Monday, May 30, 2011

So, how well is the hay working?

It was dry yesterday and I was able to spend more time with the veggies, looking at the grass sprouts that were coming up all over. Most of the grass clumps came right up when I pulled on them—they were actually growing out of the hay, and didn't have any roots in the ground at all. I pulled the hay apart on some of those, separated out the green sprouts, and laid them on top of thick hay where they might have a chance to die—if it stops raining long enough to dry them out. In spots where the hay was thick, I did what Ruth recommends, I turned the hay over and put the green stuff on the bottom where it won't get so much light.

In places where the hay was thin I found both sprouted hay, and seedlings coming up from my dirt. The rooted seedlings were the same mix of annual and perennial grasses I've been fighting down there for 5 years. I pulled a few up, but I need to get in with the hand hoe and get them out while there aren't that many. Where the sprouts were coming out of the hay, I piled on more hay, thick enough to cover them up. I found quite a few areas where I hadn't put enough hay down to begin with, and I used up several thick flakes of fresh hay covering those up.

I only found a few new broadleaf weeds poking through from the soil, and got those out. All in all, there was far less trouble than I expected to find. I'm feeling at this point that the hay is working great.

I am sorry to say that neither the fennel seed nor the salsify ever came up. I'm not sure if the soil was too cold, or if I did something else wrong. At the Wilco store in town, I found a 4" pot with half a dozen young fennel plants all jammed together, so I'm going to try to separate those and put them down in the fennel row, so I can get at least some this year.

I did get one surprise. I was down there earlier in the morning than I've been going out, and while I was walking around near the barn I heard some critter bigger than a cat making a bunch of noise moving around in the stall where I keep the hay. After a few seconds I saw a big fuzzy coyote pup climb out through the open window in the back, and exit my yard through a section where I only have a 3-rail fence. I think that explains where all the feral cats I don't see any more have gone to. I've heard coyote packs periodically at night for years, but this is only the second individual I've ever seen, and the first pup. There used to be feral cats that practically lived here. I hope the coyotes are picking up the slack going after the voles and moles in my yard. I was glad it wasn't a bear. Ah, wilderness!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Potatoes Everywhere!

I'm beginning to see the wisdom of planting cool season crops in the Willamette Valley—it's almost the end of May and my soil temperature is only just now getting up to 52ยบ—that's ten degrees too cold, at least, to plant beans. But my peas, broccoli, potatoes, kohlrabis, onions, garlic and radishes are doing great! It's too cold to plant the zucchini and pumpkins I want to, and of course melons are out of the question.

You can see the long row of potatoes in the middle, and if you look hard you can see the short row on the far right, and the three smaller, scattered potato plants on the left side of the thick hay. The short row was short by design—those are the 6 Red Pontiac sets. The row on the left was attacked and disrupted by something that burrowed under the hay, made it look like the dirt had been turned over in places, and disappeared most of the ten sets there. A potato-eating mole? It didn't disturb the hay—I didn't discover the damage till I started poking around in the row looking for sprouts. I don't know for sure, but I think that's the Rose Finn Apple Fingerlings, which makes me sad. I think the long row is the All Blues. The onions you can see are growing really nicely, and I finally figured out how to tell them from the garlics: the onions just have leaves, but the garlic has a stalk. The garlics I put up in the blueberry patch are doing just as well as the ones down here.

Some good news on my overwintered broccolis—two of them have decided to grow for a while longer before they head, so I might get more than the fingertip-sized head I got from the smallest one.

The kohlrabis suffered a bit from slugs before I put out bait last weekend, but they're looking a lot more robust now and I'm thinking they'll make it till harvest—if something else doesn't get them.

The snow peas just keep getting taller, but they're starting to fall over. The package says they don't need any support, and also said not to thin them more than every 2 inches, so I'm not doing anything else to them for now. The slugs didn't go after them, which surprised me a bit.

And last—and least—the daikon radishes have really started growing now. Just a few weeks ago they were nothing but seed leaves, and now they're starting to look like plants. Looks like they need a bit of weeding.

I did get my cardoons planted out a couple weeks ago, but they're not very exciting yet, still putting down roots and not growing up yet. I've tried to protect them from deer, rabbits and slugs, I'm not sure who would eat them but they look pretty vulnerable to me.

I was on the verge of trying to start more collard seed when I  found a nice looking 6-pak of baby collards, so I bought them. Need to plant them. They look exactly like kohlrabis, just like the web article I found says. So much so that I'm wondering if my kohlrabis are really kohlrabis. All will be revealed....

Next month, I WILL try to start a couple zucchini plants and some yellow squash, and my tuscan Kale, and more of the dozen packages of companion flower seeds. My yarrows and chamomile are ready to put out; maybe I can put them out tomorrow. We're supposed to have another dry day.

You can see in the photos that there are many areas with a lot of grass sprouts among the veggies. Every place where I put a thin layer of hay—less than the 8" of loose hay—is pretty densely grassy. There are also more than I'd like coming up where the hay is actually thick, but there are also some areas that look grass free. When I get to it, I'm going to just dig up all the unwelcome grass, and now that I can see where the veggies are, I'm going to put down more hay everywhere. I need to start mounding it up around the potatoes anyway, they're getting taller every week. You could guess that the grass seedlings are from the hay, but I'm not so sure because I have grass seedlings coming up all over that part of my garden—for as long as I've lived here. I'm guessing that when I let the hay get wet, it did sprout seeds, so maybe it's half and half, mine and from the hay. Because I've got pastures on two sides of me, I'll always have grass seed blowing in. I do know that if I had not put the hay down, the whole garden would be completely full of weeds.

One thing I noticed when I was in there two weeks ago looking for potato sprouts, was that a very thin layer of the hay on the very bottom, next to the dirt, is staying very wet and looking like it's thinking about rotting. But that's no more at this point than the bottom 1 or 2 strands of the bottom layer. All the hay above that is dry and golden. The ground is so moist—as it should be from the amount of rain we've had this spring—that I don't even have to think of watering anything at this point. When we do start getting more than two dry days in a row, I'll be checking it regularly. The potatoes need to stay moist while they're forming, both to keep growing and to help prevent scabs.

I really do enjoy walking past it and seeing the veggies poking up through the shiny gold hay while I'm weeding elsewhere in the garden. That's pretty much all I'm doing now. I do hope to get caught up some day so I can get back to planting all the goodies I bought this winter. Big plans and little plants!