Showing posts with label Composting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Composting. Show all posts

Monday, July 28, 2014

6 reasons to use pine needle mulch in edible gardens

I use pine needles in between my wide rows in the edible gardens.
Here are some of the reasons for using pines needles in wide-row edible gardens. (Read my post "Wide row planting & trench composting" for the details on this planting method.)

Pine needle mulch:
1) does a good job at limiting weeds.
2) doesn't form a crust, so even a light rain filters to the soil and doesn't roll away.
3) is easy to handle and remove when it's time for a crop change.
4) lasts for 2 or more years.
5) does not significantly acidify the soil below.
6) is free if there are pine trees in your neighborhood.

Corn salad, red-stemmed spinach, and garlic growing in wide rows in a winter bed. The pine needle mulch is 4 or 5 inches thick in the trenches between the rows. For crops like onions or garlic I mulch the whole row with about an inch of pine needles—the crop will grow right through it.
Use a very light layer of pine needles over the area where you've planted seeds. Here  I removed the smaller okra seedling and left just one to grow in this space around my okra swales, because you don't want to crowd okra. I always plant 2 or 3 seeds in each spot to make sure I get at least 1 good plant, especially when the seeds are older.
When ready to plant, use a leaf rake to clear the pine needles away. For this garlic, I'm ready to create the wide rows and to dump my kitchen scraps in the bottom of the trench between the rows. Note the wood chips on the path next to the garden.

This batch of needles contained a fair amount of soil after I removed it from the bed, so I raked the whole wad of needles across the lawn to clean them up. As a bonus, the freedom lawn receives an addition of compost.
I collect pine needles from the neighborhood
streets--after a storm is especially fruitful.
Then I keep a pile of them near my gardens.
Down by the lake, a longleaf pine drops its foot-long needles. Easy to rake and great for mulch. My husband mows every other week, so before he mows, I often head down there to collect a new batch.

Why not wood chips?

I've written before about using arborists' woodchips in the landscape, but I don't use them in my edible gardens for two reasons.

Wood chip mulch:
1) is impossible to remove completely once it's laid down. For other uses, like paths and more stable gardens, that's not a problem, but it doesn't work well with all the activity of changing crops at the end of the season.
2) depletes nutrients as it comes in contact with the soil microbes. Again for path mulches, this is an advantage for keeping down weeds, but we work so hard to increase the nutrient level in our edible gardens, why compromise it in any way? Eventually, the chips decompose and add nutrients and humus to the soil, but not at first.

Getting ready for fall...

Yes, it will be 6 weeks or more until I'm ready to start planting the cool weather crops, but there will be some end of summer crops like squashes, cucumbers, sugar snap peas and maybe tomatoes. It was time to turn under my marigold cover crops into their beds, so they'll be ready for the next set of crops. Read about my multi-year marigold experiment: Results: the nematode experiment. 

These two vegetable beds (with their marigold cover crop) are ready to be turned.

There is a Chinese fringe bush at the north end of this bed. Each year I remove its roots that are encroaching into the garden space.
I lay in unfinished compost on top of the marigolds and then
I'll add back the original soil.

First I pull the marigolds and weeds, and then I rake away the pine needles with a leaf rake. I raked the pine needles from this bed across the lawn as shown in a photo above to get rid of the embedded soil. Then I dug out about 5 or 6 inches of soil from the whole bed into the big cart. This bed is about 6.5 ' by 5' and I filled the whole cart. I laid in the marigolds, some grass clippings, topped it with a wheel barrel load of almost finished compost. (Completed or finished compost will not have any recognizable pieces of the original materials. This batch still has some leaf mold and small sticks and chips.)

Then I shoveled the original soil back in place and smoothed it out. I added another half load of compost on top of the soil. Finally, I covered it with pine needles and added wood chips in the walking areas around the bed.

In a few days, I'll turn the next bed.

After burying the marigolds, compost, grass clippings and layering back the original soil, I mulched the whole bed with pine needles. It will sit until fall when it'll be time to start the cool-weather crops. FYI, the downspout shown here, runs into a French drain that runs next to the sidewalk and is released into one of my rain gardens. The rain water then heads down to the lake in an open ravine.

The squash is done, so it was time to turn the marigolds into this bed, too.

I started near the okra (by the bench) and had a load of kitchen scraps ready to compost, so those went into the bottom of this bed for some extra nutrients.

Except for the okra, garlic chives, and the Greek oregano in the foreground, the beds have been turned. The outside bed was turned a couple of weeks ago and so I will probably start planting in that bed first when it's time.

