Blog : Fall Planting

Stop planting carrots. Please.

Look I get it – you like carrots but you really don’t like carrots after you start planting them.

In my first year of doing garden installations I was so excited to go outside and help people install a garden they could harvest and hopefully learn how to grow and harvest their own food. In the business world of things it wasn’t the most thought out plan due to the fact that eventually my clientele won’t need me – but I don’t care about that.

One thing I always asked people was ‘what do you want to grow’ and then I was hit with a truck load of wants and needs and wow….we’re off running.  I never considered that I can not ask that question any more.  Due to many facts but one is that I was installing a garden and the ‘know how’ was left on me and yes I gave people this cute little printed/laminated hand off to learn quickly about their veggies and fruits but I was finding that many people did not read them – at all.

To experienced gardener carrots, beets, tomatoes, and so on always seem easy.  But if you can remember growing your first carrot – it probably didn’t go so well and if it did you only grew it once that year.

Most cold weather crops IE lettuces, alliums(onions), salad green(mustards, beet family), and carrot family need a few things to happen for great success.  One is succession and the other is thinning.  There are many other factors but those come first in my book.

Now if you’re a root vegetable lover of carrots and beets you know the pains of thinning.  Imagine you plant thousands of seeds and then in about 10 days you come back and have to ‘thin’ them out.  It’s the polite term for killing or making room so to say for the others.  Beets and carrots both need this process.  So that’s your step 2, step one was planting in the first place.

Step 3 – this step happens 10 days after you plant.  It’s call ‘succession’ growing.  You see unlike planting a tomato seed whereby you get lots of tomatoes if you plant a carrot seed you only get one carrot and there is no multiplicity to that seed.  In the long run one day well after we are gone we’ll have to consider plants and vegetation that is efficient and less time-intensive – carrots I feel won’t make that list.

So now do you still want carrots?  Is it really worth it?  Plant, thin, re-plant.  Oh and hope you’re soil is good enough due to their sensitive nature of hitting most other forms and deforming in the soil and add to that timing – these are cold weather crops that once temps stay about 60-65 day and night begin to bolt(go to seed) or full on remain in a vegetative state.  I’ve had beet seedlings grow throughout the summer and only until september they finally began to bulb out.

Yesterday I bought decent little bushel of carrots for $1 and was just discouraged for the farmer wishing he would never plant them.   Just doing the math was discouraging for me and to think I paid a dollar – for someones efforts over 40 days a dollar!

I never tell people to plant carrots because it is not worth it.  Just like lettuces.  A small discussion came up at our house yesterday about lettuces and I feel the same way about lettuces as I do carrots.  You need to have coordination, a bit of know how, and lots of lettuce to fill the shelves of your fridge and at the end of day are you really eating that many salads to want fresh lettuce every time?  I will say that fresh lettuces last longer than store bought ones and if you’re planting kales – I recommend getting your hands on some asian flowering kale.

We’re coming out with a small book in the spring of 2016 about what people should be planting in their first garden to make it worth it.  I have about a dozen books on gardening and in the back is an A-Z list of what you can grow.  Awesome, great, and who is about to do all that?  We need to show generations having a garden can be productive and life changing – and it’s not going to be with carrots.  In my garden alone I grew over 60lbs of food and I have only 60 square feet of space and that is roughly 1lb/square foot.  I feel accomplished and sure if you’re growing the big squashes you can smash that number due to overall density – I did it with tomatoes, beans, zucchini, and cucumbers.  And we never recorded herbs because that’s just takes forever.

Stay tuned, stay in touch, and lets turn a generation around by telling them the truth.

Tell me your thoughts, confessions, and triumphs and trials…I want to know.  I’d rather hear from someone who has failed as opposed to the success stories because often we learn our best from where we fail and we seem to only revel in success than learn from what we did right.

Radish Days to Harvest | 30-40 Cold Weathering crop Space 2-3" apart Succession at sign of true leaves.

A radish is a good example, the only photo I had, to give an example of why these species shouldn’t be grown by the amateur.  This radish is grown on a soil block and it took about 30 days.  1 radish 30 days.  If I planted 1 tomato I get dozens of tomatoes.  The math is better and we need to create success and not stress.  Radishes need to be sown early on to prevent bolting, and spaced out properly, and given plenty of water since its’ small roots don’t root out like tomatoes.  Still want radishes now?

Redefining community gardens.

I get asked a lot about what I do – as if bartending 40+ hours a week isn’t enough.  I garden, and some could say I am a professional gardener.  But I am not about to grow you shrubs and decor.  I want you to grow something good for you! I want you to be growing so much food you are giving it away to your family, friends, and neighbors.

What a thought right? A whole community of people, neighbors, growing food and sharing in the abundance! Can you imagine if Tom next door had the best sun so he is in charge of peppers and to know everything about peppers…and dill.  And then Susan and her husband Nick who live 3 doors down have the second best sun plus 3 kids so they get tomatoes and the kids get weeding duty! Get where I am going with this?  A community garden should not be a place we go to but where we live.  Our neighbors should be our community garden and each neighborhood designed with the ability to sufficiently grow plenty of food for all!

