What side of the debate were you on this fall?

While much of the country is focused on the mid-term elections, two opposing camps of gardeners are lining up this fall.  Each side has compelling reasons why they are right and the other side is wrong. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground.

One side is more, you might say, traditional in their approach to preparing perennial beds for winter. Those gardeners remove all of this year’s dead plant material from the garden and dispose of it by composting or other means. They claim that removing dead material now, in the fall, creates a clean slate for new growth in the spring. Tender new growth will less likely be damaged than if you try to remove last year’s growth when the plant is actively growing in the spring.

Some gardeners prefer to clear the debris from their garden in the fall.
Some gardeners prefer to clear the debris from their garden in the fall.

The other group says, “We care about birds”. They leave all of their plant growth untouched in the fall. All of that tangled up mass of plant stems provides valuable cover for wild song birds that over-winter. This group feels they have a responsibility to the wider ecological community when gardening. Many perennials produce seeds each fall. Leaving those old flower stalks up, they say, provides an addition food source for birds.

Some gardeners prefer to leave garden debris alone until spring.
Some gardeners prefer to leave garden debris alone until spring.

Leaving the garden alone in the fall has some other, less tangible benefits. All of that debris tends to collect and hold snow in place providing a natural insulating blanket. The protective snow cover can reduce the chance of freeze damage or frost heaving in some years. Not only that, the stalks provide an attractive visual element to the winter landscape as well, claims the leave-it-be group.

Gardeners on the other side counter those arguments claiming by the time they start clearing their gardens, the birds have already eaten virtually all of the seeds. Their small plot of flowers would not provide any really usable cover for birds either, they say. And who wants to look at a messy garden area all winter anyway? Not only that, spring is busy enough without having to do all the work you should have done last fall.

So every fall die-hard gardeners endlessly debate the merits of their position. I’m not really sure how often one breaks ranks and joins the other side, probably not very often.

Bob

 

 

 

 

Chickens help recover garden area

Earlier this week I decided to move some of my chickens into the lower garden. That area is poorly drained and water sits there almost every spring.

Since the last couple of summers were so damp and rainy, that spot was waterlogged for much of the growing season. I couldn’t plant anything. I couldn’t even till the area, so I let it go fallow.

Right now the spot is quite dry. Since it has been relatively warm this winter, the soil is not frozen and there is no snow cover so the chickens will be able to scratch to their hearts’ content.

There’s an old garden shed in that spot that I sometimes use as a temporary chicken coop. The area is fenced to keep out deer, woodchucks and those wascally wabbits. It also keeps chickens in.

The weeds in that low spot really took over after two years of non-use. Some weeds grew over three feet high last year. That will be a real challenge this spring. I’ll have to cut down all of that plant material and try to till it the best I can. The chickens can help quite a bit by tearing into those tough weeds ahead of time.

Scratching in the weeds is the favorite pastime of chickens.
Scratching in the weeds is the favorite pastime of chickens.

So why even bother with that area? Why not turn into lawn or let it revert back to a wild area? Well, the National Weather Service is predicting a warmer than average spring and summer. They are also predicting below average precipitation, at least through spring and maybe well into summer.

If it turns out to be hot and dry, my sandy-soil upper garden — which did very well last season– will probably be too dry to grow much of anything without a lot of irrigation. During past years when we’ve had droughts, my lower garden rarely needed irrigation until well into the summer.

So that’s where I’m placing my gardening bets this year. If things change, I can always move the chickens back to their normal spot.

Bob

No place to garden? Try a community garden

I’m fortunate to have a fair sized plot of land to do as much gardening as I want. But there are a lot of gardeners who used to have space but now live in a place where there is no where to plant a garden. And there are plenty of others who have never gardened before and long for a plot of soil to start gardening.

More and more community gardens are popping up all over to meet this need.  They are being started by churches, cities, towns, parks and rec departments other community groups.

Most community gardens offer individual plots. It’s a place where you stake out your claim and no one else is allowed on your spot unless you say they can.  That means plot boundries are clearly marked so no one encroaches on someone else’s area

Some community gardens are communal meaning everyone pitches in and work one big plot of land and all share equally. That however takes a special group of people to successfully pull that one off.

Almost all community gardens charge a fee to help defray costs such as springtime tilling of the soil.

In addition to land, most gardens provide access to a water source — although the most rugged ones may not.

Sometimes compost and mulch is available for gardeners to use. You’re most likely to see that in gardens sponsored by city parks departments that collect large volumes of leaves in the fall.

Generally the larger the fee, the more amenities provided.

Community garden at St. Mary's Organic Farm
The community garden at St. Mary’s Organic Farm is quiet right now . In the spring it will buzzing with activity.

Now’s the time to start searching for a community garden near you. Plots are normally rented out on a first come first served basis. Often plots are gone well before the gardening season starts. Early March would not be too soon to reserve your spot.

Thankfully, the internet makes it fairly easy to find a community garden. Local MSU Extension Offices are a good place to start too.

Community gardens are especially good for beginning gardeners because they are places where experienced gardeners spend their time and a novice can find a mentor.

If you know of a community garden who has room for more participants, let all of us know in the comment section.

Bob

Early Spring Vegetable Garden Preparation

With all this warm weather we’ve been having, we have had an ideal chance to get a good start on our vegetable gardens.

One garden space is connected to our chicken yard.  After last fall’s first heavy frost when the tomatoes and late beans and zucchini were done, we let the chickens go into the fenced in vegetable garden to clean it up very well.  The chickens ate up the old too-mature beans and the frost-damaged green tomatoes. Along with cleaning up the veggies and weeds, they also ate up any insect pests , including insects eggs and that could over winter to cause problems next year.

So with the chickens doing most of the work of cleaning up, it wasn’t much work to pull a few bigger tough stalks and smooth the garden soil out.

Then Bob spread some compost around the area.  He used some of the wood shavings from his wood working over the winter, plus old straw bedding from the chicken houses. He spread it around evenly about an inch thick or less, and then rototilled it into the soil.  This was a great year for doing this because the soil was dry enough. The structure of the soil can be ruined if it is worked too early while it is wet.  He rototilled in one direction and then again  at a right angle .

The chickens were let in again to this area to find and eat any quack grass roots (which are a big problem for us) plus any weed seeds or insects eggs that had been exposed to the surface of the soil.

We may let them in again to this area if weeds start growing before we have a chance to plant.

Bye for now,

Judy