Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Green Manures

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A windy day here on the mountain. The rain has finally stopped and I won't know the actual accumulation until I check the gauge at the nursery. Five gallon buckets I use to move around plants during transplanting time are filled with various amounts of water but it appears to have been quite a drop. The wind is blowing strong enough that the electric fence surrounding the bee hive is humming an odd tune I haven't heard before. Phoebes, small, brown, insect eating birds have been at the house all summer and right now they are cleaning up dead honey bees that other bees carried out of the hive since yesterday. Critter life will begin to pick up this morning now that the rain has stopped.

This time of year I clean up gardens and sometimes I make new gardens. If there is nothing to replant in an old garden, I try to use green manures to beef up the organic content of the soil. There are many green crops that gardeners use but I have always liked buckwheat over the various wheats and some of the more coarse grasses. Up top is a picture of one patch that is currently in bloom while the picture directly above here shows a seeding just 5 days out from planting.

Passersby often stop to ask about the timeline between preparing new soil and getting a new crop under way. They also ask about eliminating weeds over big areas to start vegetable gardens. This process takes time and the gardener must be vigilant to weed growth no matter what format is used.

Designating a new garden patch is the easy part but eliminating the weeds takes some work. One method is to cover the entire area with construction type poly plastic and wait for the sun and heat to kill the weeds. Clear plastic allows the sun to penetrate and burns the weeds quicker while black plastic holds the heat in more and has a better chance of killing weed seeds. Black plastic does not decompose as fast so it is a better investment if you need to reuse the plastic again.

An alternative is a spray-on herbicide that will kill all growing weeds in a couple-three weeks. One of these that works well is Green Match which is a 50% lemon grass product that is NOFA certified. It is non selective so what you spray is what will be missing in a few weeks. There is no residual impact and there are fewer application issues such as when using Round Up type chemical products which do the trick but carry widespread implications to the surroundings and possibly the applicator. There is plenty of info available on-line about safer sprays if you Google up "Green Match weed killer"

Applications of any product kill the growing weeds and do not do anything for the seeds so do not be disappointed if a really nice looking garden becomes a mass of weeds again in a couple years. Continuous weeding and cultivation is needed and you can have a quick problem again if you don't keep at the weeds. Last year's floods gave me big headaches because the gardens that I finally had under control were new homes to weeds I hadn't even seen before. Since some weed plants can produce a bazillion seeds in a year, it's important to be very observant and never let things get out of control. With larger gardens like our 5 acres where there are only two of us to maintain everything, weeds are a big issue.

As fall approaches, leaves are readily available. Avoid leaves such as oak, butternut or walnut which have high levels of tannic acid. To me, maple leaves are the best because they break down quickly and contain some important elements from deep in the soil.

Regardless of how you work the soil, think about what you add and what you subtract and do an occasional soil test to confirm how you are doing. State agriculture departments and extension services are always helpful and Master Gardeners can always help too.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where a hen turkey is passing by right now with eight kids. They look a little soggy but they are enjoying a buffet of grass seeds in the field.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
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At VFF we always help you grow your green thumb!

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