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I’m always gardening – even when the snow flies.

Hybrid Seeds – A Few Things You Should Know

Hybrid Seeds – A Few Things You Should Know

Hybrid Seeds

I’m surprised by a few things when it comes to gardening. First, the lack of understanding in hybrid versus heirloom seeds. Hybrids are sometimes made out to be the villain of gardening. Second, the thought that USDA Hardiness Zones are “grow zones.” That one makes my eyes bug out. Rolling eyes are insulting and I’m probably guilty of doing it when I hear or read “grow zones.” Third, the unwillingness to start a garden before a specific date regardless of what the gardener is growing and the weather conditions. We’ll talk about that one later in the winter. Today we’re going to talk about hybrid seeds.

Can You Save Seeds From Hybrid Fruits and Vegetables?

You can save seeds from hybrids and the plants will most likely produce. You won’t get the same fruit or vegetable but you’ll get something. It might be delicious and it will at least be interesting to see the end result. The result will be a cross between the parents, and if the parents are hybrids their parents’ influence might show up in the end vegetable. You know those tomato volunteers that pop up in the spring? There you go.

hybrid seeds, cross pollination, heirloom seeds, open pollinated seeds
Hybrids are Tasteless, Right?

Do hybrid seeds grow tasteless food? Some certainly do, but so do some open pollinated and heirloom seeds. Open pollinated doesn’t mean heirloom and heirloom doesn’t mean open pollinated, by the way. Heirloom doesn’t have one specific definition. They’re varieties handed down through generations or age dependent. Some people consider a variety an heirloom once it’s been stable for 25 or 50 years. Open pollinated generally means the seeds will breed true – you’ll get the same fruit or vegetable every time.

Can you tell whether these seedlings are hybrid, open pollinated or heirloom? No, me either.

Hybrids are Not Genetically Engineered

Hybrids are the result of cross pollination.  Birds, bees, butterflies and other pollinators cross-pollinate blossoms. Pollen floats on the wind and causes cross pollination. I wish I knew what apples crossed to create the ornamental variety growing at the edge of the road. Had I know that’s what it is before the tree was too big to move I’d have put it in a better spot. The apples look like clusters of cherries.

hybrid seeds, bees pollinate plants, bees, cross pollinationYou can cross pollinate plants easily with a paint brush, your finger, or by pulling one flower off to brush its pollen onto another flower. It’s not the same as genetically engineering a daffodil gene into rice (to increase Vitamin A, this is impossible naturally), or a gene from a firefly into a fish (to glow in the dark, sold as pets) or a nut gene into another food (imagine what this could do to someone with a nut allergy).

Genetic engineering happens only in a laboratory. That’s a simple way to keep the difference between the two straight.

Cutting Back and Refocusing

Cutting Back and Refocusing

Cutting Back

November lull – I love it or dread it depending on the moment. There’s little going on now that hunting seasons are just about over. The chickens, a duck and the turkeys have been butchered and frozen. The garden is done and the pile of topsoil moved to the edge of the high tunnel. There’s some “oh-my-gawd it’s going to snow and I haven’t cleaned up the lawn” work to do. I want to top off the firewood in the wood shed, fill the wood rack in the house, and replenish the stacks on the back porch. There’s not a lot left to do after that other than move some more firewood for next winter into the high tunnel.

I’m eager to get back to baking bread, hanging clothes to dry on a rack by the fire rather than sucking up electricity with the dryer, and writing. Cutting back doesn’t mean spare time. Cutting back means a little more sanity when we get through this process.

Hunting Seasons

Most of my time this month spent hunting. I put in more hours for deer than I did in September when I harvested my black bear. I saw a buck under one of our apple trees on the next to last day of rifle season. A good look at his antlers (four points) and a better look at his rump as he walked away from me and into the woods without there being an ethical shot was all I got. He was on the game camera early in the morning of the last day but didn’t show up during legal hunting time. Steve saw a buck he couldn’t get a shot at, a few does, and had a great encounter with a young doe on the last day.

Black powder? Apparently so as Steve bought me a muzzle loader.

