I hope you all had a fabulous Thanksgiving holiday! We enjoyed ours and know that we have much to be thankful for.
Many of you probably also ‘celebrated’ Black Friday by standing in unbelievably long lines early in the cold morning to get great deals on Christmas gifts. Although I did do some shopping online, I didn’t dare venture out into the mob of wild shoppers. Instead of heading toward the retail district, we headed the other direction into the country to take advantage of an awesome (FREE!) deal: Horse manure! That’s right – on Black Friday we went out to a local farm and picked up some ‘black gold.’
To be honest, we didn’t really get ‘black gold.’ Black Gold is a term used to describe compost because of its extreme value in creating healthy gardens. Composted (aged) manure contains lots of nutrients and is a great addition to any garden! This manure is far from composted but it will bring value to our garden by warming our hotbeds as it decomposes. And as the gardening season progresses next spring and summer, it will indeed become ‘black gold.’ Even if this hotbed experiment doesn’t work, I’m excited that in the spring I’ll have raised beds that are essentially 3 feet deep and full of very rich soil!
My original plan for winter growing was to convert six of our4’ (wide) x 12’ (long) x 1’ (deep) raised beds into hotbeds. The conversion process involves removing the 12 inches of garden soil, digging a pit in the bottom of the bed that is 1.5 to 2 feet deep, filling the pit with manure (horse and goat so far) and hay/leaves/grass clippings, adding 6 inches of soil back on top and then topping the bed with a plastic row cover on PVC hoops. Here’s a quick update on the process.
Bed #1 was converted to a hotbed a month or longer now. It has peas and lettuce (transplanted from the greenhouse last week) growing in it and they’re coming along beautifully!
Bed #2 was converted to a hotbed last week except that it still needs a plastic row cover. I’m hoping to cut plastic for this today (I have a roll of plastic in the garage… somewhere…). The bed currently has kale growing the middle; that portion of the bed has not been converted because I transferred the kale there this fall from other parts of the garden. The hotbed ends are ready for cabbage and cauliflower transplants. The cabbage and cauliflower seedlings are in the greenhouse right now and should be ready within a week to be transplanted.
Bed #3 was converted to a hotbed this past weekend. All it needs is a plastic row cover. Unfortunately I don’t think the plastic I have in the garage will be large enough for more than one cover so I need to buy more ASAP. (It currently has a “roof” of plastic sheeting that isn’t quite big enough to cover the whole thing.) The middle of the bed is occupied by carrots that I transplanted from another bed. (Yes, I transplanted carrots. I’ve done it before and they’ll be fine.) Next week the ends of the bed will be receiving leeks which are currently in the greenhouse.
Remember that these beds start with 10-12 inches of garden soil in them but I’m only returning 6 inches of soil back. That’s because I discovered last month that the manure can heat 6 inches of soil but 12 inches is too much. So where do the other six inches go? I’ve been topping off other beds in the garden that have lost soil or compacted slightly. In fact as I went to fill this bed back in, I was running low on garden soil and decided to add compost from our summer compost pile. It’s hard to believe that the rich, dark dirt I shoveled in was carrot peels, onion tops and grass clippings just a couple of months ago.
Bed #4 currently has turnips growing in one third of it (on the end). I have to say that they are holding on just fine but are showing no progress in their growth. I left them undisturbed while I dug up the remaining 2/3 of the bed. Currently there’s a 2 foot hole there waiting for manure. There wasn’t enough horse manure to fill all the beds so I’m hoping to get enough goat manure this week to fill at least this bed. I’ll also need to get plastic for a row cover. Once its complete, I’ll be transplanting lettuce and broccoli into it from the greenhouse.
Bed #5 is all tucked in for the winter. Because it was around 70% full of existing, frost-tolerant plants (chard, beets, radishes) I decided not to convert it to a hotbed. Instead I planted spinach in the remaining 30% of the bed and gave it a row cover. So far the established plants look great in there but the spinach is taking its sweet time germinating. It will be interesting to see how this bed fares during the winter compared to its hotbed counterparts.
Bed #6 had carrots still growing in it until this weekend when I transplanted them into Bed #3. Why did I transplant them? For several reasons. One is that I needed to move some plants around to stage the garden for my new crop rotation plan. (What I grow in each bed this winter will impact what I can grow there this coming spring and summer.) Also, the carrots were spread throughout the entire bed (carrots that were too small to harvest during our CSA season but have grown since then). I decided to put them all in one concentrated place to make better use of the bed. At any rate, this bed still needs a lot of work. I need to remove all of the garden soil, dig the 2 foot pit (before the ground freezes!) and then fill it up with compost. I’m starting to think I won’t have enough manure to fill both this bed and bed #4, so I’m going to experiment by using non-manure compost here. I’ll be using table scraps, lots of leaves, and if I can manage to mow the lawn one last time before sticking snow, grass clippings. Once this bed is converted, it will be home to lettuce (in the greenhouse). I was also hoping to direct seed radishes into this bed… but I thought I would be doing that several weeks ago. We’ll see if the bed gets/stays warm enough for the seeds to germinate.
Other garden areas are mostly being ‘winterized’. I’m halfway through the process of mulching the Fenceline Garden with leaves. Three of the beds in the Main Garden have received seeds that will overwinter and grow in the spring. Crops include scallions (no growth seen), parsnips (growth observed), carrots (germination observed) and asparagus (no growth seen). These beds will be mulched with shredded leaves this week. Dormant beds will be mulched with either leaves (likely un-shredded because of time constraints) or maple wood chips. And last but not least, one of the small beds at the front of the Main Garden was supposed to overwinter spinach, but the seedlings are coming along so well that I think we’ll be eating from it this winter instead of harvesting from it in the spring! That will mess up my crop rotation a little bit, but my excitement over hopefully having fresh spinach in January is overshadowing that conundrum for now.
So that’s what’s happening around here regarding winter growing. We have some exciting developments happening regarding expansion of the garden for next season, and I can’t wait to share that with you next week. Stay tuned!