Early in the spring pines also drop their male catkins (sex organs). These break down much more quickly than the pine needles, so if I rake them up, I use them to mulch my blueberries or in the compost pile where their acidity will be neutralized.

For further reading on pine needle mulch:
From Dave's Garden: Pine Needle Acidity: Myth or reality?
On Wildlife Gardeners' website: Pine Straw (Pine Needle) Mulch Acidity: Separating Fact From Fiction Through Analytical Testing

Amazing summer clouds just before sunset last week.

I hope you are enjoying the summer clouds and are planning for your fall garden of edibles. Why not purchase my book to help you get started? Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Saturday, February 22, 2014

From compost to dinners...

After removing the last of the compost from the location in the
foreground of this photo, I added a 6" layer of leaves and pine needles,
and then addedthe old lime basil twigs and sugar snap pea vines.

Spring compost!

It was time to clear out the last of the compost from last year's pile. I needed to use it to refresh some of the rows where I'd harvested the crops and it was time to nourish the soil around various shrubs.

When I get to it, I'll turn the old compost pile onto the freshly prepared space. Then the cycle will start all over again.

Isn't it amazing how one spring garden chore leads to several others?

Adding compost around the roots of the blueberry bushes. I pulled the mulch from around the blue berry shrubs, laid in the acidic balsam from the Christmas wreath, placed an inch thick layer of compost in a circle around each of the shrubs, and then returned the pine needle mulch. This is a good time to do this to boost the spring growth.

The last of the first crop of carrots. Most of this crop was harvested in December. These were the runts and maybe they could have grown more, but they've been in the ground since September so it was time to give it up. Like gamblers, gardeners need to know when "fold." These carrots ended up in a tabbouleh--see below. I added compost to the spent carrot row. The other crops are parsley, cabbage, romaine, and the last of the sugar snap pea vines, which ended up in the new compost pile. Some new peas were growing there already, so I planted more along the tomato cages.
Adding compost to an old lettuce row. There's one stub of lettuce left, but the rest were eaten. So it's time to lay down some compost for a new crop.Since this was a leaf crop, I'll probably plant a fruit crop next, such as pepper. Other crops are garlic, Swiss card, and dill.
I saved the seed from the lime basil and the marigolds
that were growing in the space where I wanted to
build a squash mound.

Building a squash mound

I had a 4x4 bed that grew only marigolds last year--no crops. Along the far edge was a row of lime basil, which we really enjoyed. (Link to Nematodes, marigolds, and crop rotation to see it in the summer and find out why I planted so many marigolds.) The bed had been just sitting there through the winter, but now it was time to clear out the dead stuff and build a squash mound. I wanted to do this quickly because a rainy front was coming through.

First I collected the seed from the marigolds and the lime basil, and then separated out the marigold skeletons from the basil stems. Then I raked the soil back from the front half of the bed to about 4" deep, laid in the dead marigold stems, added a 4" layer of compost, and then raked the original soil back. I did the same thing to the back side. After that I build a squarish swale and mulched the sides with pine needles. I'll bury my next batch of kitchen scraps in the center. It's still a little early to plant squash, so I'll let it sit for a couple of weeks to let it settle.

This bed had mostly marigolds growing in it last year with some lime basil growing to the side. To prepare the bed, I raked the soil to the back half of the bed, covered the soil with marigold skeletons, added 4" of compost, and then raked the original soil back..

The second phase was to rake the top 4" of soil from the back toward the front, add the marigold stems, and compost the same as the other half..
Squash mount is now ready for some kitchen scraps in the center, and then I'll let it sit for a week or two before planting squash seeds. As I was finishing up this task, the rains came--2" in just a couple of hours.

Vegetarian hash.

How dinners have been changed by our harvest-of-the-day

We enjoyed a lovely vegetarian hash dinner the other night. It includes: wild garlic, garlic chives, oregano & rosemary from the garden. Plus store-bought zucchini, red potatoes, onion, green pepper, and celery all browned in olive oil in a covered frying pan until the onions were caramelized and the potatoes were soft. I then divided the hash into two servings on either side of the frying pan and topped each serving with an egg and covered again until the eggs were cooked. Topped with freshly ground pepper and salsa, Yummy!

The next night, my husband created a batch of tabbouleh, which will last us 3 days or more. The recipe varies and one of the factors is the harvest-of-the-day.