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Sitting still day after day for weeks gives a girl a lot of time to think. I think it’s time to cut down on what I do here on the homestead, and I’m starting with food, a part of homesteading I’m most passionate about. Most of our vegetables can be grown in the high tunnel. There are a few things, like bush beans, that need to be grown outside for the sake of space. The weed problem must be conquered. I spent more time picking weeds than beans this year. Next year I’ll stick to the high tunnel and leave the rest to Shannah at Mustard Seed Farm. I have a mental list of veggies to buy from her and I’m sure there are some she’ll grow we don’t yet know we need.

Poultry

We raised seven turkeys this year. One wasn’t picked up so I roasted it for Thanksgiving. That leaves an extra 31 pound turkey in the freezer. We have two 31 pounders and another somewhere around 15 pounds. We don’t have extra chickens so I started looking around for someone to raise our meat chickens. I’ll be buying pastured chickens from my sister Melissa’s friend. We’ll also buy beef from her starting the first chance I have to pick it up. Our side of pork went to the butcher on November 25 and will be back in packages in two to three weeks. Wayne and Joe and Phoenix Rising Farm raised great pigs. I’ll cure the bacon and season the sausage for a pig and a half.

We’re keeping nine chickens and eight ducks for a total of 12 or 13 egg layers. We’ve been chicken-free for only six months of the last 18 years so it’s unlikely we’ll go without chickens or ducks. I’ll be looking for someone to tend to the birds when we want to be away overnight.

Break Out the Bon Bons!

So what happens with all this free time? Bon bons, coffee and soap operas, folks. That’s my future. hahaha I can’t even. Can’t even write that with a straight face. There are other things we’ll hire out, and I’ll talk about them next year as the times come. I’ll spend the time working full time so I can finish writing a book or two. I’m cutting back on a lot of things to make time to write something more than freelance articles and this blog. I have two half-written books to finish. They might never be read by anyone but me but the writing will be finished. House renovations are underway and I’m planning on some redecorating.

Life has been crazy. I spent too many hours hunting. Next year we’ll change up what we do to try something new. Being responsible for 100% of the housework and 95% of the cooking on top of working a full time job, and on top of homesteading work for food and heat nuts. Steve’s working full time plus and tackling some big renovation projects as well as the new food plot. There’s more but you get the idea.

“I can kill myself trying to do it all and make myself miserable with half-assed work and failure, or I can hire people to do things for me.” Robin Follette, 2016. Change is good even though decisions about cutting back are hard. If everything stayed the same life would be awfully boring.

I’ll be here more often, and with more than recipes.  There’s plenty to write about when you live a life in the wild and thanks to cutting back, I have time.

Growing Corn in a High Tunnel

Growing Corn in a High Tunnel

Growing Corn in a High Tunnel

Downsizing the garden has given me some wiggle room for experimenting. When you grow and do the same things year after year gardening gets monotonous. Without the need for thousands of plants and lots of variety now that I’m not market gardening I find new ways to get creative. Growing corn in a high tunnel was one of this year’s experiments.

The experiment was a success so we’ll be growing corn in a high tunnel next year. There aren’t many differences in methods between the tunnel and outdoors.

How to Grow Corn in a High Tunnel

Amend the soil as needed. If you haven’t done a soil test in a while now’s a good time. We add lime in the fall because it takes time to work. Corn is a heavy feeder so add plenty of nitrogen but not so much it burns the roots. I dug holes 12″ to 18″ deep and filled them with water twice to soak the soil. High tunnels aren’t open to rain.

Corn germinates best in soil 60° or warmer. If you want to add additional warmth and control weeds you can lay out IRT and cut holes. I didn’t because there isn’t a week problem on that side of the tunnel.

After the water drained I added fish guts to the bottom, and mixed compost into the soil, and then filled in the holes.

I used circles because I wasn’t planting a lot of corn. If you plant rows they should be at least four feet long and there should be a minimum of four rows for good pollination. Planting in small circles helped pollination. In a 12″ to 15″ circle I planted seven or eight seeds.

