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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

More information on soil preparation and mulching is detailed in Deer in My Garden, Vol.1: Perennials & Subshrubs and Deer in My Garden, Vol.2: Groundcovers & Edgers!

Red Cross lettuceOctober in the garden
Lots of ripe tomatoes, lettuce, and time to plant garlic!

by Carolyn Singer
October 9, 2010

basket grassMy neighbor's honeybees have just this week discovered the basket grass (Muhlenbergia rigens, photo, left) coming into bloom near the vegetable garden. With a new plant to explore, they were busy early in the morning before the sun had even touched the grass garden outside the fence. But it was warmer there than in the raspberry patch and vegetable garden where the bees seem to spend most of their day.

Arriving most mornings before the bees, I am gathering a quart of raspberries every morning to eat and to freeze. The berries are the largest I have ever enjoyed, since I was attentive to deep mulching and regular irrigation this summer. A mild summer has also helped berry production.

My tomatoes have not been irrigated for three weeks. The vines were pruned last month, removing all growth that held blossoms and small fruits. The plants are responding to the reduction of foliage and moisture with an abundance of ripe tomatoes. However, they have continued to grow, and another pruning may be in order this weekend.

In August I sowed 'Northeaster' beans and 'Red Cross' lettuce (photo,top,left), both from Johnny's Selected Seeds. In late September and in October the harvest of both has been plentiful. The bean is a flat Italian bean, one of the most flavorful I have ever tasted. If you like butterhead lettuce, 'Red Cross' is not only beautiful to grow, it is also very delicious.

Some of my garlic is going into the garden this next week, but most will be planted after the first frost ends the summer garden. I simply cannot pull out a tomato plant while fruit is still ripening. Garlic needs to grow in full sun all winter, in soil that is rich in organic amendments. I use composted poultry manure plus colloidal phosphate (20 pounds per 100 square feet) and oyster shell (5 pounds per 100 square feet). Add these rock powders when you add the compost, incorporating all amendments into the native soil to a depth of six to eight inches.

fall broccoli startsIf you have not added broccoli or kale to the garden yet, try to do it this month. At my elevation the broccoli will produce spring into summer from this fall planting, but I will enjoy kale leaves all winter. They always taste better with winter chill.

One of the most cost-effective methods for building soil is to seed Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply's "winter soil builder cover crop" seed. Seed it now in open areas. The tomatoes in my garden this year were planted directly into the cover crop right after it was cut down in May. The soil is perfect, with so many earthworms that the gathering of coons each night became the primary challenge to gardening, as they dug into the fertile soil in search of a feast. Still, with sturdy cages for protection and support, the tomatoes grew to over eight feet in height and have been loaded with fruits.

October is also the month to seed many wildflowers. Most of these exquisite natives need light to germinate, so do not cover the seed. Ideally, sow it on top of loose compost, a seed bed allowing the fine seed to settle into a medium that will hold moisture and enhance early root growth. A thin layer of small sharp gravel on top of the compost will create crevices the seed can fall into, and will provide moisture retention for the soil surface, critical for optimum germination.

And how long will this perfect planting season last? In most areas of our foothill county, October and November are the best months. Gardeners at higher elevations and in cold microclimates are already planting trees, shrubs, perennials, and bulbs and will be all of October into November. In warmer areas, good fall planting conditions usually continue through November and into December. Then there are those of us who love fall gardening and will be chased inside only by much colder temperatures, heavy rains, or early darkness. Or a snow.

goldenrodOctober-blooming goldenrod (Solidago) discovered in a Grass Valley Victorian garden.

©2009 by Carolyn Singer. All rights reserved.

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