Fall Planting is Good for the Soul

This piece isn’t going to address everything under the sun (or is it? 😜) as it will be more in line with a general discussion. Many gardens get started with a bang only to be abandoned after the summer months. There’s actually a lot more that can take place to produce more delicious veggies prior to the quiet days of winter.

Should you be dead set on not having a Fall garden perhaps you might consider turning your plot, at the end of summer, then seed a blend of 2 or 3 cover crops for a Fall and Winter cover. Cover crops lessen weed growth and, when incorporated into the garden soil, contribute to improve soil texture and organic matter content. This Fall, we are using a 50/50 blend of annual rye grass and Australian peas.

If you are eager to work in the garden during the Fall months, then consider the following:

Leafy Greens: There are a myriad of delicious leafy greens such as spinach, salad mixes, red leaf salad, romaine, etc. Talk with other gardeners in your area to see what works best.

Cole crops: With some good timing (late summer), set out starts of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, etc., in a spot that receives nice sun but not in a place where plants will be abused by high temps.

Sugar pod peas: These are delicious to eat straight from the plant and make excellent additions to soup, salads and stir fry. Remember to provide a trellis of some sort for these guys as many varieties can reach 5 to 6 ft. in height. Check around for the suited varieties or heirlooms for your area.

Bush beans: Don’t hesitate to gamble on a late crop of 50D to 60D maturing bush beans and experiment with green, reddish and yellow wax types. When you arrive at the last succession planting of beans you might want to consider placing a small plastic tunnel over the crop following thinning and perhaps a side dress of fertilizer. Even if the last planted beans crop doesn’t make it, just shrug it off as a short-lived cover crop.

Berries and Fruit: Fall is also an opportunity to establish a new bed of strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, etc. At St. Joseph Street Community Garden, we are establishing two separate beds of strawberries (summer and everbearing types). This past Fall, we planted a 15 ft. row of an erect-thornless-everbearing blackberry. They are doing fine and will be a great addition to our garden! On the fruit side of things, we planted two peach trees and plan to plant two apple and two pear trees in Spring 2022. All are dwarf varieties. However, and because our community garden is relatively small, the tress will be planted around the perimeter of our vegetable beds.

There’s so much more that can be written about his topic as I have only scratched the surface on Fall planting. But, like I said earlier, my idea for this post is to perhaps encourage gardeners to initiate or perhaps expand their gardening efforts with Fall planted crops. In another post, we will address the One-Story Greenhouse and cold frames which aid in extending the garden season in most growing zones.

Don’t be shy and let us know what you think about this post…

Flowers are Always a Good Idea

Although our main objective is to grow and harvest a bounty of quality produce, we always take time to plant annual and perennial flowers. I believe that a splash of color serves as an excellent complement to the rest of the garden. Other benefits include providing a source of nectar and pollen for bees, companion planting, insect deterrent and bringing a freshly cut bouquet to a loved one.

A Splash of Garden Color

A brilliant display of color is always a welcome addition to any garden plot. I recently noticed that a neighbor would spend a few minutes observing the flower bed located at the front of our community garden. Of course, I walked over to introduce myself and to gauge his interest in becoming a Garden Member. Simply put, he told me that he stops by frequently to admire the garden and especially the flowers. Before he left, he expressed interest in becoming a fellow garden member.

I think that some gardeners, although they like flowers, they don’t want to give up garden space to non-edibles. This obviously makes sense, but I would add that there is always space for a few marigolds. Also, a nice splash of color can be introduced as a rotational crop.

As for attracting beneficial insects, which prey on several type of aphid species, it is a good choice to introduce the likes of alyssum, zinnia and calendula. These are annual flowers which can be sown by seed or plant starts. To prolong the productivity of zinnia and calendula, practice dead heading. Once flowering commences, remain vigilant about removing spent (dead) flowers. As for alyssum, they don’t require dead heading. As well, this annual will reseed itself in most growing areas in the U.S.

Raised Bed

Hi! Johnny L. Dose here with another contribution to The Garden Dreamer. Just a few words on raised beds today. The No. 1 aspect of a raised bed is that you can now take your soil blend and fill the box. The second nice aspect of a raised bed is that the ground level is a little closer to your face, less bending over, especially if you’re sitting on a 5-gallon bucket.

I use pressure treated wood. “Ahh! Not pressure treated”, you say. Yes, and get it now, so that the excess treatment washes out with the rain or snow this winter. I really don’t think that the chemicals used to stop bugs from eating your wood will ever end up in the edible parts of any crop that you wish to grow. That being said, I will research this safety question and report back.
Note: I have been using pressure treated boards for a while. So far, crazy to nothing has happened to me yet. Hey John, this is your co-author, I researched the topic of leached chemicals some years back and learned that bad characters (toxic compounds) were not detected in plant tissue. But I agree, we should take another look at this.