The soil stays warmer at night in the tunnel than it does outside so germination was fast, four or five days. Keep the soil moist by watering heavily once or twice a week. The number of times you’ll need to water depends on how much organic matter is in the soil to hold water, the temperature, size of plants and wind. Roots will grow deep to get to the rotted fish and you’ll notice a growth spurt.

growing corn in a high tunnel, early growth, high tunnel
corn, high tunnel, busy kitchen
growing corn in the high tunnel, corn, ear of cornI missed this ear so it was drying out before I picked it.

Fertilization

Continue to give the plants nitrogen through the growing season. When we kept fish we caught I dug a hole beside the roots, dumped the guts in, watered well and refilled the hole. There was never a fish smell to attract raccoons and skunks. Use whatever you normally use for a nitrogen fertilizer.

Pollination

Every silk on an ear of corn is attached to a potential kernel. The silk must be pollinated for the kernel to grow. The plants closest to the door were pollinated best because the wind blew the plants more than those in the back. The sides were rolled up all summer but that doesn’t provide enough air flow high to move the plants for successful pollination. There were a few ears that weren’t edible and a few that should have been better pollinated. Next year I’ll plant the corn in the front half of the tunnel and give the end plants a better shake to improve pollination.

The variety I chose averages six feet tall. Growing corn in a high tunnel gives extra warmth and allows for the easy addition of nitrogen. This corn averaged seven feet and topped out just over ten feet. The stalks are thick and heavy and supported the extra height well.

Corn Pests

There were no pests! It’s nice to peel back the shucks and not find corn earworms.

Clean Up

Clean up was easy. I used long-handled pruning shears to cut the stalks at ground level. Leaving them higher than ground level is potential to trip over the stubs. The roots will start to break down and feed the soil so continue to water if you’re not going to plant something in that spot for winter crops. Growing corn in a high tunnel was a great experiment that results in delicious sweet corn.

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October Garden List

October Garden List

October Garden List

Are you ready to wrap up the garden? I want the work to be finished but I want someone else to do it. That isn’t going to happen so I’m getting myself organized with a list and planning an extra pot or two of coffee. If you feel the sudden urge to bring me a latte while I’m raking – don’t resist! 😉 The October garden is still a bit of work but who doesn’t love to be outdoors on these gorgeous days!

Get the straw you’ll need to mulch carrots you plan to leave in the ground over the winter and the garlic you need to cover. You want it on hand when you’re ready.

october garden, terra cotta pots, clay pots, how to clean up the gardenRake rake rake. Don’t let the wind blow those valuable leaves away. Leaves are much needed browns in the compost pile as you pull out the last of the cold weather plants later this morning. Or, mulch. Or, mow mow mow. Mow the lawn to chop up the leaves and mix them with grass. Pile this up and let it compost.

Leaf Mold

Another option for fall leaves is to run them over with the lawn mower, and then stuff them into a 30 gallon trash bag while they’re still damp. Add a quarter cup of blood meal or other high-nitrogen amendment, and let the leaves break down into leaf mold. Leaf mold is a nice soil amendment.

Garden Shed

Clean out the garden shed. If something is broken and can’t be re-purposed, throw it out now. It won’t heal itself over the winter. Really, it won’t. No matter how much I want it to…

Clean and store the pots and tools you’ve emptied in the past month. If you’ve pulled diseased plants from the pots be sure to clean them well or replace them.

Seed Saving

Store the seeds you saved in clean dry, containers, and keep them in a cool, dark spot. Be sure to label them properly because if you’re like me, no, you won’t remember what each packet contains in the spring.

Dig Dig Dig

Dig the trenches or holes now for asparagus and other perennials you’ll plant in the spring.

Did you get your garlic planted?

Weeds

I include weeds in every month the ground isn’t frozen. If you’ve let weeds go to seed (guilty, I neglected a small garden) you can flame the soil’s surface and kill a lot of them. Make sure you clean up dry plant material so you don’t start a fire.

If you rototill, turn over the top two inches of soil to bring weed seeds to the top. A few warm sunny days will encourage germination, and then a good hard frost will kill the seedlings.

