A look back over the season to see what I have learned that was useful and worth sharing…
Summer asparagus is a thing worth doing:
Three years ago I planted a special bed of asparagus that is meant just for late summer eating. We do not harvest this asparagus in the spring but in July cut the whole bed back to the ground and for the next few weeks eat the asparagus that comes up after the cutting. Then I feed the bed with fresh compost and compost tea and let it grow out the rest of the season. Summer asparagus! It works! What a treat…
Sharing extra plants with neighbors:
I belong to a private social networking service started in the Netherlands called Nextdoor that connects neighbors through an email list. This is pretty nice for country folks who have a hard time meeting far flung neighbors! Early last spring I put out a notice that I had lots of strawberry, raspberry and perennials flower starts. Neighbors I had never met contacted me and came with bags and boxes and we dug plants and had a lovely neighborly visit at the same time. I didn’t have to deal with potting things up and they didn’t have to deal with pots – just took things home and planted them! It was a very nice experience that I highly recommend if you are connected to Nextdoor or something similar networking list and have extra volunteer plants to share.
Pine needle mulch and veggies:
I have used pine needles as a mulch on “ornamentals” for many years. It was the only mulch available in the Florida Panhandle where I spent seven years, and was sold in bales and called “Pine Straw” there. All the commercial landscapes were mulched with this, as was my woodland garden. I noticed over the years that the very sandy soil became rich and black with the yearly addition of pine needles.
My place in southern Oregon also has many pine trees, so I have no shortage of needles to use, and I am always exploring new ways to make use of this abundant resource. I found it didn’t work well as a path cover because it tended to be “slippery” to walk on. It’s great on beds if you learn to spread it so it lays flat.
I had avoided using it on the veggie beds because I had the impression they would make the soil acidic (you will find if you do a search on this, that that is the general belief about pine needles), then I came across an article and several studies that showed that this isn’t actually true. Pine needles are acidic when they are green, but the ones that fall to the ground – that we gather and use – are brown, and the brown ones actually have a neutral pH. According to these studies they don’t make the soil more acidic.
And so I decided to try them on a big bed of kale I planted this spring. In the process of trying to spread pine needles around these tiny plants I discovered something else about using pine needles for veggies. It’s MUCH easier if you spread the needles FIRST and then make little holes through it to plant your veggie starts! Putting the needles around the little plants after they are in the ground somehow reminded me of trying to put a cat in a box…there is always something prickly sticking out blocking your progress!
The next bed I used them on I did the mulch first and it was a lovely experience. The pine straw even worked really well when the occasional chicken or raccoon or possum got in the garden. It discourages digging critters! I am so pleased with how well it did and how well the plants growing in it did that I am going to expand it into the rest of the garden this year.
Chickens and Pine Needles
The second experiment I did with them was to use them in the chicken pen and in their coop. I have to say that I don’t really care for it in those applications as well as straw. I am trying to find a more sustainable material (something natural to my land that I don’t have to buy from someone else). But I don’t think this is going to be it. I like to scoop up the piles of poop from under the roost and throw them on beds in the winter or use them in my special garden “brew” in summer – and it was harder to do that with the pine needles.
My big reason for using mulch in the chicken pen – besides keeping the mud down in winter – is that the chickens scratch it up and turn it into a thick layer of well manured compost by spring each year. I use this lovely resource on my asparagus beds. The pine needles, however, take a long time to break down – which in some situations is a great thing. In this case – it’s not so great. The chickens don’t seem to like scratching it up so there it sits – NOT making me loads of lovely compost for spring. It was a worthy experiment, though, and I’m not sorry I tried it.
Chop and drop:
I have done a great deal more of this the past year, and although it’s too soon to talk about the positive results yet, I can say that I saw no negative results. It’s certainly easier that hauling things to a bin or pile. If you don’t know what “chop and drop” means it’s simply taking prunings and cutting them up a bit (or not) and leaving them under the plant they came from. Some plants – like my big bridal wreath spireas – put on so much growth each spring that I couldn’t leave it all under the plant, but I chopped up grape vines too short to weave into wreaths and baskets, summer apple and pear prunings, and many of the perennials I grow – and left them under the plants they grew on. It might be a bother to some to stand there and cut things up into short pieces, but I found it sort of meditative. I cut things up fairly small simply for the sake of neatness, in case you are wondering. Most of the pruning I do is spaced out over the whole year, so there is never a huge amount at one time (except the spirea!), and I just know that ultimately it will be good for the soil, the microorganisms and the plants. If nature does it this way it’s probably for a good reason.
Burlap Coffee sacks
In early summer a friend brought me 24 big burlap coffee sacks which I laid on two pathways at the edge of the orchard that have been prolific weed patches the last couple years. They worked wonderfully well!
After years of putting pine needles or cardboard and wood chips on my paths I realized that all I am doing is making them rich fertile sites for the production of plants! My soil is decomposed granite which is actually sold as a path material – and has so few nutrients normally that it will not grow a decent weed! Here I am turning this prime path material into great soil and growing wonderful healthy weeds in my paths!
I have put no cover on a number of new paths around the pond and pollinator gardens and the weed problem has been minimal. Decomposed granite (DG as it’s called around here!) doesn’t get muddy when wet, so there is no reason to cover it. But now my veggie and orchard paths are fertile ground for luscious weeds! Bit by bit I will, over time scrape up that rich decomposed mulch covering my paths and put it on the surrounding beds – getting back down to that old decomposed granite base again, but for now I am dealing with plants where I don’t want them.
Enter burlap coffee sacks. We just happen to have the headquarters of Dutch Bros. Coffee just a few miles down the road and they give away hundreds of sacks each and every month as well as bags of coffee chaff (more about that later). I had tiny little green seedlings beginning to sprout in the paths from the fall rains so it seemed a great time to cover it all with burlap. Even if I decide to not leave them there next summer they will be an interesting experiment for the winter.
Another garden use of burlap sacks comes from the Interbay P-Patch community garden folks in Seattle. They developed a sheetmulch method that sounds interesting. You add all your greens and browns (old veggie plants, kitchen compost and leaves, ect – anything compostable…) on your bed in the fall and cover it all with burlap sacks. The sacks are said to speed up the composting process and you can even leave them in place in spring and poke holes through the burlap to plant your spring veggies and leave them in place. I’m going to try this on a couple beds this winter!
I have had wonderful luck just piling leaves over winter in a place I want to turn into garden beds, so I’m sure this will work well. A couple years of leaves and twigs piled on a hard-as-concrete gravel parking area made it plantable! The worms came in to eat the leaves and the moles came to eat the worms and did all the turning and digging needed!
Storing Yacon for the winter:
Last fall I harvested and stored the Yacon in a new way. I carefully dug and pulled up the roots by the big central stalk which I had cut down to about 6-8” and – leaving some dirt clinging to the roots – carefully piled them all – with stalks still attached – into a big plastic tub and covered them with their own leaves. (A layer of damp burlap would work well too, I’ll bet). Then I put the tub in our unheated laundry room for the winter. The tubers kept perfectly all the way into summer! This is the first time I have had them make it through the winter so well! If you are growing yacon I highly recommend this storage technique!
There was so much that I created a “part two” to my This and That collection. I will post it shortly!