Spring Gardening Classes at Bexley Community Gardens in May

There will be two classes held in partnership with City of Bexley Community Gardens to assist the backyard grower, community gardener and urban farmer.
Bring your friends and your questions to these informational garden walks to discuss how to improve soil health in your plot as well as talk strategies to combat the weeds that can drive you crazy.

Classes are free and open to the public.

Using Cover Crops for Weed Control in Spring

Cover Crops are a valuable tool in the toolbox of the backyard grower, community gardener and urban farmer.  I planted a mix of cover crop species last fall in my community garden plot to keep the soil alive over the winter, prevent erosion and increase soil organic matter.

Winter rye, forage radish, hairy vetch and crimson clover blend

This species mix, especially the winter rye component, can be challenging to manage in the spring depending on when the soil is worked.  The winter rye will die from mowing or crimping when it is going to seed and nearing maturity, but when tilled young, some of the grass will continue to grow.

The city tilled the garden in late March, some of the cover crops persisted and will continue to grow without further tillage or herbicide application.

The majority of my plot will be used for summer vegetables.  I do not want to leave the ground bare until that point as the cover crops will continue to grow in spaces and weeds will fill in the rest.  I would also lose organic matter and fertility from spring rains.

I rototilled over half of the plot to create a seed bed about 10 days after initial tillage.  This will kill most of the remaining over-wintered cover crops and created a seed bed for planting.

I followed up with a planting of Buckwheat.  Buckwheat is a versatile cover crop that tolerates poor soils, rapidly germinates, weed suppresses, attracts pollinators and when mowed, will rapidly break down prior to the next planted crop.

 

 

I will let the Buckwheat grow until mid-May.  Then I will mow the space which will kill both the cover crop and any annual weed that germinates within the Buckwheat planting.  It will also weaken any perennial weed that is growing.  I will let the residue decompose for a few days and then till and apply plasti-culture mulch in the pathways prior to summer vegetable planting.

 

2019 South Side Spring Gardening Workshops

While these classes are to support the South Side community of The Buckeye ISA, they are free and open to the public so bring your friends and your questions.  Families with children that want to grow their own food may be eligible to enroll in the Buckeye ISA and get materials and educational support.

Click HERE to print the flyer –> 2019 Spring Gardening SS ISA

Central Ohio Grower’s Report and Weather Update for Winter 2019

The next week has a period of intense cold coming to central Ohio.  Grower’s who planted spinach under low tunnels using row cover should make sure that they have a second layer of frost blanket covering the planting and that the row cover is weighted securely against wind shear.

While there is a good chance that a full harvest amount of spinach is present, we have not had a warm enough day to break the micro-climate to check.  Be patient,  there is usually a chance for a significant harvest in February.

 

The period of warm and wet weather we had earlier in winter provided a chance to get good growth on winter cover crops.  If you were unable to get cover crops planted this year, as you make your 2019 planting plan, try to add cover crops into your rotation to keep a living cover on your ground.  It adds organic matter, prevents soil erosion and builds fertility.

A mix of winter rye, forage radish, crimson clover and hairy vetch. This mix is cold hardy and will persist into spring, starting a period of intense growth when the weather warms up.

The winter rye mix will require intensive management in the spring.

 

 

This plot contains a mix of oats and Austrian winter peas. This mix is cold tolerant but not hardy. It should die following the upcoming period of intense cold. The residue will act as a ground cover protecting the soil that will incorporate easily into a seed bed via tillage in spring.

 

Right now is a good time to start seeds if you have a seed start station.  You can start the following:

  • Artichokes –  a tender perennial not generally grown in central Ohio,  this crop can be grown as an annual if started early indoors.
  • Perennial herbs such as thyme and oregano.  The seeds are extremely tiny and take weeks to germinate.
  • Lettuce, cabbage-family – this assumes some risk due to weather pressure.  I will start a small amount now looking to plant outside around late Feb under season extension.  Start another small batch every two weeks for the next month or two to have a steady harvest.
  • Leeks – seed takes awhile to germinate.  Transplants will be ready to go outside in March if started now.

 

Central Ohio Weather Update 

The three month forecast for temperature and precipitation is calling for colder and dryer than normal weather.   There is a 65% of an El Nino weather phenomenon to form in spring.  That will certainly affect backyard growers, community gardeners, and urban farmers in Central Ohio.

 

CLICK HERE for the NWS/NOAA Weather link.

Keep an eye on Growing Franklin for further updates as we progress through the growing season.

 

 

Fall Cover Crops for Soil Health

It is not too late to plant a fall cover crop.  Keeping the ground covered and alive over winter is one of the top soil health priorities for the backyard grower, community gardener and urban farmer.  The recent spell of warm weather last week has kept soil temperatures fairly high for this time of year.  Soil temperatures in central Ohio were around 63 degrees as of 10/14/18.

Click here for Central Ohio Soil Temperatures

There are several species of cover crops that can still be planted in central Ohio.  What you want to plant depends on what outcome you are looking for.  Cover crops are tools in your soil health toolbox,  you use what is needed for the task and what will accomplish your goals.

