Posts Tagged ‘leaf cover in garden beds’

CobraHead Garden Review 2014

Sunday, December 7th, 2014
Summer Harvest

Summer Harvest

Leaves in the Beds

Leaves in the Beds

The garden is put to bed. I was diligent about dragging in leaves to cover most of the beds with a thick protective layer. Last year snows and cold weather came before I was ready and the leaf covering ritual was interrupted. That caused me much more work this season than I wanted to do, but I did learn a lot about weeding. Without the leaf cover, weeds emerged sooner and the ground in the beds was not as soft. The extra weeding re-affirmed my belief that we approach weeds wrongly in both gardening and agriculture and that a far more sustainable approach would be to use a lot of hand labor to control weeds.

Well Weeded Garden

Well Weeded Garden

I did end up getting the garden paths and beds nice and clean by the time the season ended and I promise to be diligent about getting the leaves raked in from now on.

Tomato Trellis

Tomato Trellis

My biggest garden triumph was the building of a very rugged and useful tomato trellis using t-posts and bamboo stakes. The tomatoes loved it and I’ll be refining this approach for future tomato growing.

Flowering Oregano

Flowering Oregano

I expanded my herb bed and was amazed at the power of oregano as a pollinator attractor. It was loaded with insects of all types, especially bumblebees, for most of the summer and well into the fall.

Monarch Butterfly

Monarch Butterfly

Monarch Caterpillar

Monarch Caterpillar

One insect that was not as plentiful as in other years was the Monarch butterfly. We had a few, but their decline may be apparent in my own backyard.

Violetta Italia

Violetta Italia

Several crops performed exceptionally well for us this year, including coles of all types. In addition to the beautiful violetta italia cauliflower, we had a never ending supply of broccoli raab, some really nice cabbages, great Brussels sprouts, and Red Russian kale is now a plentiful volunteer that has to be treated as a weed.

Onions

Onions

We probably had our best onion harvest ever. Unfortunately, the leeks did not fare well due to my planting them too deeply. A lesson learned and a reinforcement of the home gardening mantra of “don’t worry, plant enough different stuff, you will always get something.”

Sweet Peppers

Sweet Peppers

Peppers were great, too and we heard from other gardeners that this was a good year for them.

Volunteer Pea Shoots

Volunteer Pea Shoots

On a road trip restaurant stop, we learned about using peas shoots as a vegetable and now they will be part of our harvest along with the peas, themselves.

Whitetail Deer

Whitetail Deer

Our worst garden pests continue to be mammals, not insects. Deer and woodchucks would consume most of our tender crops if we did not fence, trap, and let the dog run.

Boots Guarding Catnip

Boots Guarding Catnip

My most faithful garden helper is not the dog, but Boots, who is always assisting with weeding, harvesting, and providing company even if it may not be totally wanted.

I’m looking forward to 2015.

Advantages of Open Raised Beds

Friday, November 16th, 2012

Open Raised Beds

As I work on putting my garden to bed for the winter I’m realizing how much I like working with open raised beds.  I’ve been working with them for nearly thirty years.  Soon after starting my Wisconsin garden in 1986, I knew that, for me at least, maintaining a relatively large garden did not require power equipment and I gave away my rototiller.   All the work in my raised bed garden is done with hand tools.

I’ve become an advocate for growing food intensively in open raised beds.  It’s a great way to grow a lot of food without a lot of outside inputs.   Open raised beds have been around about as long as people have been growing food, but the method I’ve developed and refined over the years is based mostly on the well-known book HOW TO GROW MORE VEGETABLES  by John Jeavons.  The book was my rudimentary instructor, but I’ve modified things to suit my garden and what works well for me.

North Beds

The overview of the system is that instead of planting crops in rows, the garden is composed of beds of loose soil.  The gardener only walks in the paths surrounding the beds, thus soil compaction is nearly eliminated.  The beds are seeded or planted so that as the crops mature they cover the bed with leaf growth which helps suppress weeds.  Plants spaced in a pattern covering the entire width of the beds yield far larger harvests per area than possible by traditional planting in rows.