Blog Hops

maple-hill-hop-buttonI’m happy to be slowing down enough to participate in blog hops again. I’ve missed keeping up with everyone over the summer. Check out today’s hop at Maple Hill 101. If you blog you may share anything outdoors related in the hop. I’m sharing my October garden chore list.

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Homesteading Today – September 29, 2016

Homesteading Today – September 29, 2016

Homesteading Today – September 29

There are a million things to do in this house – scrub the toilet, lug ripped out wallboard from the bedroom to trash bins outside, vacuum and wash floors, back screws out of 2 x 4’s – and little of it will get done. I’ll deal with the screws and wallboard, the rest will wait. It’s too nice outside to be indoors. I thought I’d bring you with me through homesteading today.

The Poultry Shuffle

The perfect music for The Poultry Shuffle was already playing when I went out this morning. A young white throated sparrow that hasn’t migrated yet tested his not-quite-perfect ability to sing. They’re one of the first birds that make my head snap in their direction in the spring and it’s nice to hear them before they leave in the fall.

The meat birds, 25 Cornish Rock Cross, need more room than their 4′ x 8′ tractor allows them. I took the smaller mesh electro-fence from the turkeys, ducks and Silkie chickens and shuffled it over to the meat birds’ area. I won’t have to move them once or twice a day now. The 160 foot long roll of fencing gives them plenty of room to eat grass, weed seeds and insects for a few days. They haven’t yet discovered the freshly tilled soil in the garden but when they do the soil will fly as they learn how easy it is to dust bathe there rather than on grass.

Silkies and Runner ducks slip through the large mess of the second fence so I have to keep an eye on them. Ava and Zoey spend most of the day outside to help deter predators. There are three raccoons hanging around but not until it starts to get dark.

(Update since I started writing: A Cooper’s hawk killed one of the meat birds while Ava was herding a wayward duck back to the pen. Bastard.)
Cornish cross, meat chicken, hawk attack

Autumn Decorating

Not one bit of autumn decorating has been done this fall. I cut the cornstalks, bundled them, and tied them to posts on the porch. Frost is weeks late this year, we haven’t had one yet. The hydrangea are a gorgeous mauve. I hope it doesn’t fade as they dry. Homesteading today is a mix of death and beauty, typical for this lifestyle.

hydrangea, homesteading today

warty gourds, homesteading today

I cut the Warty gourds, Wee Be Little pumpkins and Butternut winter squash, and cleaned up the vines. The last of the tomatoes minus a Juliet plant that’s still doing well added up to a half bushel, and those vines were cleaned up. They’re dying on the garden, waiting to be rototilled into the soil. The bushel of gourds were grown in a 30″ circle in the high tunnel. Easy peasy and worth doing again next year. The winter squash didn’t fare as well but I’ll give it another try in a tunnel next year with a few changes.

The still unidentified hot peppers and Bell peppers haven’t been pulled yet. Maybe Friday, or maybe I’ll put a low tunnel over them for a while. I want more peppers but I’m over gardening for the year. I’m ready to settle in to write, missing writing terribly, and want to be done with just about everything.

Where the Wild Things Are

The beavers are still around out back. The water is low but they’re checking the muddy dam and patting it down on a regular basis. I’m learning to love the land we own. It’s a long process that I’ll talk about later.
beaver lodge, homesteading today
beaver tracks, homesteading todayDon’t forget the young bull moose that’s pics I shared yesterday.

It feels like we’ll have frost overnight so I cut the lemon balm, sage, two varieties of basil, and oregano, and put them in the dehydrator. There’s mint still to cut but it’s frost hardy, fortunate since the dehydrator is full. Sage, thyme, basil and oregano are still growing in the high tunnel, at least until we take the poly off and cold gets to them.

To Do Lists

My list for the day was unrealistically long even if I hadn’t been dealing with the hawk. I’ll work on it again tomorrow. Such is the life. Homesteading today carries into tomorrow, into the next day, and continues on because the to list changes but never ends. I wouldn’t trade it for the lifestyle we left behind in 1989.

