Sunday, September 25, 2011

Feed Yourself - Fall Gardening

The length of your growing season is mostly determined by your location.  To find out what zone you are in you should start by looking up the "Hardiness Zone" that you live in.  Go to Hardiness Zone Map to find this out. This will give you a general idea of what you can grow and the length of your normal growing season. Within a given area there are also "micro-climates". The south facing side of a hill, for example, will become warm enough to grow certain crops earlier than a north facing slope 100 yards away. 

Determining the aspects of your micro-climate come through research, record keeping, and experience at that location. For example, because my little garden is surrounded by buildings, which absorb and hold warmth from the sun, my garden space naturally has an extended season.  I didn't write anything down but my experience from the last two years tells me I can continue to grow cold hardy plants well into October.  With some simple "growing season extension techniques" I should be able to continue harvesting lettuce and carrots into November.  Now, keep in mind that I am located at a latitude equal to that of mid-Quebec, Canada.  I am far, far, north here.  But lucky for the Dutch, the Gulf Stream brings warm water from the equator up the west coast of Europe and that keeps my weather more like that of Virginia.

Radish Sprouts 25 September
If you want to continue growing food into the cooler weather you have to understand your climate and pick plants that can grow in your climate.  In general terms, plants that do not flower or need to be pollinated do best.  These are your leafy greens (lettuces and cabbages), root vegetables (carrots, radishes, beets, turnips, onions), and some peas. Even within those groupings there are varieties that can take the cold better than others.  Subscribe to a couple seed catalogs and read the plants descriptions for that information.  If you grow non-hybrid plants you can save the seeds of the plants that do the best in your garden and over time actually develop plants that are uniquely suited to your exact garden conditions.  I have never stayed in any one place long enough to do this but I will once I retire and settle down.

Above you can see some radish sprouts from seeds I planted ten days ago.  I planted them in the space where my lettuce had been growing.  Lettuce is a mildly heavy feeder so you need to add nutrients to the soil if you are going to immediately follow lettuce with another crop.  I worked in some compost but since this is likely my last garden here I was not too worried about building up the soil.

Butterhead Lettuce 25 September
Here I reseeded the area where my tomato plant stood and my last batch of radishes grew.  I had heavily mulched the tomato plant with used potting soil and just scratched that into the top two inches of the soil. Lettuce seeds are really tiny and hard to plant individually so I usually just  roll them between my fingers while moving down a row.  I will have to thin out the rows in a couple weeks so the plants are a couple inches apart.  In both these new plots I sprinkled light colored sand to help reflect more light up onto the foliage of the plant.  This gives them a little extra boost in the shorter days of fall. The rough sand also helps to reduce the slugs and snails; they don't like to slim across sand.

My carrots are now about one month old and doing great.  The greens are about 6-7 inches high.  I do need to thin them out a little but I am waiting as long as I can so there might be something there to eat. I should get about three dozen carrots from this patch and my experience has been that home grown carrots are the sweetest carrots you will ever eat. With some covering on cold nights I will be eating carrots well into November if nothing goes wrong.

As the weather here gets colder I will start to use some of the many techniques I know to protect my plants and extend the growing season. This is a very small garden so it won't be too hard.  Come back later and see what I am doing.

I do a lot of reading and recently read several studies and reports indicating that the earth has just about reached its food production limit.  While the world's population keeps increasing at a geometric rate the ability to produce food only increases at a linear rate.  There is less than four months worth of grain stored in all of the world's warehouses to tide us over in case of an emergency.  Four months is not a long time.  The price of quality food will continue to increase faster than raises in your paycheck.  You must learn how to grow your own food to insure food stability in the coming years.


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