Basic dimensions using three – 2” x 12” x 16’ boards:

Two boards are the sides (16ft).
The third board is cut in half twice for four 4 ft sections. (box = 4 ft x 16 ft x 1 ft high)
Note: Two 4 ft pieces left over are for the next raised bed or could also be used to make a seesaw for your rabbits.

You will need eight (8) “L” shaped brackets. Ones with two holes on each leg and the leg isabout 5 to 6 inches long. Sixteen (16) carriage bolts are needed, two per bracket. I usually use a 7/16 nuts and two washers per bolt (outside and inside). You can also prop up the sides from bowing out by sinking two pieces of rebar (24 inch) per side for four rebar sections/ per bed.

Anyway, feel free to ask me any questions about my experiences with raised beds. I’ll stop now and save some material for my next post.

All the Best,

Johnny L. Dose

Soil Blending

Hi! Johnny L. Dose here again, aka John Allan. Now that I know how to contribute to The Garden Dreamer, I would like to switch gears to the topic of soil blending from the last topic of vermiculture, which we will definitely come back to.

I blend my own soil. Why? Well, first the growth media for plants has just as much importance as keeping your plants watered, your plants with the right type and amount of sun, and with selection of seed genetics that you choose for you plants. Soil Fertility is the collegiate term for this expertise. And as a science, it’s as old as dirt. 🤣

The ingredients that I use currently are:

  • Local topsoil
  • Sand or Clay (optional depending on your local topsoil’s texture)
  • Peet Moss
  • Vermiculite
  • Perlite
  • Wood Ash from the fire pit
  • Re-hydrated oyster shells after burning (after planting)
  • Worm castings (after planting)
  • Osmocote pellets

How you blend these ingredients is up to you. I’ll tell you how I do it.
My unit of measure, which I totally made up, is The Smokey the Bear Shovel load; [unit = “sb”]

In a wheelbarrow, (Mfg: True Temper), add: 7sb of local topsoil, 5sb peat moss, 3sb vermiculite, 3sb perlite, 2sb wood ash. I usually put on some blue hospital gloves partly to freak out the cats, but also to blend ingredients by hand or you can use the shovel.
Note:  Chicks don’t like dirty fingernails.

As you are mixing include osmocote pellets. Don’t go overboard. Treat it like adding pepper to a pot of soup or a garden salad.

The addition of sand or clay is an important topic, which can be in the next contribution. If you look up soil texture and if the link above actually works, you’ll find that texture, what we know as combinations of sand, silt, and clay, is all based on particle size. The various other names for soil, such as: loamy sand, sandy loam, loam, silt loam, silty clay, silty clay loam, sandy clay loam, clay loam, and sand clay make up all the defined USDA textures; aka the texture triangle.

“Light” soils are sandy soils (course texture; large particle; easy to plow)
“Heavy” soils are clayey soils (fine texture; smallest particles; hard to plow)
Note: I guess they were thinking about the plow horse when they came up with those terms:

Good Textbook: “The Nature and Properties of Soils”, Nyle C. Brady, 8th ed. (1974).

Anyway, feel free to ask me any questions about my experiences with soil blending. I’ll stop now and save some material for my next post.

All the Best,

Johnny L. Dose

TGD 01/01/2022

Pruning Tomatoes

There has been a lot said regarding the pros and cons of pruning tomatoes (AKA removing suckers). Over the course of several years, I have pruned tomato plants while leaving their neighboring plants free to produce a crop without any pruning. When we speak of pruning a tomato plant it refers to pinching out the vegetative branch which grows out of an axillary bud located where a branch is attached to a main stem of the plant.

Overall, I can say that pruning hasn’t always resulted in a bountiful yield as compared to unpruned partners. However, I do believe that pruning is typically beneficial (for indeterminates) when plants are exhibiting good vegetative growth, early in the season. Hence, pruning helps to slow vegetative growth in favor of flower and fruit production while excessive pruning may likely reduce overall yield. However. when I decide to initiate the pruning process, it will begin at the 2nd node, on the main stem, and continue to 6th or 7th node. The reason being that removing too many suckers from a tomato plant can cause increases in burn or scald to developing fruit. Also, if the plant becomes stressed during its production cycle, the remaining unpruned suckers will likely bear fruit allowing the gardener to realize a reasonable yield.

Because there are hundreds of tomato varieties, hybrids and heirlooms which are either determinate or indeterminate plant types, pruning is most effective for indeterminates. For a determinate or dwarf tomato, I may remove a few lower branches to allow for greater air circulation and to keep lower tomatoes off the ground, but I won’t remove suckers as mentioned above.

it’s likely that your experience in pruning tomatoes has led you to a different conclusion, so we would love to know what each reader has to say about this topic.