September Gardening Tips & To Do’s

September Gardening Tips & To Do’s

September Gardening Tips & To Do’s

September gardening lists are long. There’s as much to do now as there was in at the height of spring planting and summer harvesting. The work you do in the garden this month helps insure a productive garden next year. While the list is long the temperature and humidity here have dropped making gardening a pleasure again rather than a chore. Catch up on everything you didn’t get done in the heat and enjoy getting ready for autumn.

I’ll start watching the weather forecast for frost warnings now but hope it’s late this year. I have pumpkins no where near being close to ripe.

September gardening

September Gardening List

  • No fertilizing until spring.
  • Clean up under fruit trees to prevent scab disease. I let my chickens go under the trees to eat the apples and scratch up the soil, and then rake up and dispose of what’s left.
  • Cut perennial herbs back one more time. They have time to regrow and perhaps flower again before they become dormant.
  • Lop off the top of the Brussels sprouts. This forces energy into the sprouts so that they mature before it’s too cold to grow. They’ll hold once the weather turns cold so leave them in the ground.
  • Give cabbage that are large but still growing a tug up and a quarter-turn. Clockwise or counter clockwise doesn’t matter unless you’re superstitious. This will stop the plant from growing but leave enough roots in good contact to keep the cabbage from starting to spoil. Later in the month, pull the entire plant and hang it upside down in a cool, low humidity space. I hang mine in the basement.
  • Keep up with weeds.
  • Soil test. Yes! Now. You’ll likely get your soil test results back quickly because most gardeners wait until spring to send their soil sample. By doing it now you’ll get a head start on amending the soil for next year’s garden.
  • Plant garlic and spring flowering bulbs like daffodil and crocus.
  • Transplant peonies and similar spring flowering plants.
  • Build compost piles with spent plants and the leaves that start to fall later this month. Our first leaves down will be from ash trees. They’re already yellowing. Piles can add up quickly this time of year. When they shrink down so much they don’t hold heat to continue composting you should combine the smaller piles into one.
  • Clean and put away tools you won’t use again until spring.
  • Seed and transplant those last crops you can’t bare to go without. Do it now before the days are too short to promote good growth and roots to hold them over the winter. Have you thought about low tunnels? Give it a try!
  • Check the frames of your raised beds. Are they sturdy enough to stand up to freezing and thawing? Make necessary repairs.
  • Plant your trees so they have time to establish roots. Water them well and continue to water weekly if it doesn’t rain, until the ground freezes.
  • Apply mouse tape to the trunks of young trees and woody perennials.
  • Plant a cover crop in space you’re no longer using. It will improve the soil and help prevent erosion. Clover and vetch, winter wheat, barley and rye are used.
  • Have your frost protection ready. Sheets, tarps and floating row covers. After a frost you’ll leave the cover on until the frost melts.
  • Seed your autumn perennial seeds. If the flowers are going to seed now, it’s time to plant your seeds for those plants. Look at neighbors’ gardens or call the cooperative extension to talk to a Master Gardener if you’re not sure what you can seed this month.
  • Dig up perennial herbs to bring indoors for the winter. Be sure to leave enough in the garden for spring.
  • Last but best of all, enjoy a cup of hot coffee, tea or chocolate as you stroll through the garden, orchard or around the yard on a crisp, sunny morning. Enjoy!

September gardening is a joy. It’s my favorite time of year. Sunflowers, corn stalks, hay bales, pumpkins turning orange…it doesn’t get much better.

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Busy Kitchen Times – Putting Food Up

Busy Kitchen Times – Putting Food Up

Busy Kitchen Times – Putting Food Up

This is the start of the busiest time of year on the homestead and the busy kitchen looks like someone had a food fight off and on throughout the day. The garden is in all its glory and producing more food than I can keep up with. Steve goes out the door in the morning with bags of cucumbers, zucchini and tomatoes to share. Friends go home with garlic, carrots and leeks. I’ve picked five gallons of blackberries so far this year, and bought seven quarts of blueberries at a roadside stand this week. All but a few blueberries are jammed, bourbon sauced or frozen. I’ll share a couple of fruit sauce recipes next weekend that are great with meat and even dessert.
busy kitchen, stewed tomatoesSome of the peppers to be used in Hot Pepper Jelly.

