Friday, June 24, 2022

Deadly Grass Clippings

A word to the wise - do not use grass clippings in your garden beds unless you are 100% sure that they are herbicide-free. Modern herbicides are so effective and persistent, it is difficult to believe that they are legal. Because my neighbors grass has some weeds on it, I thought that their grass-clippings might be herbicide free. But they weren't.




Unfortunately, broad-leaf herbicides are definitely the norm instead of the exception to grass fertilizers these days.




Most cucumbers and melons bounce back from this kind of thing if you catch it quickly enough. I'm hoping so for my own garden. I removed as many of the grass clippings as I could and added worm castings. Now, I just pray, wait and hope.



Friday, June 17, 2022

Cucurbit Seed Orientation

Reader Beware – I am about to breach a very controversial topic, of which there has been some research already done, but none that has been done with field trial of weak seed, so I thought I would just put this out there. The topic is “seed orientation”.


While I don’t believe that which way a seed is oriented matters when one is dealing with fresh healthy vigorous seed, I do believe that it is a very important factor when planting weaker cucurbit seeds. I have found that the problem with the majority of weak/older seed is that they have trouble shedding their hard outer seed coat. Planting the seed with the radicle facing downward only exacerbates the problem. The seedlings emerge from the soil, unable to push their seed coats off and eventually die from being starved from the inability to photosynthesize because the seed coats are now dry and the struggling seedling has to push it off without having anything secure the outer covering to pull out from it. I prefer orienting seeds with the radicle facing up at a 45 degree angle, with soil compacted on top of the opposite side of the radicle, so that when the root emerges from the seed and the seedling attempts to remove its leaves from its outer covering, the seed coat is lodged firmly in place so the seed can pull out from it. Orienting my seeds this way has provided me with a much higher survival rate and much earlier root emergence-to-photosynthesis-time than other methods.



I have included a picture to illustrate my thoughts with the left side with illustrations of what I have observed when orienting seeds with the radicle facing downward and the right side with illustrations based on what I have observed when having the radicle facing up at an angle and with soil compacted onto the opposite side to lodge the harder seed coat in the soil.


If anyone else has strong feelings on the matter, please let me know. I would love to run an experiment with a batch of very consistent fresh seed to see if I can provide hard evidence to an advantage in the time required to have the seedling shed its seed coat. (Edit: I wanted to also let you know that I often pre-sprout my seeds enough for the roots to have already emerged before placing them in the soil like this)

Friday, June 10, 2022

Fertile Garden Sweet Potatoes

After years of only growing cucumbers and melons in the fertile garden, I asked my friend if I could grow sweet potatoes in his garden. The reason why I chose sweet potatoes was because between the political climate, the pandemic and people panic-purchasing – sweet potatoes seemed like a very reliable food supply. Despite having plenty of minerals in the soil, the contents of the fertile garden are primarily clay soil. Fortunately, sweet potatoes not only love warm climates like mine, but also tolerate clay soils very well.





































For those who may not have grown sweet potatoes in the garden, there are some really good reasons why a gardener may want to consider growing them. The primary reason is to provide a living mulch. Sweet potatoes are very good at being a groundcover over the first 3-6 inches of vertical garden space. While big-box stores will sell sweet potatoes as a filler for flower decorations, in the garden, the vines create a lower layer that makes use of the area around and below taller-growing summer plants, minimizes evaporation and quickly smothers the territory of developing weeds. Though it may seem counterintuitive that a plant which requires water would actually decrease water usage, sweet potatoes can be a net water-saver when grown over bare soil because of their minimal loss of water through transpiration.


















Sweet potatoes are also very good with producing a lot of food while utilizing minimal resources. Though sweet potatoes do require water, soil and lots of sun, they are not fussy about how they grow. And they produce plenty of food for the amount of effort expended. One interesting thing about sweet potatoes is that the tubers do tend to set in areas where there is something solid, so if there is a large rock or paver in the garden – or even a border between the garden and other landscape – the gardener may be finding sweet potatoes around these areas.
































The biggest drawback to sweet potatoes is the harvest. Unless a gardener has very loose soil and the sweet potatoes are top-setting, quite a bit of soil may need to be moved around to find the whole crop. When I refer to top setting, this means that the tuber sets near the base of the plant, instead of further away and deeper into the ground. One of the most frustrating things to do is to try to dig deep-setting sweet potatoes in wet clay soil. Not is this a painstaking process, but it also really damages the structure and aerobic capacity of the soil.

















Unfortunately, by the time we got to removing the sweet potatoes from the garden, wet clay is what we had to deal with. But fortunately, Dingess Purple is relatively good at making top-setting tubers, so we didn’t have to look too far to find most of the crop. I felt very blessed to have family who helped me with both harvesting and cleaning the potatoes so we would have plenty of potatoes to make our traditional purple sweet potato pie.