 

A seedbed was created via tillage. This tillage can cause a loss of organic matter and disruption of the soil in the root zone but was done to create a seed bed to improve germination of cover crops seed. This is common for a backyard grower, community gardener or urban farmer. In agronomic systems, a no-till drill could be used to minimize soil disturbance.

 

Some cover crops will achieve a modest amount of growth and then will die when winter temperatures go below freezing.  These still provide many soil health benefits, but do not provide as much organic matter in terms of biomass.

 

This cover crop mix contains Austrian winter peas and oats. It is not cold tolerant and will winter kill with deep freezes. It is a good choice for a grower who cannot manage a cover crop with implements or when an early season seedbed is desired for planting. These species could still be planted, but they might not achieve the level of biomass production to justify their expense at this late time in the season.

 

Some cover crops are cold tolerant and will persist through winter’s cold, starting regrowth once temperatures and sunlight increase in early spring.  These have their own management challenges.

 

Species that do well in the cold and will likely over winter include winter rye, crimson clover, hairy vetch, and most brassicas.

 

It is important for the backyard grower, community gardener and urban farmer to prioritize soil health.  Soil Health = Plant Health = People Health.

 

This mix has excellent biodiversity and will grow over the winter with excellent cold tolerance. It will have management challenges in the spring due to fast regrowth when warmer temperatures return.

 

Planting a cover crop now will increase your soil health, add organic matter, prevent erosion of nutrients and give your 2019 garden a jump start that will pay off with increased fresh, local produce.

Fall Vegetable Planting Update October 2018

For the backyard grower, community gardener and urban farmer, there is still time to put seeds and plants in the ground.   There are many choices available in vegetables and cover crops to take advantage of the cooler fall harvest weather and utilize the abundant rainfall and still optimal soil temperature, especially if the grower has the ability to utilize season extension.

Vegetables:

Those who followed the Fall Vegetable Planting timeline are harvesting basil, lettuce, radishes, green beans and summer squash now.  Monitor for frost closely and be ready to use season extension to protect tender crops.

There are still some choices to direct seed,  these will need season extension to allow harvest into November and later:

  • Lettuce
  • Arugula
  • Spinach
  • Asian Greens
  • Carrots
  • Radishes

This arugula was started from seed under grow lights. It will be transplanted outdoors in a week. This was done to allow more time for flea beetles, a major pest of arugula, to finish its life cycle.

 

I still have several lettuce plugs from an earlier project that will be transplanted outside under row cover in a week.

There are several pests to continue to monitor for this time of year.  Slugs will be numerous if organic matter levels are moderate to high.  Deer are a serious threat due to decreasing amounts of fresh forage.  They will consume nearly all fall planted vegetables without protection. The  Cabbage White butterfly can persist in the environment deep into fall and their larvae can eat large amounts of foliage.

Spinach that will be grown overwinter in low tunnels under row cover should be planted withing the next couple weeks from direct seed.  Check out this Growing Franklin post for a documentation of that process. 

 

Cover Crops:

It is important to keep something growing all year long and avoid bare ground.  This is especially critical over winter to avoid loss of fertility and organic matter from erosion.  There are still several choices available including grasses such as rye or oats, legumes such as crimson clover or vetch and brassicas such as forage radishes.  The choice of what to plant depends on what the goal is, what crop will follow and the grower’s ability to manage the crop in the spring.

This past weekend I prepared the area that had previously grown cucurbits into a seedbed.

 

I had used woven plastic landscape fabric as mulch and weed suppression for my winter squash and pumpkins.  This was my first foray into using this method and I was impressed by how effective it was.  The only drawback was that after removal the ground had reverted to its base state as a heavy clay soil.  I think it is imperative that I cover crop following plasticulture to improve soil health going forward.

Note the bindweed seedling that persisted under black heavy weight landscape fabric. The fabric was placed in early June and temperatures were in the 90’s multiple times this season.

There is still time to plant cover crops.  I planted a mix of winter rye, hairy vetch, crimson clover and forage radish.   This mix will require intensive management in spring, but will persist over winter and provide multiple soil health benefits.

 

To find out about cover crops, fall vegetable planting as well as many other topics there will be a class on Fall Garden Projects to Benefit the Spring Garden at Grandview Heights Public Library on Tuesday October 16th, at 7pm. 

 

Fall Garden Projects

 

It is common to not really want to think about additional work at the end of a gardening season, especially one that had as many heat and water challenges as this season did, but fall is the best time to do many things in the garden that if you wait for spring, you lose your best chance.

The best things to do in Fall to prepare for Spring include:

  1. Remove the old/dead/unwanted plants
  2. Soil Test an amend the soil
  3. Make a compost pile
  4. Start or expand a new garden
  5. Clean your tools
  6. Plant a cover crop
  7. Keep good records and assess what worked

Lets go over them one at a time.