I stewed tomatoes and used onions, peppers, garlic and herbs grown here. Add a little lemon juice, celery and some sea salt, and there it is. I’ll do one more batch of these tomatoes before the season is over. This time I used Juliet, Pruden’s Purple, Opalka, Bobcat, Super Bush from Renee’s Garden, and two volunteer varieties. One volunteer is small and round, a little too juice for this purpose but what the heck. The second volunteer is a plum/paste tomato that always has green shoulders but tastes good. One of my favorite times in a busy kitchen is the few minutes between the first and last lids popping on cooling canning jars.

Drying Herbs

The dehydrators run nearly 24/7 this time of year. I’ve been keeping the trays filled with oregano, basil, sage, lavender and mint. There will be rosemary and catnip soon. I enjoy stripping the dried leaves from the stems, dropping them into Mason jars as I go, tamping them down to make room for more, and filling the kitchen with the aroma of herbs. I think this winter I’ll start making my own herb and spice blends.
dried herbs, busy kitchen
Tammy and I set out to pick blackberries on Thursday but got sidetracked. We picked a few mushrooms on the way to the blackberry patch, and then a few more, and then “I see one” turned into “…three…twelve…bring the bucket…”

We weren’t prepared for mushroom picking but we made the best of it and split two and a half bushels of wild Procini and other boletes, Chanterelles, Coral and Lobster mushrooms. I’ve been picking mushrooms all my life and never seen so many mushrooms in one small area.

Not a blackberry was picked. We’ll go back next week for blackberries with knives and baskets in the truck this time, just in case.
wild mushrooms, Porcini, bolete, coral mushroom, goatsbeard mushroom, busy kitchenThe dehydrators are full of mushrooms now, and more were sauteed and frozen. I’ll make Cream of Wild Mushroom Soup on the next rainy or chilly day, and maybe a loaf of sourdough bread.

Corn in the High Tunnel

I’m experimenting with corn in the high tunnel this year. So far so good. The tassels are more than ten feet high and the ears are filling out. I hand pollinated each ear but I’m not sure how well I did. Wind blows into the tunnel and I gave the stalks a shake each day to add to the pollination. The ears don’t look full. I hope it at least tastes good even if the ears aren’t full. The corn won’t spend much time in my busy kitchen. I’ll put a few inches of water in a kettle and set it on to boil before I go out to pick the corn. Once shucked, the corn will go into the boiling water, the heat turned off, and the timer set for three minutes. Soft warm butter, a little sea salt and it’s ready. I’ll grill some, too.
corn, high tunnel, busy kitchen

On the bear front, it’s been an up and down week. The big bear didn’t come one night but the other bait was busy with four bears one night. Last night only one bear went to 2 and the big bear to 1 but only for a few minutes. I’ve been encouraged and hopeful but I don’t get too excited and I never, ever assume this is going to be easy. I’ll be in the stand on Monday morning, ready for opening day.

Ripen Tomatoes Before First Frost

Ripen Tomatoes Before First Frost

Ripen Tomatoes Before First Frost

ripen tomatoes before killing frost, ripen tomatoes

It’s the last full week of August and the first frost that will hit my garden is less than a month away. I need the space tomatoes are in for spinach and other greens to keep us supplied with fresh vegetables over the winter. It’s time to ripen tomatoes before first frost and get the job done quickly.

Snip New Growth

ripen tomatoes before first frost, tomatoes, prune tomatoes

You know the first frost is coming and you still have a lot of green tomatoes but what can you do? Jump start the ripening process with two steps. The first step is timing consuming when you have more than a few plants.

You need sharp scissors. Snip off each new growth tip and all flowers. The plant’s energy will be forced into ripening rather than growth. Continue to prune suckers and snip off new growth until you have all the ripe tomatoes you’re going to get. This photo shows you the new growth that must be removed.

