Winter rye cover crop tilled into garden soil

The rye cover crop I planted last fall made tremendous growth this spring. The plan all along was to till it into the soil before planting a week or so before planting.

Timing is important when it comes to tilling under a cover crop like rye. The plants grew and entered the “boot stage” of growth, forming flower/seed heads inside the stalk. This is the ideal time to till rye into the soil. At that stage the plants are about 20-24 inches tall.

 

At mid-May, the rye was nearly two feet tall
At the boot stage you can feel flower/seed head forming inside the stalk.

I thought the garden was quite fertile, and it is, but the spots that received a little heavier application of compost last fall are much greener, taller and are developing seed heads earlier. It’s a good demonstration about the benefits of compost.

The plants were too tall for the rototiller to handle on its own. I had a couple of options, either kill the rye with an herbicide like Roundup, which is what most of the conventional farmers do, or mow it. Since I’m trying to keep it an organic garden, I mowed.

Twenty inches tall sounds like a lot for a mower to handle but rye is very tender and juicy in the boot stage — they are almost all water. If I had mowed it before the boot stage, the plants would have grown back just like a lawn. If I waited too much longer, the plants would have been tougher and drier as they begin to form seeds. That would have made it much more difficult to till and would leave too much coarse plant material in the soil.

The chopped up rye dried and left a fine textured residue that was very easy to till.

Plant growth stage was not the only thing I was checking, I looked at soil moisture too. All the rain we had at that time left the soil temporarily saturated but it dried fairly quickly.  Tilling a garden that is too wet destroys its soil structure negating most of the benefits that a cover crop provides. The rye along with winter freezing and thawing improved the soil structure by forming loose aggregates of soil particles leaving plenty of space for roots to grow.

The rototiller easily handled the rye at this point.

Another very visible advantage to this cover crop was the lack of weeds this spring. By this time the garden would have been full of all kinds of broad leaf weeds and grasses. Dandelions would have come and gone by now. The rye did its job and out-competed virtually all other plants giving me a head start over the weeds this year.

Bob

 

 

 

Mother’s day plant sale at Matthaei Botanical Gardens this weekend

The Matthaei Botanical Gardens – Nichols Arboretum annual Mother’s Day Plant Sale is coming up this weekend, May 13 and 14.

About three weeks ago I visited the Gardens and got a sneak peek at the plants growing in the greenhouse. I can tell you that these are no ordinary, anonymous plants grown by an impersonal factory growing operation. They are lovingly grown and tended by Adrienne O’Brien and her helpers right in the greenhouse at the Botanical Gardens. When I was there, the plants were still young but were growing strong and looked absolutely wonderful.

Horticulturist Adrienne _________ leads team of plant grower at Matthaei Botanical Gardens - Nichols Arboretum
Horticulturist Adrienne O’ Brien leads her team of plant growers at Matthaei Botanical Gardens – Nichols Arboretum.

 

A month ago Adrienne was worried that the plants were ahead of schedule.
A month ago Adrienne was worried that the plants were ahead of schedule.

Now the plants are ready to go home to Mother’s house.

The plants will be sold in the same greenhouse that they were grown in.
The plants will be sold in the same greenhouse that they were grown in.
Wide variety of beautiful hanging baskets
Wide variety of beautiful hanging baskets
Container plants make a great gift for Mom on Mother's Day.
Container plants make a great gift for Mom on Mother’s Day.
Whimsical planters like these are lots of fun.
Whimsical planters like these are lots of fun.

 

The sale runs from 10:00 am to 4:30 pm both days (9:00 am if you are a member). Matthaei Botanical Gardens is located at 1800 N. Dixboro Road, south of Plymouth Road, Ann Arbor.

Bob

Planting strawberries

Our strawberry plants were delivered last week, I got them into the ground as soon as I could. After a long ride through the postal system, they were glad to be tucked into our new strawberry bed.

Beginning gardeners may not know that nearly all strawberries are grown from not from seed but from transplants. Strawberry plants reproduce naturally by sending out runners that form plantlets called “daughter plants” that quickly take root. Those new daughter plants themselves will send out more shoots and produce even more daughter plants. Eventually you end up with a dense mat of strawberry plants.

Strawberries should be planted in a well-prepared bed, ideally one that was cleared and tilled at least a year in advance. That will eliminate perennial weeds that will choke out your strawberries before they have a chance to get established. It also will greatly reduce the number of root damaging insects like grubs and wire worms. My new bed is in an area that has been part of the vegetable garden for several years now. I’ve also let the chickens run in this area during the off season. They’ve really kept that spot clean.

In a perfect world, we would plant the strawberries about 18 – 24 inches apart with the rows about two to three feet apart. My row spacing was a bit closer than that because I had more plants than I had room.

You can think of the plants as having three basic parts: the leaves; the crown, which is the center, bulky part; and the roots. The leaves grow from the top of the crow while the roots grow from the bottom. It’s very important to plant at the proper depth. The soil should just cover the roots without burying the crown. That is how a new daughter plant grows naturally. On the other hand, no roots should be sticking up above the soil line exposed to the air. It’s a matter of about a half an inch between too deep and not deep enough. Make sure there is plenty of room in the planting hole so that the roots are straight down and not curled up at the bottom.

At this stage strawberry plants are mostly roots, but the crown and a few leaves can be seen too.

Once your newly planted strawberries establish themselves, they will begin to produce runners and daughter plants. You can shuffle the daughter plants around to a more organized configuration to help maintain rows. That will make it easier to weed and pick later on. Or just let them take root wherever they want.

Pluck the flowers off as they appear, that will keep the plants from wasting its energy producing fruit instead of stronger daughter plants. All those new daughter plants will produce your strawberry crop next year. So the stronger they are, the better your harvest will be.

Keep your bed free from weeds and well watered throughout the growing season. Later, at the end of the season they will need to be mulched. We’ll discuss mulching when the time comes.

Bob