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Nov 16

Get Your Garden Ready for Thanksgiving 2017

Posted to MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin on November 16, 2016 at 11:45 AM by Ann Vallee

by Dan Carney, Water Conservation Manager

According to the culinarian at the living history museum in Plymouth, Massachusetts, the Wampanoag people had a “varied and extremely good diet” and likely feasted with the Pilgrims on a variety of squashes, beans and corn at the famous Thanksgiving of 1621. 

If you grow your own veggies (or want to), there is still time to plant a cover crop to enrich your garden soil for next year’s fall harvest. Cover crops, or “green manure,” include legumes and grasses that improve fertility and soil structure making it more water efficient, nutrient-rich, and naturally resistant to pests and weeds. Now is a good time to plant: Rain is on the way, the soil is still warm enough for good germination, and there is time for the seedlings to get established before a frost. 

To prepare your garden for planting, simply rake the soil smooth and broadcast the seeds of your favorite cover crop following package directions. According to the U.C. Marin Master Gardeners, “Legumes are particularly valuable for Marin gardeners because they add nitrogen to the soil. Examples of legumes include fava beans, soy beans, crimson clover, red cover and hairy vetch.” 

In the spring or early summer you harvest your crop by chopping it up and digging it into the soil—that’s why it’s called green manure. Timing is important: Let the cover crop mature until it flowers, but don’t let it go to seed. The idea is to give the green manure time to decompose into the soil, making it rich and sweet for planting your corn, beans and squash in 2017. There is nothing better than fresh from the garden!

Sep 09

An Abundance

Posted to MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin on September 9, 2016 at 9:23 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

 Swiss Chard in raised planter
Swiss chard in raised planter
September is a busy month in the garden. It is that time of year when the vegetables are producing faster than we can pick, while at the same time we're planning ahead for the next round. Winter crops, including garlic, need to be planted now. Spring bulbs are coming into the nurseries, and favorites will sell out fast. Cover crops should be seeded to enrich the soil for next year's garden. Whew!

Getting these chores completed will pay off with the promise of abundant produce and colorful flowers next year. The question is what to do with the excess now—and do we really want to do it all again next year!

A couple of my friends ran into this dilemma recently. The first friend was confronted with four apple trees laden with fruit ready for the picking. While she does a fabulous job baking, her culinary interests do not stretch into the world of canning. Luckily, my other friend and I are equipped to help her. But meanwhile this second friend, seeing the bargain of the century on a shopping trip, came home with over 100 pounds of potatoes. While we laughed about her abundant score, we knew she had a job before her as we pored over various potato soup recipes. While investigating recipes for potatoes, we also pulled together family-treasure recipes for apple pie, apple sauce, apple fritters, raw apple cake, ad nauseam to help preserve the apples.

Zucchini in a pot
 Zucchini in a pot
There is a lot of work to a garden, even after the harvest. It made me wonder how best to manage for all of us with busy schedules and, for many, downsized families. Are big gardens required? Toying with that thought this spring, I planted one zucchini plant in a large pot and Swiss chard in another raised planter. Fortunately, I also planted three hills of various squash plants, as I love all the ways they can be prepared. I'm thankful now that I did that, as the potted zucchini has offered one zucchini thus far. The Swiss chard, on the other hand, is thriving far more abundantly than the Swiss chard growing in the greenhouse. And surprisingly, the potted plants seemed to require less water than those vegetables growing in the ground.

Where are you right now regarding the garden? This is the time of the year to assess how you will proceed with next spring's garden. Are your thoughts drifting toward a simpler garden life, or would you like recipes for sliced, grated, canned, frozen, or dehydrated zucchini, potatoes, or apples? I have an abundance of all listed!

Aug 05

Winter Gardens in August

Posted to MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin on August 5, 2016 at 9:37 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

Winter crop seeds
 Winter crop seeds
There is something inherently wrong with that title. The month just ended saw temperatures far greater than what most consider comfortable living. Summer crops are just beginning to bear a healthy quantity requiring canning or freezing, and the title of the blog is discussing winter?

Every year seems to slip by without starting winter crop seeds on time for the very reasons mentioned above: The weather is warm and we're busy harvesting summer fruits and vegetables. Add to the mix a vacation or two, and before we know it we're well into fall. This year is no exception, except a special tickler file promptly advised me to get the winter seeds started on time. Since I will be fishing in the wilds of British Columbia as you are reading this, I added a tickler file to the tickler file that this project must be done upon my return from the northern high country.

You might ask, Why bother with a winter garden? Winter crops are a great source for the makings of soups and stews that typically warm our souls when the winds are blowing and rains soak us to the bone. Winter vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower tend to bolt to seed in our hot summer weather, but they can withstand our cool temperatures. Lettuce, spinach, radishes, and carrots are also easy to grow during the winter as well as beets, Brussels sprouts, and Swiss chard. Garlic and onions can also be started now for spring harvest!

One of the challenges of starting winter seeds now is they will need to be planted in the ground before our summer crops are exhausted. Some summer vegetables may need to vacate their beds sooner than our frost dates demand, but with careful planning we can work it out. For example, once harvested corn is complete, thus leaving that space open for additional plantings. The same holds true for root crops such as potatoes, beets, carrots, and radishes. These beds can be amended with a good organic compost and manure and be at the ready for winter crops.

Winter gardens in the dog days of summer? Let this be your tickler file to add one more thing to your garden list of things to do! This winter as you sup on a steaming dish, you will be thankful you made the effort to plant winter crops.