Sever Roots

spade, Next, you need a sharp spade. Force the space into the soil 12 inches from the stem of the plant. Continue all the way around the plant to sever the roots. Now give the stem a tug to loosen some of the roots. Stop when you hear the roots ripping.

Stems break occasionally but no worries. Hang the plant in a dry sunny place. Remove the tomatoes when the plant shrivels and wrap them in newspaper. Place them in a box and check on them every four or five days. Or, use them green and be done with it. Fried green tomatoes? Yes, please.

Each year I tell myself I should stick to determinate varieties of tomatoes so that they ripen within a short time and then the plants die. I can’t convince myself to give up varieties like Juliet or Pruden’s Purple tomatoes. They’re worth the extra effort, especially when the grocery store tomatoes return to hard, pink, dense, unripe, tasteless, disgusting imposters.

Row Covers – What are they and how do you use them?

Row Covers – What are they and how do you use them?

Row Covers

Row covers serve several purposes in my garden. I sometimes purchase row covers by the yard off a big bolt, or I raid the linen closet for old sheets. No need to be too fancy, the plants don’t care. Covers hold in a few degrees of warmth at the beginning and end of the growing seasons, can provide shade from summer’s extreme sun, and block insects from tender seedlings.

I like Agribon. It’s tough enough to be used multiple years but light weight. It’s available in a variety of weights/thickness.

spund bonded polypropylene

Spring Planting

Floating row cover is the simplest cover to use. It doesn’t need to be supported on a frame. It’s so light weight the plants will lift it as they grow. You can start using a floating row cover in the spring while plants are still small but watch to be sure the cover isn’t bending the seedlings over.

Some covers are thick enough to keep seedlings protected from frost down to 24° and let you start hardy seeds from peas, spinach and beets unusually early. The down side of heavier covers is that let only 50% of sunlight through instead of the typical 85% so switch to a lighter cover as soon as possible. Place the row cover over the row and weigh it down on the ends. You can purchase U clips to push through the cover and into the soil, use odd pieces of lumber (which will also make picking up slugs and other pests simple each morning) or use rocks. Any heavy object will do.

Seed Germination

Row covers aid in seed germination by keeping the soil moist. Tiny seeds such as petunias or carrots can dry out quickly and die. Moist soil protects against crusting, something that happens when the soil dries out and becomes hard and thick at the surface.

Pest Control

Prevent a problem with spring pests by using row cover as an insect barrier. Keep sides and ends closed and weigh down the cover all around to block the insects from crawling under. Look for pests that have emerged from the soil underneath the cover so you don’t trap in what you’ve worked to keep out. If you find pests you can pull back the barrier, remove the pests, apply the appropriate insecticide, and replace the barrier. Be sure to check again the next day and continue to check while the row cover is being used.

Summer Use

I use floating row cover to control cabbage worms (broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage), carrot weevils, Colorado potato beetles, cucumber beetles, flea beetles (not as much of a problem in summer as in spring), leafhoppers, leaf miners, squash vine borers, birds, rabbits, woodchucks and even an occasional goat that has escaped through the pasture fence. You need to continue to check for insects trapped under the row cover. Avoid a heavy row cover that will hold in too much heat during the summer. Stick with a light weight spun bonded polypropylene.

If you use a heavier row cover like slitted plastic you need to check the temperature under the plastic daily. Even heat-loving plants can get too hot under cover.

Shade

Shade helps protect the plants and soil from the sun. In this case, place three foot wide row covers over low tunnel ribs and secure with clips. Air flow won’t be blocked but the sun won’t be quite so harsh.

Fall Protection

When the temperature is above 60° during the day I recommend pulling the sunny side of the row cover up to allow for air circulation and avoid over heating the plants. When the temperatures rise to 80°, such as during an Indian Summer, push the row cover all the way off to one side for the hottest part of the day.

If it’s windy you should tack the cover down in a few places. A flapping cover can do a lot of damage in a short time. Replace the cover in late afternoon so that the ground stays warm. I use row covers in the fall on lettuce, peppers, bush beans, squash, pumpkins and other plants that appreciate the extra warmth. For radiant heat add large rocks between plants to absorb heat during the day.

