Notes from Windward: #68


Getting Ready for the Fall Season

Katie's planting ranges from radishes to mystery trees

Katie writes:

     I've been spending some time thinking about how to get some plants established for the fall. One of my construction projects in the near future is to build some cold frames for fall growing and winter harvest. In the meantime, I thought it was a good idea to get some cold weather crops growing in Propagation Greenhouse ("PropHouse" for short) so they have a good start for transplanting into the cold frame, or maybe even a covered part of the garden. However, prop house gets way too hot during the day (85-120° without the fan turned on) , so I've been letting them stay outside in a fenced in area, and only taking them in at night to protect them from the colder weather. As they get bigger, there will be less of a need to do this, since they are adapted to cold snaps, but I just wanted to make sure they were growing strong. I planted 12 seeds each of six crops from Gina's leftover seeds: beets, arugula, bok choy, radishes, and two kinds of lettuces, burnet salad, and claytonia, or miner's salad. I just planted them in the best sandy/clay soil mix I could find on the property, with some compost and peat moss, and watered them with some enriched water from vermidise.

     Each variety has its own soil requirement, but I figured that we can't necessarily rely on too many store bought amendments, and we should figure out what grows best in the medium we have readily available. So I set them out in egg crates at first, because they are recycled, they retain water, they are biodegradable and can be planted in the soil, and probably a little for aesthetic reasons too. But I felt that they weren't the best choice because it was really hard to regulate the soil moisture- the cups were shallow and seemed to dry out fast, and when I watered the seedlings, I couldn't tell if the egg crates were retaining water or just sucking it all up.

     A mulch of straw didn't really help much, and made it harder to see when the seedling were up. So a few days later I planted a second batch of seeds, this time in plastic seedling flats, with drainage holes on the bottom, and set them in a reused Styrofoam meat tray full of water. I still mulched these seeds to protect them from the sun, but found it much easier to keep them watered, and to transport them from outside to prop (the egg crates tend to fall apart when wet). Also, since the soil is absorbing the water from the bottom up, I don't have to disrupt the seeds or the top layer of soil with a stream of water.


     Sure enough, in only a few days some radish seedlings were popping up bright and green in the new containers, while in the original egg crates I only had something that's looking suspiciously like mallow. On closer inspection, I realized that there were a few sad wilted seedlings trying to fight their way through the straw, so I transplanted them to the new flats, and didn't mulch them, so they would have access to as much sunlight as possible. They are pretty weak, but I'm hoping that they will start to photosynthesize and perk up. I saved 15 from the original 72.

     As an experiment, inspired by the unseasonal heat of prop house, I planted some tomato seeds, too. I thought I planted about 4 in an 8in. pot, but I was surprised to see 12 happy seedlings pop up! They were spaced out into 7 new containers to give their roots room, and will have to be thinned out later. I will probably try to grow 3 trellised plants right in prop house. Fresh tomatoes in the winter, what a luxury!


     Also transplanted were two "mystery trees" that were growing in Vermadise. (The usually indispensable on-line dichotomous key gave me mixed results as to its species, but by looking at the leaves, my guess is a yellowwood, which unfortunately would not be food bearing.) We took them up to the hill across from the two chestnut trees planted earlier this year. We dug good wide holes, so the clay would not compress around the trees and inhibit root growth, and then filled each hole with a 55 gallon barrel of compost and saturated the roots with water. They seem to be doing well, but I will probably check later this week to see if the soil has settled and exposed the root ball, in which case I will add more composted soil.

Walt: the trees were bare-root yearlings that we were given at Portland's Earth Day Celebration. As I recall, we only brought home fruit and nut bearing trees, but its would have easy enough for something else to have gotten loaded into the car. As ever, time will tell as the tree expresses its nature in due time.

     While Sarah and Kerst were helping me plant the trees, we noticed that one of them had two little treelets growing very close to the roots on either side. They made the tree a little harder to plant, but also offered the idea that I could remove them, and try to reroot them. I carefully cut them away from the main trunk, pulling away to get the heel of old growth, and set them, with some rooting hormone, in a bucket full of very wet peat moss and perlite. I don't know how well this will work yet, but hopefully in a few weeks we will see healthy new roots, and be able to transplant two new trees into soil.

a fresh, green acorn

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 68