Wednesday, April 7, 2010

"Lengthening the Harvest Season"

(Ed. note~ Unfortunately the last page of this article is missing)

If I accidentally get to Heaven one day, I'm sure I'll be able to garden all year long. But none of the places in which I've lived, so far, have quite have had quite that long a growing season. So, since organic gardeners are supposed to be smarter and more independent than ordinary gardeners, I try to figure how to make the best of what we have (And actually, I like some snow and freezing weather in winter.).

Here near Idaho Falls, the winters are frigid enough to send many transplanted southerners and Californians home after one exposure. But I found I can carry many crops through the winter in good condition, even in the soil. With one decimeter (approximately four inches) of mulch (preferably of sawdust, so mice won't feel too welcome) I've harvested beets, carrots, Jerusalem artichokes, turnips, even red and potatoes! Two decimeters is better for potatoes; they don't get so sweet that way. Oak leaf lettuce, spinach, and chard wintered well under sawdust, and provided the earliest possible green vegetables. And kale! This year I've seen two gardens, including ours, where kale survived a winter which was consistently cold (only one several-day thaw in January, and below 20F, frequently, with very little or no snow to keep the soil from freezing deeply) and still looks green and fresh, and is producing some very tasty and pest-free bunches of young leaves the last of March. I'm sure it would winter better under a light mulch. So I'll use sawdust on it next winter, then wash it off about March 25, and expect some delicious early salad. And I'll tie a yellow ribbon around the two most vigorous and tastiest plants, and let them go to seed.

Mulching takes work, but the benefits are many. What satisfaction to eat the tastiest possible vegetables, when others have to patronize the "stupor" markets. Even though we store some crops in the basement, they simply don't hold their flavor like those in the good earth. I suspect there is some connection between the actinomycetes, fungi, bacteria, organic matter, and other ingredients of good soil, and good keeping qualities and taste.

Plus it's good to know the vegetables aren't as risky to eat as those with various biocides on and in them. I once bought a pack of carrots which tasted so much like DDT I threw them away, and haven't bought store carrots since. Having lived in Arkansas when plants were spraying cotton fields, homes, highways, livestock, and people heavily; and having worked for a veterinarian there who used DDT by the handful in his dog pens, I know what DDT tastes like. Research by the California Fish and Game Department showed that carrots and other drops do take up insecticides, and concentrate them.

The mulch can be spade under in the spring, if you have good organic soil, or raked off to let the soil warm early, then used again during the summer.

Some crops survive without a mulch; like chives, garlic, cornfield cress, burdock, comfrey, parsnips, horseradish, and parsley. But if you want to dig root crops throughout the winter, without resorting to dynamite, it's wise to cover some of your plants.Otherwise, the ground may be frozen down one or two decimeters when you need them. We use stakes protruding three decimeters or more above the soil surface, so we can locate the rows under whatever snow there may be.

Location has a lot to do with length of growing season. In mountains, or even in foothills, it pays to determine which area experiences the lightest, and the fewest, frosts. You'll find frost pockets in low spots, whereas up slope, or near a small canyon, the more rapidly-moving air currents may make a difference of two or three weeks in the frost-free season. And you'll length the season for such crops as Jerusalem artichokes by planting some in the sunniest, earliest-warmed part of the garden, so it will start growing sooner. But- put some in the shadiest, coolest spot also. Mulch them both heavily in late fall, and those in the cooler spot will be about two weeks later to sprout in the spring. After they are actively growing, I've never found tubers till autumn.

Companion planting makes a difference, too. By planting pokeweed and Van Buren or Beta grapes just under the dripline of elm or apple trees (because these trees hold their leaves longer than such as birch or box elder), you increase their chances of surviving early and late frosts. However, since elm trees are tough competitors with the roots of domestic grapes, you may want to dig till your energy gives out (and hope you got to three feet at least), so you can put a sheet metal barrier between the roots of the two plants. Or if you have soft soil and lots of energy, you can cut both ends from a clean steel drum, and plant the grape or pokeweed inside it.

Borage in the everbearing strawberry patch leads to a larger crop, larger berries, and probably a two-week longer bearing season; perhaps for more reasons than just frost protection. Maybe borage just likes strawberries!

Experienced gardeners learn which crops are best-suited for their area. Apples, hardy apricots, some plums, and pie cherries are most dependable for fruit trees here, but if I . . . (Ed. note- the rest of this article is missing).