Missouri Tomato Production

The Garden Dreamer

John’s Worm Farm

This is John Allan, aka. Johnny L. Dose. I have been invited to be an author here, so, I’m just testing out the step to make a post.

I have a B.Sc. in Plant Science: Soils emphasis from the University of Delaware (1985: five and a 1/2 year plan, oops). I have worked in the agricultural industry as an environmental fate chemist for 35 years. Main function was to use 14C-radiotracers in laboratory testing in order to determine the half-life of the parent molecule and confirm metabolites of the parent in various soils from the US and around Europe.

My contributions to The Garden Dreamer will be from my own backyard experiences. My first area to discuss is vermiculture. I raise worms. Red wigglers to be specific. These feed on kitchen scraps, lettuce, onion peals, apple cores, cucumber ends, etc. There is some controversy over the use of coffee grounds. To be explored and debated by all in future blogs.

I use Rubbermaid tubs or 5-gallon buckets. These are fixed bottom containers, so water management is key so as to not drown the worms and also to not create on overly stinky medium from getting too anaerobic. If so, then keep your worm tub next to the cat box.

If you eat a lot of salads like Teresa and I do (Teresa: my wife of 21 years full of laughter, love, and two attempted murder charges that didn’t stick), then you will generate plenty of kitchen scraps that can go directly to the worms. I typically pull away the top layer of the worm medium to one side, drop the scraps in the hole, and cover the scraps with the media that was pulled away.

The tub should have a lid, but it doesn’t need to. If you put a lid on, you must provide aeration by drilling holes (3/8 inch drill bit works) around the sides around your tub, up high, but not in the top (six inch spaces). Don’t drill holes in your top. The rain (if kept outside during the summer) will get in and perhaps flood the worms when you’re not there. The holes provide aeration and a means for decomposing gases (CO2, H2S, CH4, etc.) to escape and not suffocate the worms.

If you don’t use a lid, your tub might dry out quickly or attract cats to leave a litter box pal. If you us a lid, you can stack your containers. Note: The tubs can get heavy depending on the size, of course.

Anyway, feel free to ask me any questions about my experiences with worms. I’ll stop now and save some material for my next post.

All the Best,

John Allan

The Garden Dreamer

The One-Story Greenhouse

You are probably asking yourself, “aren’t all greenhouses one-story structures”? Well, for all practical purposes, yes, they are. While chatting with a new acquaintance at Three Story Coffee, I jokingly suggested that I would name the St. Joseph Street Community Garden greenhouse, the One-Story Greenhouse. Anyway, and although not too funny nor smart, the name stuck.

One-Story Greenhouse (Mar. 15, 2022)

Our main reason to build a small (60 ft2) passive greenhouse is to grow seedlings on a schedule best suited for a timely planting. Because the greenhouse is passive and won’t have electric or gas-powered heating or cooling capabilities, it’s primary use will be during early to late-Spring and Fall months. My previous greenhouse was utilized in this same manner, and it worked quite well. Here in Central Missouri, our weather is often pleasantly mild during Spring and Fall seasons.

We are happy to announce that the One-Story Greenhouse was completed on May 6, 2022. We had originally envisioned building a wood structure fitted with old windows, however, the price for these materials continued to rise. This caused us to look for a DIY kit greenhouse. After a fairly in-depth search we opted to purchase a 6 ft x 10 ft passive structure.

One-Story Greenhouse

Although one of the side walls faces the south, the full intensity of oncoming sunlight is filtered by a few oak limbs which sway far above the structure. It’s actually ideal since the partial shade doesn’t permit the greenhouse to become overheated.

The next step involves building shelves and and a potting area. I’ll update this post once we have accomplished this.

All the best!

Plant Crowding

There are hundreds of scientific articles on the effects of plant population on yield for every crop plant you can imagine. The investigator is interested to learn where maximum yield is obtained at a specific number of equally spaced plants per acre. Keep in mind, however, that the ideal plant population for corn will be different than for soybean.

For the gardener, we are also concerned with maximizing yield and strive to give each plant an opportunity to produce a bountiful crop of high-quality fruit. Unfortunately, and especially for the novice gardener, there is a tendency to over-seed which inadvertently allows young seedlings to crowd one another.

Seedlings that are crowded by neighboring plants have to compete for sunlight, soil nutrients and soil moisture. As well, their roots become entangled thus complicating the task of thinning. If the thinning process doesn’t take place promptly, you run the risk of damaging young roots while pulling plants from the ground. The early stages of plant development are critical to future plant development and fruit production, hence, giving each plant an opportunity to thrive, soon after emerging from the soil, is important.

