broccoli in the catalog photos either, but it's good enough for me.

Here's another view of the broccoli bed. I'm not entirely sure why the plants began to lean like this, but the squirrels (or maybe raccoons) have taken advantage, gnawing at the stalks of some and even stripping leaves. Kansas City is overrun with grey squirrels, and we have a veritable army of the little buggers in our neighborhood. Because of squirrels, I had to cover the soil in the beds with chicken wire. I lost most of my tomatoes while they were still green, too. Our dog, Molly, is a devoted chaser of squirrels, and tries her best to rid our yard of them, but there's only so much she can do. I imagine this will be a continual struggle in this garden.

On a much brighter note, here's my compost pile. The construction is very simple, just cedar post and chicken wire. While it's located in a shadier corner of the yard, it's still pretty effective and I've been able to use compost begun last year for several applications. Now both side of the bin are filled with raked-up leaves, ready to go for another year. Compost has to be one of the more satisfying projects. Even if you don't fuss over it, you eventually get something, and that something is always good.

Of course, we have a lot of trees in our yard and all those leaves won't fit into the bin, no matter how much you push them down. The rest of the leaves from the backyard got piled along the south section of the fence to offer some protection to the hydrangea (in the right corner of the photo) and the wild grape vine (the trellis on the other end). I've been letting leaves remain along the mulched paths and in the patches of mint near the gate. I prefer the look of dead leaves to bare dirt any day.

And that's pretty much it for winter preparation. I'm letting the cabbage and broccoli remain until the cold prevents them from producing, which may be a while if the winter is as mild as this fall has been. With winter drawing near, I'll be flipping through catalogs and books in preparation for spring.