  1.  Removing the old/dead/unwanted plants is common sense, but I commonly see leftover plants come spring time and that can set you back when you want to plant.  Remove all plants that will not be overwintered,  pitch any that have disease or seeds or might be a problem in a compost pile(like thistle, dandelion, or bindweed)  Most diseases are fungal and produce spores.  These spores will become next years disease if left alone.  Do yourself and your plants a favor by removing them.

    Most of the problems affecting tomatoes are fungal diseases. The spores can live in the infected plant material. This needs discarded and not composted. Crop rotate from this spot for three years.

    Clean up is not only for disease management, but also for weed management. The tomatoes that have fallen on the ground, if ripe, will become next year’s weeds.

    The fence and plasticulture will be left in place to solarize for a week or so for disease management then cleaned and stored for next year’s use.

  2. The next thing to do after you have cleared the garden is to think about what soil amendments you can add will help for next year.   Their are several things that can be added:
    • Lyme
    • Compost
    • Leaves
    • Wood Ashes
    • Fertilizer
    • Manure
      • The best way to determine what you need is by doing a soil test.  We have soil test kits for sale in the office.
      • CLICK HERE TO SEE HOW TO SAMPLE YOUR SOIL
      • soil testA soil test shows what you need to add to grow what you need.  It is helpful to get accurate amounts by letting them know exactly what you are planting.  Some fertilizers are helpful to add at planting, some like Lyme need to be added in advance.
      • Soil Testing Factsheet from Ohio State Extension
      • Once your soil test results come back let me know and we will sit down and discuss them.
      • I am a huge fan of adding leaves and wood ashes in the fall.  Adding leaves and wood ashes basically adds the sum total of nutrition from an entire tree over its life of digging deep for minerals.  Leaves have 2X the minerals per pound vs. manure.
  3. Start a compost pile
    • Composting is easy and fun.  It happens two ways.  Hot and Cold.  Hot composting gets hot enough to kill weeds, seeds and diseases while cold composting takes longer, does not get hot, but requires much less work.
      • It is important for the pile to be just wet enough and have enough carbons(brown things) and nitrogens(green things) to make the magic ratio of about 25 to 1.  Click Here for a list of compost item ratios –>compost-materials
      • As you can see by my pile I am a cold composter
      • s18
      • Manure is a great addition to a garden or a compost pile.  The overwintering time in the soil or in a hot compost pile will speed the breakdown of any potential pathogens in the manure and it makes a great nitrogen addition to offset the carbons like leaves.   Here is a table of the C:N ratio’s of common manures –>manure-table
  4. Fall is the best time to start a new garden.  That will allow you to get started planting in spring when everything is at its busiest garden wise.  Pick your spot, lay down some newspaper over your new spot or the addition to your current garden and cover with organic matter deep enough to smother anything growing on the surface.  After a winter’s worth of time, you will be able to directly plant into your new garden.  Consider adding some lyme, sulfur,  or fertilizer based on a soil test of your new spot to make sure spring starts off on the right foot.
  5. Clean your tools.  This is self-explanatory although I will be the first to admit I am horrible at this.   My hand tools are rusty and look like garbage.   They should be cleaned of dirt and lightly covered in oil to prevent rust.
    • This chore includes running the gas out of mowers and tillers.   Those cost money and even I remember to do that on occasion.
  6. Plant a Cover Crop   Regular readers of this website will know I love cover crops and use them in multiple applications.  A cover crop can do many things for you like suppress weeds, add biomatter, dig through hardpan and increase fertility.  You can pick your crop based on what you need.
    • Winter rye, oats, Austrian winter peas, crimson clover, hairy vetch and brassicas are common choices for winter cover crops to use this time of year.  They all have their management challenges, although winter rye can be the hardest to manage in spring.
    • Click HERE for How to Manage Winter Rye in Spring

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      Winter rye will start rapid growth with spring rains and increased warmth. Having a plan to manage this crop is critical.

A great place to read about cover crops is from SARE, Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education.  They have a Learning Center Online with great information and free publications.

Try to spend some time this fall working on making your garden better for next year. What worked for you this year and what did not?  Take pictures with your phone to document the garden so you can use that for crop rotations.  I try to add a new plant species each year and get rid of one that was not successful.

Tangerine tomatoes (an heirloom) were a stellar performer for me this year and will go into permanent rotation. Besides being delicious, they were productive, disease resistant, crack resistant, and were the last variety producing for me deep into September.

In spring time when you want to get planting you will be happy to have a new garden with great soil, some compost to add, and clean tools.   That way you can start planting right away.

 

SUPER FUN BONUS SECTION: Want to make an easy cheap compost pile you can move anywhere?

dr-mcd-easy-compost-pile

 

Fall Projects to Prepare the Spring Garden Class at Grandview Heights Public Library on Tuesday October 16th @ 7:00 pm.

There will be a class on projects that can be done in the fall that will make your spring garden easier to start and more productive during the season.  Topics will include soil health, composting, garden expansion, cover crops, soil testing and more.  Bring your friends and your questions to this free event presented in partnership with The Grandview Heights Public Library.

 

Click HERE for flyer to download and print –> GV Library Fall to Spring Garden