My approach to seeding most vegetables is to plant a number of seed equal to the final number of plants desired in the garden. To be clear, if the final recommended number of bush bean plants is 4 plant per foot of row, I’ll plant 8 – 10 seed per foot of row. Of course, this assumes good quality seed with a germination rate of at least 80%. This approach requires minimal thinning without disturbing the roots of neighboring plants. Remember, the objective is to establish an optimum and vigorous plant stand which is typically a precursor to good yield results.

There is a lot more which can be said about this topic however I feel that this can wait for another day.

Composting


One of the greatest soil amendments is homemade compost. The benefits of adding recently decomposed organic matter to garden soil are improved soil tilth (structure), water holding capacity, microbial activity and it supplies macro and micronutrients to your garden plants.  My home compost pile began with primarily 60% carbon (straw, stalks and dry leaves) mixed in with 40% nitrogen (grass clippings, food scraps and fresh plant material from the garden).  I selected this system since a temperature of 140 F is quickly attained.  During the season, I attempt to maintain the aforementioned ratio of plant materials while also adding food scraps to the mix.  The food scraps decompose promptly and are consumed by earthworms in a matter of 1 to 2 weeks.  I will occasionally add a small amount of nitrogen fertilizer to stimulate microbial activity.  Last, I monitor the moisture of the compost pile to ensure that microbes remain healthy and active.

Now that I am a Garden Leader at St. Joseph Street Community Garden (Columbia, MO) my vegetable gardening and composting efforts are done there.  Due to the size of the garden and number of gardeners involved, we’ve established a 4-bin compost system to allow for a higher volume of material to go through the decomposition process.  The size of each compost bin is 3.0 ft tall and 4 ft. long and wide.  I no longer have access to fresh cut grass, so I use fresh plant material from the garden and surrounding area.  I continue to use dry leaves and straw for a carbon source.  The sides of the bins are welded wire to ensure that the piles have sufficient aeration, and we typically turn the piles 2 to 3 times per season.

4-Bin Compost System

Manure in the Mix

We are presently looking into securing animal waste to add into our compost system. In our area it is possible to secure horse manure, for free, if one is fortunate enough to have a truck. The cause for such high interest in utilizing farm animal* waste is due to the high content of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium (N, P and K) in their excrement. Data from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Extension, indicates that animals excrete approximately 70 – 80% of the N, 60 – 85% of the P and 80 – 90% of the K found in their feed. Of course, the type feed and animal will have a bearing on the levels just mentioned.

Bin#4 – Ready to Use Compost

At our community garden, we plan to stockpile a small quantity of horse manure near to our 4-bin system. This will allow us to add a few shovelfuls of manure to complement our original mix of materials, as needed. The addition of composted manure to the garden plot contributes to the soil’s nutrient supply and will improve soil structure. However, I don’t rely on the manure’s content of N, P and K to satisfy the total nutrient demand by my crops. This is especially true for eggplant, sweet corn, beans and tomatoes.

*Caution there is a claim that warns against using pig manure. Apparently, certain pathogens and parasites are not destroyed during the composting process.

Weed Control

Weeds are a menace but they don’t need to be a deal breaker.

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons why novice gardeners abandon their fledgling garden plot is attributed to a lack of weed control. Sure, I get it, pulling and chopping weeds isn’t the glamorous part of growing any crop. However, there are cultural practices that one can implement to eliminate a large portion of your weed population. Keep in mind however, and all gardeners will tell you the same, that weeds are here to stay (just ask Monsanto).

One of my simplest solutions to get weeds under control is to cover them with 4 mil thick black plastic. This process basically cooks the top layer of soil, during the warmer months, and kills not only growing weeds but can also kill weed seed and soil pathogens. No, you won’t kill earth worms as they will go deeper into the soil profile to escape the heat. The above photo is an example of what my garden area looked like after having covered an 8′ x 15′ area for some 6 weeks in July. We added some compost and planted immediately with good success.

This procedure is especially handy when you’ve perhaps taken on too much garden area to manage efficiently. While you are working in other areas of the garden you can place a tarp or sheet of plastic in the area designated for latter planting. When the time comes, it’ll be free of weeds and ready for your handiwork. By the way, I don’t cover my garden soil during the winter months as we use a cover crop system or cover an area in straw.

The other tip to controlling weeds is to make it a frequent activity. It’s good exercise and it definitely makes your garden plot shine when your neighbor comes by to check it out. The more weed pulling and chopping you do, the easier it becomes. Especially important is to not let the weeds set and drop seed as this just perpetuates the problem.

Another strategy is to ensure that your vegetable plants are growing in fertile soil. This encourages good growth allowing the crop to better compete for available nutrients, water and sunlight. This doesn’t imply that this method eradicates weeds, but it will certainly suppress them.

There’s a lot more which can be said on weed control, but for now, this will do! On second thought, to have good control of your garden’s weeds, it isn’t necessary to employ synthetic herbicides. Let cold steel be your friend.