Saturday, July 22, 2006

Succession planting. Here it is July, and I still don't have all the plants in the garden. Not only are the plants for the fall garden waiting in the wings, but also some of the summer ones. There's still basil in pots, as well as dwarf marigolds and a second round of calendulas. They're still rather small so I didn't want to rush to get them into the garden, and then have to struggle to keep them watered. When they are so little, they might need to be watered at least twice a day in a dry spell. To keep them growing I transplanted them into slightly bigger pots, as I do with most plants before finally settling them into the garden. After initially sowing seeds in small plastic six-pack units, I transfer most plants into 15-ounce ricotta cheese or sour cream containers, or sometimes the little 8-ounce yogurt containers.. (Some fast-growing plants like tomatoes go directly into 32-ounce yogurt containers.) To make holes in the bottom for drainage, I turn them upside down on a flat surface, and jab through with a two-pronged carving fork in several places.

A few plants, like lobelia, begonias, and small-leafed basil, are transplanted into a nicer pot to display on a window sill or on the patio. But most of the containers are in the coldframes or in flats on the floor of the porch. There's not really a rush as some or all can stay in pots if need be.

All the plants for the fall garden have also been transplanted into the bigger containers and are waiting in the coldframes for when there is room in the garden. Kale, collards, cabbage, cauliflower, cabbage, and radicchio were all started by seed May 21, even before the tomatoes got into the garden! They can grow into the containers until they reach a decent size for transplanting, and equally important, when there is room in the garden!

The garden is constantly in sequence from one crop to another in the summertime. When the spring crops finish up, there's room for whatever is ready to go in next. I have maps of the garden from the last two years, and all the beds are numbered. I refer to these to try to avoid planting anything in the same spot where it has been before in those two years, so as to make it harder on the pest insects and diseases to get a foothold. So far I have not been able to work up a complete plan prior to planting time, as there are so many variables. It's a rather fluid time -- constantly evaluating what needs to get into the ground and where there is room, and what grew there before. I try not to get in a rush and make snap decisions, because that's when I make mistakes.

There's also the over-wintered crops to consider and it differs from year to year what survives the winter and flourishes in spring. Last year I had let a small bed of garden cress flower in summer. By fall, it had re-seeded itself over two beds where the garlic was harvested in mid-summer. Early this spring it came back again, and so I let them stay, and we enjoyed plenty of fresh cress before any other spring greens were ready. They flowered in late spring, and I hope they had a chance to spread more seed, but come June I just had to pull them out to make room for tomatoes and zucchinis. Tomatoes just get too big to stay in pots unless they're hugh pots. Zucchinis I start from seed out in the ground.

Wild arugula is another crop that is abundant from last year. No need to re-sow that this year! It threatens to take over, so I have to pull out more than we can actually eat. Nevertheless we've been eating plenty of this pungent green, as well as freezing some for later use, as I do with all the greens when they are abundant.

The last of the lettuce is showing early signs of going to seed and the pea and snap pea vines are putting out fewer flowers, and when it's all over there will be two more beds there. Once we get a dry spell, it won't be long after that for the garlic to be ready to pull.

Rain. We've had plenty of rain this summer so far, unlike the drought of last year. Others around us - near the Susquehanna and Delaware Rivers - suffered torrential floods, which we were spared here in Ithaca. Everything is lush from the rain.

Mulch. Maybe it was last year's drought, or just getting tired of the endless weeding, but this year Steve and I decided to go much heavier on the mulch than we have in the past 12 or so years gardening together. Going back to my roots, in a way. The first garden I ever had back in my parents' yard in Columbus, Ohio, was inspired by intensive reading of Organic Gardening publications. Ruth Stout was among the most inspiring and entertaining. A beginning gardener, already I was attracted to her no-work mulch method, realizing that I too would be old someday. At that time I had access to all the grass clippings I could desire, as my father mowed the large lawn and all the clippings collected in a bag hooked to the mower. Here in Ithaca we buy straw bales from Agway, and leave our grass clippings on the grass to keep the lawn nourished. We've done some mulching in the past, but not enough to really cut down on the weeding. This year we've bought more bales than ever before, so we can lay them down thickly, at least around the tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, and peppers. It keeps the moisture in, cuts down on weeding, and breaks down some, adding more organic matter to the soil.

Ruth Stout says leaves can be used too, and I will have to try that too, but we're running low on leaves now. In the fall, we run around and drive around taking other people's bags of leaves off the curb, where they're waiting to be picked up by the city. We stockpile them and use them for layering in the compost bin to cover the kitchen waste in the wintertime when we are short of weeds. We have used them for mulching plants in the fall, and covering some, like spinach, in the hopes of over-wintering. But why not use them in the summertime, if we have enough? Will have to gather even more this fall to have next summer!