By Jimmy Deaton
Well we finally got the last harvest done this week. We were fortunate enough to still harvest cherry and black and brown boar tomatoes, jalapenos, serrano’s, Del Ray Cajun’s, and grapes. Our grape vine and everlasting strawberries are still producing although with the night time temps going down into the 30’s the next few nights I think it’s safe to say the season is over for them.
For the inside garden the Lizzano tomatoes have been started and are now about 3 weeks old. The microgreens is a year round business for us so there is always something in production. For herbs we will be doing basil which will be started from seed soon, and the thyme, garlic chives and oregano will be brought inside from their current home on the deck. The citrus trees have been brought inside and are now loving life under a 400 watt HPS with baby citrus fruit’s already forming.
The topic I want to focus on this month is getting ready for next years garden. So many folks wait until the weather breaks in the spring before they even think about starting a veggie garden. I usually start planning the next years garden in July/August of the previous year. By that time I’m able to see what is doing well in certain spots and what isn’t and this will allow me to think things through.
For first timers I think the biggest thing is to take notice on what parts of your yard get sun and how much. After that it’s getting the raised beds built and building up your soil. Our beds are usually 8×4 feet and 6 inches deep. Before adding any type of soil and/or amendments to them I dig down about 12 inches and this is amended first. I usually add leaf compost to those 12 inches. If you live in the City of Alexandria you can get free leaf mulch the beginning of April each year from the Eisenhower avenue location which is next to the Vola Lawson animal shelter. For the top 6 inches I use top soil mixed with home made compost and some Bumper Crop soil amendment. Bumper Crop is great for bringing in the necessary nutrients including micro nutrients, trace minerals and growth hormones. By doing this I now have around 18 inches of depth for my roots to explore and be happy. Although I do have the compost in the beds which will slowly feed the plants I still like to foliar feed but that is another topic on why I prefer that method.
Another aspect first timers need to do is pick what veggies to grow. Most of the seeds we have are saved from the previous years grow and that is both veggie and flowers. We grow 2 different types of zinnia’s. One is an heirloom from Mexico and the other is a cut and come again variety which has topped out at just a tad under 6 feet the past 3 years. Our seed stock is not something you’ll find in the big box stores and even the independent garden centers. Melons include Minnesota Midget and Tigger as well as our favorite, Sakata which is a Japanese melon that is super sweet. Chinese cucumbers and Mexican sour gherkins climb the trellises. The sweet peppers are covered by the Del Ray Rojo and Italian cow horn varieties and the chili’s are fatalli’s, chili d arbol’, Del Ray Cajun, serrano and jalapeno. Tomatoes are heirloom and include Black Krim, Mr. Stripey, Black and Brown Boar, olive and cherry tomatoes. Fruits include dwarf grapes, blueberries, French strawberries as well as June and ever-bearing ones. Limes and lemons round out that stable. If you’re looking for seeds and want something you won’t find elsewhere I highly recommend Baker Creek Heirloom seed company located in Missouri for all your needs. Plus they are the only company that test all the corn seeds they receive for GMO’s and unfortunately even a lot of heirloom varieties they receive have been found to be contaminated with GMO traits. I love growing out the exotic varieties because it allows me to experience food that is grown and consumed in different countries and usually not found here in the states except for that rare specialty store or vendor at the farmers market.
I also recommend getting some graph paper and drawing out your yard to scale and place where the veggie beds will be. It may seem trivial but once those squash and zucchini vines start to take off and decide to take over the kids play area or the patio you’ll wish you had taken that hour or so to put things on paper and get a good look at what is going on in your slice of paradise. And don’t forget the flowers that will help bring in the pollinators that are sorely needed. Personally we love butterfly bush, zinnia’s, cone flowers, foxglove, lantana, penta’s, different mints, lemon balm, basil and other herbs.
The best piece of advice I can offer to those new to vegetable gardening is go slow. Get some good books and read up on the subject, ask for help if needed and most of all have fun. I don’t care how long someone has been gardening or what degrees/certification one has, you’ll never know everything. For me, spending years as an apprentice with actual hands on experience under Mother Nature’s guidance has given me the tools needed to be successful in what is both a hobby and career. Also having a gardening buddy to spend time with helps and for me that time is best spent with Wilson, who is a feral cat that we’ve been taking care of for over 4 years now and lives in our yard. The companionship he brings to the table is genuine and it doesn’t hurt that he keeps the yard rodent/pest free.
Remember this, working on planning next years garden and going through the seed catalogs helps make those cold wintry days and nights go by a little bit easier.
Until next month……have a good one.