Friday, January 10, 2020

What's going on in my Winter Garden(s) in 2020

For those of you not familiar with a Mediterranean climate, such as near the California coast and throughout parts of Italy, the summers can be dry and hot and the winters can be cool and wet. As cool and wet can be a challenge for vegetable gardening, I often choose to plant crops that require minimal maintenance over the winter. The majority of what I am currently growing in the spaces that I manage are cover crops, or green manure plants.

My garden looking from the south

At home, I am growing fava again. However, this time I have been adding oat grass to the mix. I have heard that oats are able to make the silicon in the soil more soluble. As there have been some studies on the relationship between soluble silicon and powdery mildew resistance, I thought it would be worth trying it out. Even if I do not get my cucumber-melons to resist powdery mildew as long as I want, I can still compost the oat grass.

My garden, looking from the north.

While I have heard that some gardeners utilize their greenhouses over the winter (something I’m sure I would have done back in Tucson) I really have no desire to go through the work of maintaining plants in my greenhouse over the winter. As greenhouses can be a lot of work, it can be a much needed relief if you don’t have to be in them year-round. While my greenhouse doesn’t look as bad as the last photo I took of it (I have since harvested the sweet potatoes) I will probably be cleaning it up quite a bit before my next photo session.

One of the main reasons that I grow cover crops over the winter is because I don’t care much for battling critters for food. This includes squirrels. When I moved into my current location I initially had a major concern about the stray cats using the restroom in my garden. Since most of the cats have since moved on or been relocated by neighbors, the squirrel population has seemingly exploded. With this has come the constant digging up of my potted lettuce. I won’t go into all my emotions about this, but in short I’ll just say I am now growing lettuce on my balcony in 5 gallon buckets whose soil is protected by aluminum foil. Tacky? Yes – but effective too.

Fava and lettuce in 5 gallon buckets on my balcony

This next picture is one of the fertile garden. Notice that nothing is growing in the garden beds. This is because I take the winter season off from managing the fertile garden beds. This is at least how the owner prefers it, so a break in maintenance works for me!

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the chicken garden soil is constantly in need of improvement. Having begun with very rocky dirt, it took a while to begin transforming the ground into more healthy dirt. Additionally, the section with tomatoes from last fall seems to still be having concerns. Though I began growing mustard greens there (for biofumigation purposes) I am considering planting some grass, like oats there for a second cover crop soon. The mustard is not doing as well as I would like. As I have said earlier, tomato plants can be worse than antibiotics for the human gut. Tomato plants suck so much life from and leave so much residual disease pressure on the soil that I try to minimize how many plants I grow.

Finally comes the newer garden. My place of employment has permitted me to utilize one of their raised gardens for my growing purposes. Though I grew a small crop of cucumbers to share with the staff last fall, I have some more substantial plans for this plot in the upcoming year.

Over the last year, I have worked very hard to constantly gather compostable materials to feed to my gardens. It has greatly helped and enabled my gardens to get better and better each season.

While not everyone who grows or manages garden space may be able to grow year round, I hope that those reading this might consider the merits of “feeding the soil” healthy compost and other inputs that will enable the garden to regenerate the soil life and tap the nutrients necessary bountiful vegetable harvests.

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