Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Fall Work in the Veggie Garden

This weekend, we prepared the vegetable garden at Temple for the upcoming cold weather.

Protecting Crops
We created a "cold frame" out of bales of straw that we will cover with either glass or fabric to insulate the crops while allowing sunlight to penetrate the covering.  This will protect the tender crops from wind and cold temperatures.  We also mulched with a layer of salt hay.  Salt hay (Spartina patens) is a grass that is grown in the salt marshes of New Jersey.  It is a good mulch because it doesn't contain the seeds that field hay will have.  The salt hay will help the soil retain moisture, it will keep weeds down, and it will eventually break down, adding nutrients to the soil.
Lettuce, cabbage, and kale mulched with salt hay, protected by a straw bale cold frame
Swiss chard mulched with salt hay, protected by straw bales

Planting Garlic
This is also the time of year to plant garlic.  Garlic is a fun and easy crop to grow.  It is self sustaining, because each clove can multiply into 20 cloves in a growing season.  According to the Garlic Central Web site, garlic cloves should be planted upright, one inch deep, and four inches apart.  It is easiest to make long troughs, place cloves upright in the troughs, and then cover with soil.  We planted the garlic in a sunny location and mulched the garlic beds with salt hay to keep weeds down and retain soil moisture.  Garlic contains a natural pesticide, allicin, and therefore makes a wonderful companion plant when co-planted with things like lettuce and cabbage.
Planting garlic cloves in troughs

Saving Seed
Harvesting seed to save for next year is another good thing to do in the Fall.  Many of my tomatoes have already been damaged by a few frosts, but the seeds are still good.  I collected a few fruit from my tomatoes, peppers and herbs.  I'll dry the seeds to plant in the spring.
Sungold tomatoes- I'll harvest and dry the seeds for next year

Harvesting Sweet Potatoes
As I was clearing out the tomatoes, peppers, corn, and sunflowers from my garden, I realized that I forgot about the sweet potatoes that I planted this summer!  I didn't have high hopes for these plants.  I had forgotten that I ordered them because they were shipped as live plants much later than my seeds, so I was basically out of space in my garden.  I planted them between two rows of tomatoes where they had very little sunlight and I knew they wouldn't have much of a chance.  Also, every time one would sprout, a little critter would come and nibble off the shoots.  So, I wasn't surprised that I ended up with "fingerling" sweet potatoes... I'm still going to try to cook them, so I'll let you know how they turn out.
Pitiful sweet potato harvest
Tiny sweet potatoes washed and laid out to dry

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