As I prepared the beds for winter this year several things that make this system work so well became very apparent.  Because I’m constantly adding organic matter, because I never walk on the beds, and because I’m constantly rotating different crops though the beds, my once impossibly hard clay soil is continually getting softer.  Much of the garden has achieved a friability that I could only have dreamed of just a few years ago.

I use my old five-tined cultivating hoe to occasionally rip the paths loose and put the rich soil back into the beds.  The paths build up as the beds flatten out so I have to put that build-up back into the beds every second or third year.  I did a major path clean up this year and moved a lot soil back into the beds.

What I find quite interesting is that the paths, for all their dense clay texture, seem to hold more worms per cubic area of soil than the beds.  Clay is not the enemy a lot of gardeners make it out to be.

16 Inches of Super Soft Soil

In the bed pictured above, you can see a yardstick that I easily shoved 16 inches down into the soil.  Unlike row gardening, the soil in these beds never gets walked on or driven over with a tiller or tractor, so with the continual addition of compost and leaf mold, coupled with the effect of rotating different crops though the beds, the soil gets softer and softer.

Raised Beds Can Help Weed Control

Raised beds can be quite easy to weed  The paths can be scalped clean with a scuffle hoe and the weeds in the beds can often be scalped off or pulled out using a stand up tool (we find our CobraHead Long Handle does a good job, here), and in the beds the soil is often so soft that weeds can be removed by hand with no tools at all.

Keeping the paths weed free also helps confine weedy areas to a manageable situation.  I do not have the time I wish I had to garden, so at least if an area gets out of control, it is confined and corralled by cleanly weeded paths.  This is especially important in areas where I have perennial plants, herbs, and strawberries in particular.  The weeding in these beds sometimes gets away from me, and occasionally the only logical option to get them back in shape is to rip them out totally and replant, which I have to do for strawberries, every third year anyway.

South Beds with Leaves

 

North Beds with Leaves

I try to get the beds completely covered with leaves every fall.  An alternative to this would be to use cover crops, but leaf cover is proving to be very effective and I think a lot easier than maintaining cover crops.  In spring I just rake the leaves into the aisles where they act as a weed suppressing mulch and eventually break down into leaf mold.

I’m just about done with the garden until spring.  I still have some leeks and Brussels sprouts  being protected by a cover of leaves.  They will need to get harvested soon, and there are some carrots and beets and a few edible greens under the hoop tunnel.  I’ll work at getting a few more leaves into the beds, but mostly the garden is finished and the work is under control.  Now I can start planning for next year.

When Autumn Leaves Start to Fall

Saturday, November 12th, 2011

In the village that borders us a few blocks to the west and south, leaf burning is prohibited, but it is allowed and practiced as a seasonal rite in our township.  I’m not advocating a ban on burning, but I really wish the neighbors understood what they are wasting.  While I was working hard today to get as many leaves as I could into my garden, I could see at least four smoke trails in the neighborhood.  Too bad for the leaf burners, they could be making some beautiful compost for free.

I spent a lot more time weeding my garden this year than I should have because I did not do a good job last fall of getting my beds totally covered with leaves.  I’m determined not to make that mistake again.  Since I took the picture above I’ve drug in several more tarps full of leaves.  The south beds are now almost all completely and deeply covered.  I’ll keep dragging in more until I either run out of leaves or the weather puts an end to my efforts.

I began covering my garden beds with leaves about seven or eight years ago.  It pays off in many ways.  Weed growth is slowed down through the winter and the beds are noticeably softer in the spring.  In many instances all I have to do is rake back the leaf cover and start planting.  The beds that do not get planted right away have a thick leaf mulch to keep weeds from sprouting, and as I rake the leaves off the beds they break down in the paths and continue to suppress weed growth.  Of course, the most important benefits are the free fertilizer and compost the leaves provide as they decompose.  The tilth of my extremely clayey soil is noticeably improved.  Every year my beds get softer.

Raking leaves and dragging them into the garden is not the easiest  of chores.  This year I’ve employed mechanical assistance.  In years past I was dragging tarps full of leaves from the yard to the garden using only my brute strength.  I may still be a brute but my strength is fading, so this year I used the lawnmower and its 18 horses to do the heavy hauling.  It worked wonderfully.

And soon I’ll hear old winter’s song, but I know the autumn leaves are in the garden, where they belong.