» Archive for September, 2014

Preparing Garden Soils for Spring

Friday, September 26th, 2014 by Jenny Watts
    • Plant snapdragons, pansies and violas for color this fall, winter and next spring.
    • Plant cover crops in areas of the garden that have finished producing for the summer. Crimson clover, vetch and fava beans will grow over the winter and enrich the soil for next year.
    • Set out rhubarb and artichoke plants now so you can enjoy their produce next spring.
    • Fall is for Planting! Trees, shrubs, lawns, ground covers and bulbs get a jump on spring if you plant them now.

Preparing Garden Soils for Spring

Fall should not be viewed as the end of the gardening season, but as the beginning of next year’s garden. Proper soil preparation now will go a long way to improve next year’s harvest and reduce the amount of spring garden work.

You don’t have to be in a rush to clean out crops if you can still harvest some green tomatoes or a sweet pepper or two. But when the season is over, cleaning out the dead plants prevents the overwintering of diseases and harmful insects. As you finish harvesting, pull up the plants, place them in the compost pile or, if diseased, throw them in the garbage or the green waste.   

If weeds have gotten away from you and gone to seed, try to carefully cut off the seed heads first and put them in a garbage bag so they won’t disperse around the garden as you pull up the plants. For perennial weeds, make sure to remove any roots, or they will regrow next year.  Tilling them in will only break up the roots into many more pieces, multiplying your problem next season. 

If you can get the garden cleaned up by early fall, you can plant a cover crop.  This is simply a crop such as crimson clover or fava beans that will protect the soil from erosion, and add organic matter to the soil. It serves as “green manure” when it is tilled back into the soil next spring. If you are preparing a new area to be a garden space next year, plant annual ryegrass there to break up the soil with its deep roots.

If frosts have begun, it is probably too late to establish a cover crop before winter. In that case, add 1 to 2 inches of compost or manure on top of your beds and mulch the bare areas of the garden. Organic matter loosens heavy clay soils, adds nutrients and by attracting all those soil microorganisms, makes the soil healthier. Several inches of amendments added in both spring and fall, as well as the use of cover crops, will substantially enhance the quality of your soil.

When the garden season is over and done with, and everything is cleared out and put to bed, then it’s time to plant garlic! Break the bulb into cloves then make a furrow about 3 inches deep and place the cloves in it, 4-6 inches apart. Be sure to plant the cloves pointed end up. Make your rows 6-12 inches apart. Rake the soil back over the cloves, so that they are covered by 2 inches of soil, and water the bed well. Each clove will develop into a full head of garlic by next summer.

You can still plant crops like kale, collards and spinach from starts. Onions can be planted from seedlings and they produce next year. These vegetables don’t mind the cold weather and will give you fresh greens as the weather cools.

Enjoy the warm fall days by spending some time in your garden.

Harvesting Apples and Pears

Friday, September 26th, 2014 by Jenny Watts
    • Mums are the beauties of the fall garden. Choose plants now in a wide variety of colors.
    • Pansies and snapdragons can be planted now to replace summer annuals. They will give you color this fall, winter and next spring.
    • Fall vegetables can be planted now for a fall harvest of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, chard and lettuce.
    • Trim foliage on grape vines to allow more sun to reach the fruit and ripen the grapes.
    • If your bearded iris blooms were sparse this year or the plants are more than four years old, now is the time to divide and replant them. Mix some bone meal into the soil, and plant the rhizomes just beneath the soil surface.

Harvesting Apples and Pears

Most of the luscious fruits of summer have been picked and enjoyed by now. But apples and pears are just coming on and will be sharing their bounty in the months to come.

Apples are one of the easiest fruit to pick and use. Once they are picked, apples stop ripening, so it is important to pick them at the peak or ripeness. Apples ripen from the outside of the tree towards the center, so the apples out the outside of the tree will ripen first. Apples on the sunny side, usually the southern side, of the tree ripen first.

You should know approximately when a particular variety is expected to ripen. There are charts that give you this information for a particular area, usually the Central Valley in California. In Willits, fruits ripen approximately a month later than in the Central Valley. So that’s the first thing to consider.

Color can also be an indication of maturity. With yellow apples, when the green has almost completely given way to yellow, a yellow variety is mature. The same is true of the striped apples where the base color underneath the stripes turns yellow at maturity.

Other indicators are that mature apples separate easily from the tree by twisting them upward with a rotating motion. Usually, when the seeds become brown, the fruit is ripe. But with early season apple varieties, like Gala, they may be ready to eat before the seeds turn brown. When a few good, healthy apples drop to the ground, the apples on the tree are nearly mature. And remember the taste test: when an apple becomes slightly softer and tastes sweet and juicy, it is mature.

Don’t wash apples until just before using to prevent spoilage. And keep them cool after picking to increase shelf life.

Pears are a little more complicated. Again, check to see the expected ripening dates for the variety. Pears must be picked before they are ripe. They ripen from the inside out, and if left on the tree to ripen, many varieties will become brown at the core and rotten the middle.

Pears are best picked when the fruit separates easily from the twigs. If it is hard to pull off the tree, it isn’t ready! Also feel the fruit. If it feels absolutely rock hard, it’s still not ready. You should be able to detect a slight feeling of give, but not too much. Check the color. Pears are ready to pick when there is a change in the fruit color from green to yellow, and the stem separates easily from the branch.

Pears need to be cooled after picking to ripen properly. Bartlett pears need to be cooled only a day or two in the refrigerator. Then put them in the fruit bowl to ripen. In 4 to 5 days, they should be sweet and ripe.

Anjou, Bosc and Comice require 2 to 6 weeks at near freezing temperatures for optimal effect, followed by ripening at room temperature: Bosc and Comice will ripen in 5 to 7 days; Anjou takes 7-10 days. The longer the time the pears have spent in cold storage, the shorter the time to ripen. Without this chilling process, a mature picked pear will just sit and sit and eventually decompose without ever ripening.

Handle your apples and pears correctly and enjoy your harvest this fall.