Notes From A Plant Freak

October 8, 2012 |

The cool season has begun. It’s time to plant. Like crazy. You may let a few of those warm season crops that are still producing to linger – especially basil and peppers. Hopefully your bed of cucurbits (cucumbers, squashes, pumpkins, melons, etc) is separate and you can let them finish up as well. If your cucurbit bed is not separate, remember next year to keep them in their own space. They sprawl like crazy and are not the greatest companions for row crops.

Prepare your cool-season vegetable garden beds with care. The more you put into those beds, the more they will give back to you in the form of food. I always try to get as much of this stuff for free as possible; manure, shredded newspaper, and homemade compost. Make sure there is a balance of richer material like good compost and manure and more woody material like hay or the woody part of your compost. Too much dry brown material will steal nitrogen from the soil. Also make sure your manure is aged or it will burn your plants. The resulting soil should be easy to work, soft, and not compacted. Make a rule to never walk in your garden beds, and design them so that you never need to.

There is so much to plant right now; greens (lettuces, cabbages, arugula, Asian greens, etc), cool season herbs (dill, parsley, cilantro), broccoli, cauliflower, root crops (carrots, beets, radishes), peas, artichokes, cool season legumes (garbanzos, lentils, fava beans), and edible flowers like calendula and nasturtium.

Once your seeds have germinated, or if you plant out young plants from pots, make sure you add a protective layer of mulch around your crops. This protects plants from drying out too fast, keeps the soil insulated from the elements (both cold and hot) and also breaks down to become plant food. I use a layer of finished compost and a layer of hay. Most plants don’t care to be buried too much with the compost right at the base of the plant so be careful. Always thin out your seedlings so that plants have enough space to reach their ideal size.

For most landscape plants appropriate to our climate, fall is the best time to plant. Fall planting give a plant enough time for plants to get established in the ground before next summer’s heat comes. There are always exceptions to the rule, and frost tender plants like bougainvillea or lantana are that exception. If the landscape plant is frost tender, it is best to plant after the last frost, unless you are willing to protect it from every frost, or live in a frost-free microclimate.

Finally, this is also the time to put out seed of spring-blooming wildflowers (like lupine, poppies, desert bluebells, and firewheel). For optimum germination, prepare your plot by digging down about 8 inches and amend with compost. Though wildflowers don’t necessarily NEED this, you will have much more success if you give them a little boost. When you are finished amending, rake the beds to create little depressions for the seeds to nestle into. Broadcast your seed evenly and cover with a very thin layer of soil. You may use netting to avoid feeding birds with your expensive wildflower seed. For best germination, gently water every day or so until you see germination, then scale back to once a week if there is no rain.

If you have had a rough summer with your garden, don’t let that discourage you. Enjoy fall gardening, which is easier and inspires a lot more confidence in being able to keep your corner of the world a little greener.

Jared R. McKinley is a lifetime gardener and founder of the Arid Land Homesteaders League.

Category: FOOD & DRINK, Living, RECREATION