Beware of Frost

Frost protection is very important once the night time temperatures start dropping. It won’t hurt to cover your flowers and vegetables “just in case” there might be a frost. If you don’t hear a frost warning until the 6 o’clock news don’t worry. Grab your extra sheets! They’ll fit over tomatoes in cages, patches of squash and pumpkins and just about anything else you might need to cover. Save your covers for the frost sensitive plants. You don’t need to cover broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, turnip, kale, spinach, rutabaga, carrots and other cold hardy plants. They’ll take a light frost and sometimes a heavy killing frost without being damaged.

After the frost melts and the air starts to warm you might remove the cover, but it may not be necessary. If the cover is light weight and allows sun and water through, and the temperature isn’t going to be too warm, you can leave the cover on.

Low Tunnels

Agribon, row covers

You might have heard of high tunnels being used by commercial flower, fruit and vegetable growers. Backyard gardeners often use another version called low tunnels. They’re around four feet wide and up to four feet tall.

Use slitted row cover, heavy-weight poly with pre-cut slits, in early spring and fall. Support it with No. 9 wire cut to the appropriate length to match the height and width of your tunnel. Each end of the wire is pushed into the ground to form the hoop. The slitted cover is stretched out the width of the row plus an additional three feet on each end. Weight one side to hold the plastic down. Stretch it over the hoop and cover the other side. Close in the ends. As the plastic warms and becomes flexible it will relax, opening the slots and releasing heat. If the temperature rises too much you need to open the end to increase circulation or lift one side of the poly. clip the plastic onto the wire with clothes pins.

Heat Lovers

Low tunnels are particularly helpful with heat-loving plants like tomatoes and okra. Keep in mind that slots don’t close completely. A lot of heat is lost through the top during the night. If it’s going to be too cold over night you should use a sheet on top of the tunnel. It doesn’t have to cover the entire height of the tunnel. You can cover six inches below the slots. Again, clothes pins will attach the second cover for the night.

Vine Crops

Cucumbers, melons and squash can be transplanted into the soil and covered with a low tunnel to give them an early start in the spring. These are plants that don’t like cold feet. The soil temperature needs to be warm enough to keep them happy before you transplant the seedlings. You can warm the soil by spreading strips of clear plastic over the row and anchoring it down tightly. Clear plastic allows sunlight through to warm the soil faster than black plastic. Black plastic absorbs the sun’s heat then warms the soil. When the soil has warmed you can roll your plastic up and store it for next year’s use. Make your low tunnels and transplant your seedlings at the same time you remove the plastic.

End of Season

Inspect your row covers carefully. Cuts in poly covers can be repaired with greenhouse patch tape. Make a straight cut the entire width of the cover at the edge of a rip  You’ll have a shorter piece of row cover but you’ll be able to save and reuse it next year. Store cloth covers like spun bonded polypropylene in hard plastic containers to protect it from rodent damage.

Disease

Throw away row covers if they covered diseased plants. Better safe than sorry.

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Sheet Mulching – What, How, When, Why

Sheet Mulching – What, How, When, Why

What is Sheet Mulching?

Timing is everything! I have “research sheet mulching” on my to do list. I’ve been told a couple of times in the last week that I should be doing it. Dan went into great detail and answered a lot of questions. I like the idea but I’m not sure I have the time. If you use sheet mulching how much time does it take you do an area about 10′ x 10′? Do you spend a lot of time gathering the materials? Is it worth it to you? The timing was right on – I was asked to share this graphic and I happen to think it’s pretty great.

As I mentioned earlier, I’m not going to plant a garden outside next year. I’ll be relying on the high tunnel for everything I grow and a local farmer for a few things I won’t grow. I have to get control of the weeds. It seems like sheet mulching might do a good job of this while improving the soil at the same time. I can’t possibly sheet mulch the entire garden at once but I’ll most likely give it a try in one spot.
sheet mulching