Harvest for tabbouleh: garlic chives, wild garlic, carrots, and a good-size bunch of curly parsley.
Juice drained from a can of diced tomatoes and
heated in the microwave is poured over the bulgur
wheat to soak while the rest of the prep is done.
The de-stemmed parsley is chopped in the food processor. After this the cucumber, celery, olives were also chopped in the processor, but the carrots, garlic and garlic mustard were hand-sliced.
Adding the soaked bulgur to the rest of the salad. Ready to serve. Yummy. We'll probably add shrimp tonight or the next for variety.

Our recycling neighborhood, Mother Nature, and more...

A found bench! Our neighborhood has a tradition of putting stuff out on the curb the day before trash day and people roam the streets for stuff they can use. Recycling at its best! Mistletoe really stands out in the spring!
For more on how the neighborhood  recycling works, see my post Two geezers and a shed. The shed in question is in the background of the above photo.

Carpenter bees have been chewing into the blueberry flowers to rob the nectar. I hope that there is at least some cross-pollination happening so we get a good crop this year. For details on why this is important, see my article Florida blueberries.
A fluffed out red shouldered hawk the other morning. It's saying, "Hey, you lookin' at me?"
Sometimes natives don't look so great in their pots, which is one reason big box stores would have a hard time selling more of them. There's been a good discussion about this over on my Sustainable Gardening Facebook page.  This is a beautyberry bush (Callicarpa americana) that sprouted too close to its parent. I put it in a pot for the winter, and now is a terrific time to plant this tough and attractive plant. Let's see... Where will I put it?
I hope you are having fun with your spring gardening chores.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Short-day onions & more...

Garlic chives!
The winter edible season has started, but not before a couple of last gasps of the fall crops.

In doing the research for "Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida," I planted some garlic chives.  I'd never planted them before and was prepared to be underwhelmed, but not so.  They've grown amazingly well, they are evergreen, and we love the taste--both cooked and raw. Plus they are beautiful even after frequent harvests.

I planted some Burpee 'Green Tiger' zucchini in September to see if we could get at least some zucchinis before frost. It's an iffy proposition with the shortening days and fewer squash flowers in bloom.  Each female flower in the squash family needs to be visited 8 or 9 times by a pollinator in the one day it's in bloom. I like to give it a go, though, because some zucchinis are better than no zucchinis at all! They will all be killed in the first frost, so this is a temporary pleasure.  This green tiger ended up in a stir fry. Yummy.

I planted the sugar snap peas in September as well but they usually do better with frost where only the flowers are hit while the rest of the vine stays green. We are looking forward to these sweet treats through most of the winter.  If a really cold snap is predicted, I may throw a tarp or blanket over the tomato cages to protect them. Since they are close to the house, it's warmer there already.

Green tiger zucchini. Sugar-snap pea flower.
Getting ready to plant onions: I worked in new compost and created 3 wide rows. I left the middle row unplanted for now.
In the bed beyond this one there are wide rows of parsley, purple carrots, cabbage, romaine, and in the back, sugar snap peas growing up the tomato cages.  In the foreground are white icicle radishes.
This year instead of waiting for Home Depot to get in its onion plants, hoping that they'll have short-day onions, I searched online for them. I wrote about this in "Recipe for failure: long-day onions in Florida." 

Short-day onions are important for success here in the South because we grow our onions straight through the winter when the days are short.  So I found Dixondale Farms that specializes in onions. I bought two bunches: one was the Yellow Granex, which is the type most of the farmers around Vidalia, GA plant. Only the farmers within four counties of the town can call their sweet onions Vidalias, but the onions we grow in north Florida can be just as sweet. The second bunch was the short-day sampler with a combination of Texas 1015Y super sweets (yellow), Texas early whites, and red Creoles. With at least 60 plants in each bunch, that's a lot of onions for us, but it was only $3 more for the second bunch.

The bunches were shipped loose in their box, but seemed to withstand the rigors of shipping.  The tops were trimmed down to about 4 inches.  I planted them 4 inches apart in wide rows and lightly mulched them with pine needles & leaves.  3 days later, after a soaking rain, the plants have greened up and their leaves have already grown beyond their 4-inch trim.
Short-day sampler onion plants. After only 3 days and a rain, they've greened up.
Granex onions are planted 4 inches apart in 2 wide rows separated by a fallow row. The row next to the house is broccoli in a couple of different stages of growth--I re-seeded when some of the first crop didn't make it.

