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Garden wisdom from deer country!

Gardening in the Sierra Foothills with Carolyn Singer

The seasoned gardener

published in The Union in Grass Valley CA


Changing hues & scents, and a slower pace

by Carolyn Singer
October 24, 2009

Rain has soaked the parched earth, and now it feels and smells like fall. With most of my food preservation completed, I am drawn into the garden to absorb the prolonged fall transition toward winter dormancy.harvest 2009

Since there still has not been a frost, harvest in the vegetable garden continues. It's somewhat challenging to find open spaces for the winter vegetables I'm still adding. Garlic and cover crops probably will not be planted until all the summer vegetables have been composted.Amish paste tomatoes

With lots of material for the compost pile in the next few weeks, I can take my time building it. The first layer was my summer squash, some straw, and a couple of huge broccoli plants. This was followed with a two-inch layer of chicken manure, three cups of organic phosphorus, and one cup of oystershell.

Near this new fall pile is the compost pile I built in midsummer. While most of this already finished compost will go into the garlic bed, I toss a few shovels full into the new pile as an "activator". Right now the diameter is about five feet. Layers are repeated to eventual height of about four feet. I allow rains to soak the materials, but for most of the winter it will be covered with a tarp so it doesn't get soggy.

Just before the first heavy rainstorm, I spread decomposed straw on an exposed bank near my apple trees. Ground squirrels had been tunneling in this area all summer, pushing loose soil down the bank. This mulch had to be two inches deep in some places, while a light covering of straw seemed sufficient where the soil had not been dug by the rodents. The straw has held all the precious soil in place through these first rains. I scattered wildflower seed over the straw.Helianthus maximillianii

Remember that all exposed soil needs to be protected during the winter. There are many approaches. The straw is just the first layer for immediate protection. While new straw may go flying with winds, decomposed straw rarely moves. It's a good idea to stockpile straw bales and allow them to get wet and decompose for a great mulching material to use all year. If you are spreading new straw, you can anchor it with wood chips. Wildflower or native grass seed may be scattered on top of a one-inch layer of wood chips.

Cover crops build the soil and protect it from winter damage. This approach is ideal for areas where you plan to grow vegetables, herbs, or flowers. Fall cover cropping all areas of a new landscape saves lots of money too. Next year you will spend much less on soil amendments.

Hyacinth bulbs in containersEach fall I add more bulbs to my garden. Since it's difficult remember where the others were planted, I usually put the bulbs in containers. In the spring I can add them to the garden when I can see where they should go. Using a two-gallon container, fill it one-third to one-half full with compost amended with organic phosphorus and oystershell. Add the bulbs and cover them to the recommended depth. Place the containers in a cold, shady location until growth shows in late winter.species Narcissus planted in April from pots

October is a busy month with fall planting, but it is also a time of reflection. Appreciating the past gardening season and anticipating next year is the essence of autumn. Pyracantha

©2009 by Carolyn Singer. All rights reserved.

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