Don’t think it’s possible.  I put possible to the test this year.  I have 60 square feet of garden space in my rental home in Interlochen.  That is 6 raised beds each have 10 square feet.  Each bed is 7.5″ raised from the soil level up.

As of today, Friday September 18th I have harvested 55.9 pounds of produce from my garden.  That is nearly 1 pound of food per foot.  1lb = 1sq/ft.  To me that’s impressive because were not growing pumpkins or large heavy set squash.

The breakdown

27.1 lbs of TOMATOES

11.9 lbs of Zucchini

6.4 lbs of Cucumbers

2.5 lbs of Acorn Squash

8 lbs misc(documented but not detailed)

1 pound for every square foot.  I have tomatoes stuffed in drawers everywhere and I’ve even given plenty away.  We made 3 loafs of Zucchini bread and 2 dinners of Zucchini boats and still….Zucchini was around!

We never measured our herbs cause well – it takes forever and I don’t have the right scale.

You don’t need the space you think you need and you don’t need the light you think you need.  I don’t recommend growing the hard things or things that are technique very hard, surprisingly this is carrots and lettuces.

Imagine communities with 3 gardens focusing in on growing one or two things in 30 square feet.  5 houses with 3 gardens each would be 15 gardens, 150 square feet – that’s 150 pounds of produce in 5 houses.  That’s only 5 houses – not hard to do! Do it with a friend and coordinate a friend network of gardens and share in the wealth! Just give me some credit when ya do it!

I had extra space too…plenty of it! Next year we’ll shoot for 2 pounds per foot…seems crazy, but it can be done. You just have to know what you are planting.  And stop planting carrots please!

What are your growing now?

What am I growing now?  Well, next to nothing.  Although once the farm is up and running there are many techniques one can employ to grow year round crops.  We’re just not there yet but we hope to one day!

What I am growing is my knowledge by reading books.  Each book has some tidbit of info I’ve never heard of or trick I want to try.  Each book carries unique techniques from that person and farm! But most of all I reflect on my own growing skills and what I will change next year for growing and sowing.

So what am I growing – knowledge.  I can tackle next season well before it starts and really set a good plan in place to produce the most of in the most organic way.  What would I change about my 2014 season?

Lets start with the hardware.  I had a poly cover over my beds which I won’t do again.  Unless you are completely closed system which temp, humidity, and air flow regulation I don’t recommend the purchase.  At best it kept the rain off and thats about it.

Row Covers per bed will be practiced.  You’ve seen row covers you just don’t know it.  They are white and long across farms.  Up close they are lightweight, air and water permeable, and pest resistant.  Depending on the thickness it does help with temps going up and down at night and some even can protect from frost.  So I look forward to employing row covers next year!

More skinny beds.  I left a lot of dead space and I feel that is because my beds are 4 feet wide! This poses a problem if I want to plant or harvest anything in the middle so I will construct 2 foot wide beds that can be easily jumped or stepped over and just plain reached over.  I’d suggest never creating raised beds you can’t reach all the way across so the length of your arm is a good rule to go by.

Next year I will be incorporating more flowers as pollinators and also to attract beneficial insects.  I may even put in a bat house.

Buy the right tools not the cheap tools.  I took more tools and things back because the product was terrible.  I’ve learned now that expensive means quality and consistency.  I don’t mind paying hundreds of dollars if it saves me time and trouble!  I’ve got to think long-term about tools.  You can’t use things for one season – you’ll never get your money out of it.  I need products to last for 5 years minimum or more.

Get things done when you can not tomorrow.  Come fall time in the Northern Michigan sunny days are few and far between and so are dry ones.  You don’t want to be caught trying to finish out projects in 40 degree weather raining and windy especially it that is trying to mulch leaves! If it can be done – do it.

Next year will be different.  I am moving to be a better location and will have my garden right out by back door and plan to grow and show the world how fun and easy gardening can be regardless of time, effort, money, and what not.  I just want to show you it is possible to have fresh, whole, unsprayed, un-altered food just steps away.

 

“I kill even Cactus”

Oddly enough I’ve heard people actually killing a cactus or otherwise known to most as ‘succulent’ plants.  Which is impressive because it’s literally a plant that can withstand cold,hot, dry, wet and dark.  If we ever colonize the dark side of the moon that will likely the first plant I would incorporate for ‘ease of use’.

But it’s usually not your fault, oddly enough. Well, not entirely.

To grow anything you need to make sure you have some things in place.  Growing plants is not as simple as stores would like you to think. Sure, now a days you can go buy just about anything in a store, transplant it, and “wah lah” you’re a gardener.  All the rewarding part of growing a plant from seed is gone and so is your stress and effort.  Most of the effort in raising plants and becoming a good gardener is doing this from seed.  From seed to small plant is the most crucial time because typically once a plant is sturdy, tall, and leafy it is pretty good at taking a beating.  I’ve transplanted fully downed plants into better containers and watch them spring back as if to say thank you.