Garlic, black-seeded Simpson lettuce, Swiss-chard & dill, newly planted carrots, onion sampler, fallow row, and another onion row. Marigolds, lime basil, garlic chives, meadow garlic, and zucchini.
This shows the view down both sides of the newly expanded edible beds.  We enjoyed the lime basil for a change from the standard sweet basil. There are still some areas left open for later winter crops between the onion rows and next to the meadow garlic.  Of course, the zucchini won't last past a frost, so that area will open up soon.  The marigolds, which I'd planted extensively over the summer will also die with the first frost. This is the last patch and the butterflies visit every day. I'll save a bunch of seeds for more marigolds next year.  Our first frost usually comes in mid-December. To see the process of expanding these beds, see "Further lawn reduction, more edible garden space, and zebra longwings!"

Newly hatched turtle in the herb garden.
We found this baby turtle crawling around in the herb garden. I'm not sure whether it's a musk turtle or a mud turtle, but in any case, we gave it a ride around the house and put it down on the shoreline of the pond out front. We wished it luck as it crawled into the water.

I hope you are enjoying the wildlife in your yard this fall. And I wish you great bounty for Thanksgiving and beyond. I am thankful for you, the readers, who share our adventures in and out of the garden.

Green Gardening Matters, 
Ginny Stibolt

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

An early fall compost pile

Some of the new chips had been sitting in the truck for a few days so they'd
already started composting. They were steaming hot and had turned gray.
Normally I do my major compost building later in the fall when we have lots of dead leaves on hand, but several events occurred this year to speed up the process.

1) I'd depleted my compost supply in building the new edible beds and I had saved a pile of sod that we'd removed, which was waiting to be composted.

2) Some of chips we received last week had been on the truck for several days and had already heated up and turned gray with fungal spores.

As we moved the chips from the county right-of-way, we used the gray chips for a couple of fill jobs and I saved one cart load for compost. Since it had already started to decompose, it would serve as a good starter for a new pile. This part of the load was filled with pine needles, leaves, and small twigs.

Most of the load consisted of excellent fresh wood chips with very few leaves, which we carted off to use for mulching. It took a couple of days but now the fence in back in place and we still have a good-sized pile out there behind the fence to use in a more leisurely manner.

We had plenty of grass clippings, but I used them sparingly.
3) My husband experimented with the timing of the lawn mowing to see if he could wait three weeks at this time of year. He waited, but it generated a lot of extra grass clippings and then it rained.

The clippings are a good "green" material for the compost pile, but since these were so wet and clumped together, I'd need to spread them out thinly in the layering of the pile.

Building a compost pile

As I described in the compost chapter in Sustainable Gardening for Florida, building a pile with alternating layers of "green" and "brown" materials within a week or two ensures the proper ratio and speeds the composting process.  I call this a medium maintenance pile because after I get it built high enough I'll let it sit for a month or so and then I'll turn it once. Three or four months later, depending upon the original materials, I'll have good compost. Meanwhile, I'll throw newly collected compostable materials in a holding pile until I start the next pile.

I use the garden fork to even out the pile and make sure
there are connecting pathways between the layers.
I emptied one watering can of rain barrel water over the whole pile.
And so the first phase of the pile will sit for a few days
before I add the next set of layers on top.
I start a pile by scraping the ground so that it's even and weed free. The size of this footprint is about five feet by two and a half feet.  The piles are supposed to be no narrower than three feet, but my potting bench is behind where I'm standing and I wanted maneuvering room.

The first layer was pine needles and small sticks. Then I alternated layers of the removed sod, spoiled wood chips, grass clippings, and dead leaves. Since leaves haven't started falling here in great quantities, I raked leaves from under wooded area next to the driveway.  Normally, I would not bother raking here, but I needed them to provide a completely dry layer.

By the end of this stage, the pile is about sixteen inches high ending with a layer of the chips. I have grass clipping and sod left over, but I used the whole load of chips.  Now I wish I'd dumped one more of those loads of spoiled chips here. I'll work on adding more to the pile next week after I complete some other tasks. By the time it's done, the pile will be at least waist high.  The pile needs enough mass to heat up.

The veggies are growing

Most of the seeds have sprouted, but not the spinach or parsley. At this point the seedlings are vulnerable so it's crucial that they receive extra irrigation unless there is a good rain and that the weeds are pulled.

It's possible that all of the sugar snap peas have sprouted even though they were packed for the 2009 season. They are growing tendrils now so sometime this week, I'll train them to climb the tomato cages. We are looking forward to eating this sweet and crunchy crop.
The sugar snap peas are up!
A tiny green tree frog sat on the porch rail in its streamlined mode all day. This may be the one that visits my office window at night to dine on the bugs attracted to my light. We're a team--he gets free bugs and I am entertained.
And so October begins--it's the last of our five wet months for the year. Enjoy the fall.  It's a wonderful season for gardening here in north Florida.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt