Friday, May 13, 2016

Planting strategy

It's about time for setting out the hot weather plants - tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers and okra.  All of these seedlings are either inside under the lights or in the mobile cold frame.  I'm waiting.  The forecast calls for cool weather over the weekend with lows around 40 F (4 C). That's not in frost territory but cold enough to shock them, and many of these plants don't like getting a chill.   There's also been a lot of rain this May and after last night's rain the soil is saturated, to wet to sow the pole beans.  

I'm working on the bigger picture here, taking in the use of cover crops and the large amount of good compost available from raising two rabbit litters this year.  In past years I have mostly prepared the beds by mixing in some compost and fertilizer in the spring then turning it over with a spade, then hoeing the larger clods, then tilling with a small power cultivator.   It was a lot of work, but the soil never seemed to have enough organic material in it to prevent the clay from 'clodding' up.

This year I saw that the beds that were planted in cover crops last year had good tilth.  I gave them a light hoeing to remove the weeds, a little fertilizer, then raked them smooth and planted with brassicas, carrots, parsnip and onions.  Much easier.  That's a trend I'd like to see continue.

Which brings me to the large bed, where the squash, sweet potatoes, and potatoes go.  In mid-March I seeded this bed (except for the potato patch) with oats and field peas and covered everything with half-finished compost.  Last year I seeded just peas and weeds became a problem.  The oat/pea cover is very tight, practically no weeds get through.  The cover crop started slow but has made up for lost time.  Every morning and evening I take the shears to a patch and feed the clippings to the rabbits.  The kits are just over 3 weeks old now.

When the oats were young and tender the rabbits loved them, but now that the oats are older and more woody they aren't too crazy about them.  What they really relish are the field peas, which like any legume are higher in protein than the grasses, good for nursing rabbit does and growing kits.  I seeded too many oats and they have overshadowed the peas somewhat.  After cutting every day for several weeks I've barely made a dent in their growth.  Next year I will increase the ratio of pea to oat seeds.

This bed will be planted in a few days so I had to do something with this to get the oats under control.  Yesterday I took the string trimmer and cut the oats just above the peas.  That should set them back.  For the squash I plan to clear out some circles and put some seeds in the center.  The sweet potato patch will have to be cut down some more.  One end gets pole beans.  I turned over a strip of soil with the spade to make way for the beans.

Here's what is really cool about peas as a cover crop.  I inoculated them with nitrogen-fixing bacteria before sowing.  As they were turned over with the shovel the root nodules that shelter the bacteria were clearly visible.  For several months these peas are busy putting nitrogen into the soil.  Sounds like a good thing to me.

I built the trellis for the beans and set in the fence posts for the squash trellises.  The bean trellis is just two fence posts with a sapling attached at the top.  I'll tie strings to the crosspiece and tie them to another crosspiece at the bottom.   This weekend I will set up the tomato cages.  It's always a relief to get the structure in place.

With the oats subdued I hope the peas get a shot of vigor.  I'm hoping that the peas and oats will continue to provide rabbit food for another month or so.  The combination of hot weather and shade from the squash plants should finish them off in the summer.  If that happens the dead plant material will provide a nice mulch underneath the developing squash.  At least that's the ideal scenario.  


Mark Willis said...

Like you, I always feel that putting up the support mechanisms - like the canes I use for my Runner beans - is a major milestone in the gardening year. We have a cold weekend here too, so I won't be planting-up my tomatoes until next week at least.

Margaret said...

My, you have been busy! Our weather had been downright cold in the last few days and unfortunately I left out my peppers and eggplant a little too long - read: actually forgot they were on the porch :( - and they all got a bit of a chill/shock. Hopefully that doesn't impact too heavily on the harvest this year.

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