Although the summer is still in full swing, in the garden we are beginning to think about Fall. Usually September is when we officially begin the season, but in reality, there are many chores to prepare for the first of September. One of the big things that kicks off the growing season is our heirloom tomato seedling sale in October. In order to have big strong plants by then we start seeds 6 weeks before and in order to start seeds we must begin by screening compost now. It’s a bit of a tedious job, but it’s done comfortably in the shade which is very welcome after months of field work. It’s also very interesting because we get to touch and look at batch after batch of compost in remarkable detail, learning about it’s structure, the bugs that live in it, how different things break down and so forth.
Another garden task than begins before September is the cutting down of cover crops for early Fall crops that can start to go in the ground now. One good example is Jicama, which we are excited to grow for the first time for the CSA. Check out the post on saving Jicama seeds from February. One of my favorite parts of growing cover crops is how easy and effective the transition into other crops usually is. On big farms they use tractors with mower or crimper attachments, but at the garden we cut the cover crops on foot with a weed eater using a brush blade rather than the string. Last September when we discovered the usefulness of this tool for cutting sunn hemp, we wrote a blog post about it. The sunn hemp is about 6 feet tall when we cut it, although it would have grown much higher if we hadn’t trimmed it a couple of times throughout the summer, which we do to encourage branching and bushiness. After just a few days the cut material dries on the field and will act as mulch to suppress weeds, protect the soil and add organic matter. To plant seeds or transplants we use a hoe to move mulch out of the way and dig a trench. The sunn hemp roots are still in the ground, but will soon break down to release nitrogen for the new crop and add yet more organic matter to the soil. Planting seeds or transplants while the roots are still in tact is nice because they help to hold moisture and prevent erosion around the new plants. One other little perk is that the flimsy irrigation drip lines are held in place by the stubby sunn hemp stumps until the desired crop is big enough to keep them from moving out of place.