Accidentally Cooking

Documenting my mistakes in the garden, kitchen and pantry

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Over-Winter Garden Preparations

I’ve got two garden beds. The first one is about 5×7 and the other one is 4×8. The first plot held the bulk of my summer plants: Tomatoes, hot peppers, cucumber and cantelope. After those plants came out in the fall, I put some garlic in the ground to sit out the winter and get a jump start on the spring growing season. The second plot held my fall crops: Carrots, spinach and lettuce. Well, it held the seeds I planted for those things, since most of the seeds didn’t even sprout.

This picture shows my first plot. Almost all the plants had been pulled out after the first frost, and the bed covered over in straw. Garlic is planted along the right side.

This picture shows my second plot the day after our first frost. The lettuce has already been harvested but the carrots are still going strong.

The poor performance of my gardens this first year has prompted me to start preparations early and to try and get my soil into better shape. The pH levels seem fine but vital nutrients are definitely lacking. Fixing this deficiency is necessary to prevent poor performance like I had last summer. Also, adding a little bit of soil volume and improving drainage would be good.

For the first plot, I’ve put a few shovelfuls of compost where the garlic is growing. I don’t want to put any heavy fertilizers or something like mushroom soil down in this bed for fear of burning the garlic. As shown in the picture above I covered it over with straw and will add compost to it in the spring.

The second plot is empty for the winter so I can be a little bit more aggressive in making amendments. I plan to get a few bags of mushroom soil to mix in before the weather gets really cold. Mushroom soil, though the exact recipe changes from manufacturer to manufacturer, tends to be a little bit too “hot” for many plants. It’s dense in nutrient salts which can “burn” small plants and seeds, sometimes killing them outright.  Instead, mushroom soil should either be diluted out with other soil mixes, or it should be set out over winter to “cure” it and let the dense nutrients flow out into the surrounding areas.



Over-Winter Garlic

October is the time of year to plant garlic. The traditional wisdom is that garlic should go in the ground around Columbus Day and harvest preparations start around 4th of July.  (Embarrassing fact: I had to go to Wikipedia to find out when Columbus Day was. October 8th! The more you know…). Many people will tell you not to wait so long. I put my garlic in the ground on September 31st.

Some clarification: You can alternatively plant garlic in the early spring. Planting in the fall gives the garlic a jump start on developing roots so that in the spring it can grow faster. The downside is that if the garlic freezes hard over the winter it will die before spring rolls around. Fall-planted garlic needs to be well protected to prevent it from freezing.

When you plant garlic you’re supposed to plant the biggest, healthiest cloves, but I put in several smaller ones that had been sprouting too. Considering they would have ended up on the compost pile otherwise, and considering my poor track record growing plants this summer, I figure every little bit helps. Any heads of garlic I can harvest next year, even if they’re small ones, will be better than what I would have gotten otherwise.

I marked off a small section of my first garden bed where the beefsteak tomatoes and cantelope had been over the summer. I filled a 5-gallon bucket up with some compost out of my pile, mixed it in good with the top two inches of soil,  planted the garlic in 2-inch deep holes (root-side down!), and covered with a thin layer of straw. I’m going to add much more straw and some fall leaves too, before things get too cold. The straw mulch will help to keep those little cloves from freezing hard and dieing over the winter. Also, they’ll help to return some nutrients to the soil in the process.

Two (hard to see) garlic sprouts coming up from between the straw

While planting the garden, I pulled a sweet yellow onion bulb out of the bottom of the compost pile. Despite having been buried for weeks at least, it had a full set of roots and some long green stems, and looked quite healthy. I know onions aren’t supposed to go into the ground until early spring, but I’ve got this one now so I threw it into the garden anyway. Either way, it’s no loss to me.

I would like to grow more onions next year. I’ll probably shop around for some small seed onions when it gets closer to planting time and put them in next to the garlic in the spring. I’m still coming up with plans for what I want to do with the rest of my garden next year, but I’m sure I’ll post about that soon.