Soil.  Soil is the most crucial part of what you work with.  Soil is not dirt.  Dirt is on your kitchen floor made up of debris and is not alive.  Soil is very much alive with micro-organisms, fungi, insects, bacteria, and many things.  I don’t want to know whats on your bathroom floor.  Soil holds a plant in place and provides nutrients.  And to those hydro-ponic people – your products suck.  Hydro-ponics is the ‘big pharma” of agriculture.  Soil and all of it’s micro components play a key role in each plant and how it grows and produces nutrients.

Water.  Yes, sorry but this is where it is your fault.  Most people always say they don’t water enough, and that’s probably true.  But more often I find that most people don’t drain enough water away.  In nature water does not stay around, it’s called the water cycle.  In containers roots get ‘root bound’ and if it can’t drain then it gets ‘root rot’ which often looks like your plant is dying but it’s not from drying out.  It is dying because where there is enough moisture there is harmful fungi who can take over and cause root rot.  You need to make sure as much as you water you also take away water.  In most soils outside this is easy.  In most container pots it’s not because there is no drain, but there can be.  Adding small rocks to a container will allow water to drain and evaporate easier and also not keep roots sitting in water – it’s actually not a good thing.  Oh and yes, you still need to water your plant while you’re gone.  It’s not plastic – you can get those I hear though, a plastic plant.  It’s ironic – plastic is killing our planet and we make plastic plants – can’t wait till plastic starts turning CO2 in O2.

Sun.  Contrary to popular belief plants don’t like all the sun you want to give them.  After about 80 degrees plants shut down in order to protect themselves(humans don’t have this function.)  In fact some plants don’t like it warm at all and won’t do well past 70 degrees.  You do need sun but oddly enough but typically lights in your house will do – not as good, but will do.  It’s still part of the light spectrum no matter the way you break it down.  Yes, there is special lights you can get, and would be great – if you want to be a crazy grower like me.  But all you need is a started plant and it doesn’t need much light just a long amount of light.  Now if you want to start your own plants then yes you will need some T5 high output lights and keep them on a 12 hour on/off schedule for seedlings.  Good luck.

Air.  If you think just because plants don’t have lungs like us and don’t breathe air, like us, you are so wrong.  Air is crucial but there is two different types of air a plant needs.  Air for oxygen is the air that which is contained in the soil and is absorbed in the roots.  And air that passes the leaves which makes the plant strong and sturdy.  Plants have a term called ‘vigor’ and this is basically like a plant workout.  If you could control two plants one with top air and one without top air and then put them outside the one without would wither and die because it could not handle force applied to it.  But the one with air applied to it has grown up in wind and is strong.  The more air that reaches a plants cell walls the cell walls thicken and strengthen giving them ‘vigor’ so don’t expect your home plant will transplant very well when a 20mph hits it hard!

Soil, water, sun, air.  If you have all these 4 – you can at least have the best chances to not kill your plant.  That being said go plant something, stop reading this, and find some seeds no doubt you left laying around from last year and plant something – anything.

Summer might be on its’ way out but your garden doesn’t have to be!

Summer might be on its’ way out but your garden doesn’t have to be!

The summer crops are ripening and you are enjoying the harvest but are hopefully planning for the fall already! Just cause the tomatoes and cucumbers have to go doesn’t mean the garden has to!

Bring that beet back again!(Corny reference to a Dave Matthews lyric) but literally!  It’s time to think about those cold weather crops again.  Lettuces, carrots, beets, kales, cilantro and many more veggies(actual veggies) love this weather!  The temps are colder where they prefer and you can plant them again.  They can withstand a frost or two and in some cases prefer a cold frost to taste better!

Garlic planting is almost here!  I planted my first garlic in October 2013.  Lets just say – this one is prob the easiest.  Garlic ‘overwinters’ because it takes so long to grow.  I harvested my first garlic in early August 2014 – you do the month math(10)

There are plenty of sources to get garlic, I do prefer using ‘seedsnow.com’ because they deliver in small quantities perfect for the home gardener or even in large quantities for those looking to test some weeding skills.  Get organic garlic for your local co-op or organic shopping center(rest assured if it’s from a local farm, it’s organic).  Separate the bulb into cloves and plant the cloves pointed end upward 2 inches down and about 8 inches apart(stagger for better spacing – their long leaves will appreciate it).   Cover or mulch heavily to make sure it has moisture through the winter months.  But don’t worry too much because garlic is a minimalist.  I covered my garlic with black tarp, never watered it, and it never saw the sun until April.  It was just fine.

IMG_0388 This is garlic after winter or no water, no light, and no help.  The leaves acted a good insulator and tape help keep too much moisture from destroying it(I think).  Either way – garlic grows, but you’ve gotta have patience.

Garlic is high in sulfur(hence why it burns your eyes likes onions when you cut into it).  It is a great companion plant to put it where you plan on planting tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash.  The bulb and roots won’t take up much room and may help deter soil insects from taking hold on sensitive crops.  It’s not a shade blocker because it’s stalks are so skinny.  It doesn’t compete well with weeds so cucumbers, squash and broad leaf veggie families help garlic keep weeds down with their massive leaves.

I hope to plant a lot of garlic – everywhere.  It’s a great interplanting herb and easy to grow.  Just a bit of patience and planning ahead for next year and it should do just fine.