Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Start of the 2015 Gardening Season

With the return of non-Arctic temperatures and longer days, it's time to start thinking about the 2015 growing season at Dogs Run Farm. As always, we will try and learn from the successes and particularly the failures of the 2014 season. The most successful crops included all four varieties of cabbage, red and orange beets, potatoes, jalapeño and Calabrian peppers, Tuscan kale, and green beans. The less successful but still productive crops included onions that were overcrowded by weeds, cucumbers that seemed to go from gherkin to jumbo in a couple of days, certain peppers, peas, raspberries, and Swiss chard (weak seed starts). Crops that were unsuccessful included eggplant (too cool), several varieties of peppers (especially bell peppers – too cool), plum tomatoes (an August 5th freeze!), asparagus (we missed nearly the entire season), and Lima beans (too short a growing season).

So what can we do about the problems we encountered? Obviously nothing about the abnormally cool growing season, but several crops required too long to ripen relative to the short growing season in the mountains (Lima beans, one pepper variety) so these will be omitted. The freak freeze at the beginning of August completely wiped out our plum tomato crop of five highly productive plants, and if we had been there when it happened, we could have covered the plants overnight to protect them. Missing the short asparagus season was largely due to poor planning of our travel to the Farm. We just haven't had much success with eggplant in our garden, so perhaps this crop will be given less space, as they are a still a highly desirable vegetable to grow.

We have always had a difficult weed problem, as do all farms, and some of this is our own fault. For example, we planted the beets and onions too close together, so effective cultivation was impossible. This year, we are going to use a biodegradable weed barrier to at least help cut down on weed pressure. One variety of barrier has pre-cut holes spaced specifically for onions and beets, so this may help us avoid the urge to cram too many plants in too small a space. I also learned of a strategy for weed suppression that involves tilling the garden plot about 12 days before planting to allow weeds to sprout first. They are killed with a flame weeder, then the plants are transplanted (or seeds planted) with minimal soil disturbance. In the end, however, weed control works best the old-fashioned way: pull them up and dispose of them.

Two years ago I had three samples of garden soil analyzed at WVU, and the analyses showed severely deficient levels of phosphorous and potassium. Over the past two years, I have amended the soil with phosphate and potash and enriched it with organic matter in the form of wood chips and shredded straw. This year the soil analyses showed good to excellent levels of P and K, but in the course of raising the levels of these elements, I have managed to drop the soil pH to below 5.5. As a consequence, I need to put down more than 100 lbs of lime per 1000 sq ft to get the pH back up to around a more suitable value of 6.5. For the nitrogen necessary for plant growth, I found an organic 13-0-0 fertilizer that I can get at Southern States in Elkins.

Yesterday I started nine varieties of tomatoes, four varieties of cabbage, and broccoli raab, a new vegetable. These went in to seed trays and are warming at 80 °F on heat mats. Next week, I will start two varieties of kale, parsley, dill, and Brussels sprouts. The seed potatoes and onion and leek starts were ordered weeks ago, and today I ordered shiitake mushroom spawn plugs to inoculate some oak logs I cut in December. The fruit trees and raspberries were pruned in December, so everything is pretty much ready to go.

Welcome to the 2015 gardening season at Dogs Run Farm.

1 comment:

  1. I first read that as weeding with a flamethrower. That's hardcore gardening.