It's A Wrap!
This week is our last post for the growing season of 2020! We hope you have enjoyed the journey, as we have, and you have been inspired to explore some new things in the veggie plot. We will have all of this season's blog posts available on our website so at any point if you want to go back and refer to something we talked about it will be there.
In this week's post we will be getting prepared to plant garlic and shallots (but not planting yet!) and looking ahead to next year with a soil test. We'll be learning about the amazing Nanking cherry, how important leaves can be as a resource and how they support our wildlife, and the three ways you can eat nasturtiums.
Planting Garlic and Shallots
As the cool weather sets in lots of people start to think about planting their bulbs. We plant lots of garlic but have recently discovered shallots too. They are pretty easy to grow and we plant them in the fall with our garlic, making one less thing to do in the spring.
One of the most common mistakes when planting garlic or shallots is to plant it too early.
On Cape Cod, we recommend waiting until at least Halloween to plant. Our temperatures tend to stay a bit warmer in the fall than locations inland, and warm temperatures encourage top shoot growth, which we don't want until next spring. Your goal is for each clove to establish its root system, but energy put into top shoot now is just wasted, and may potentially dry out your clove and kill it when the cold, dry winter sets in.
Another common mistake is to not supply the plant with enough fertility. These alliums are heavy feeders but you should limit the nitrogen or you will get a lot of vegetative growth and less bulb.
When prepping your soil for planting garlic and shallots add these amendments:
Organic fertilizer (slow-release, full-spectrum)
Lime - if you need to adjust your pH (consult your soil test as discussed below!)
Here is the Planting Process for Garlic and Shallots
1. Gently work the amendments into the soil without upsetting the soil structure. Use a garden fork to aerate but don’t turn the soil over. Rake the top to take off debris.
2. For garlic, break up each individual clove from the bulb being careful not to damage any. If you strip the coating or gouge the clove don’t plant it as it may rot in the ground. Wait until just before you plant or within 24 hours of planting so the cloves don’t dry out.
3. Space cloves or bulbs 6-8 inches apart to minimize competition between your plants. We plant in 4-foot beds so can fit 6 -7 garlic across the bed and plant each row offset from the last row to efficiently use our space. Bring your yardstick out to the garden when you plant.
4. To plant, press each clove or bulb – pointy side up - down 3-5 inches below the surface. If your soils are tight you may want to use a dibble to make a hole first. But if there is ample organic matter and you have aerated enough you may not need this.
5. If you’re going to mulch (we highly recommend it!), place your irrigation down now. You will be all set to hook it up in the spring without disturbing anything.
6. Mulching your garlic and shallot beds right from the start is a big help. The tops will find their way up through the mulch next spring. Here are some of the benefits:
It moderates the soil temperatures so you don’t get too much top growth in the fall.
It protects the soil from a vicious freeze-thaw cycle that can push your cloves up to the surface in the winter.
It minimizes weeds all growing season
It helps retain moisture all growing season
We like to use a layer of straw at the soil surface level to keep the leaves from matting down and then add shredded leaves to make a total of a 6-inch mulch layer. We use the lawnmower to shred the leaves.
Fruition Seeds has a great downloadable about growing garlic and shallots.
A periodic soil test will let you catch if your soil has nutrient deficiencies. As you pull out your crops this Fall it's a perfect time to take some samples to plan for what you may need to add next spring. We suggest taking a soil test every three years, or if you are having big problems with some of your crops.
Understanding nutrient deficiencies, soil acidity, organic matter content, and soil texture can allow you to focus on the appropriate amendments and keep you from spending money on things you don't need!
Here is what will likely be included in the analysis:
% organic matter (4-8% is a good goal to maintain)
Total exchange capacity (how readily your soil can store and release nutrients)
pH (if your pH is not within an appropriate range, plants can't uptake nutrients in your soil)
You may notice these analyses don't include nitrogen. This is because nitrogen easily leaves the soil, as gas or is leached out, so a one-time measurement doesn't tell you much. The amount of organic matter in your soil is a better indicator of how much nitrogen will be available in the near future as the microbes in the soil break it down. Add organic matter each year to keep your nitrogen levels consistent.
It's important to use the right technique when taking your soil sample. You may want to take two separate samples for areas that have very different uses, like a lawn vs. a veggie garden, although vegetable and flower gardens can be sampled together.
Clean off any surface debris such as wood chips, compost, plant residues, or sod, and then take a slice, uniformly thick from top to bottom going down about 6 inches. You will want a representative sample, so dig in 6-8 random spots around your veggie garden and mix the soils together. Use a clean bucket to gather the samples. Mix well and spread the soil on a clean baking pan to air-dry for a day. Once it's dry, take about one cup and put it in a ziplock bag, and send it to one of the soil testing labs listed below.
The cost of the soil analysis will run you about $25 for a standard test and goes up from there if you want a more detailed analysis. Most gardeners will get all the information they need from a standard test.
Here are a few of the labs we have used in the past:
UMASS Cooperative Extension Service
email@example.com call 413-545-2311
620 N Main St,
Lakeview, OH 43331
13611 B Street, Omaha, NE
Again, our friends at Fruition Seeds have a great explanation of how to test your soil and why it's important.
Easy, Productive, Beautiful
Nanking cherries are in the same family as cherries, plums, and peaches. This shrub grows between six and ten feet tall and wide, but can be planted as close as four feet apart and trimmed into a hedge. At Resilient Roots, when we use them in our designs, we often plant them to line a fence or driveway or place them on the south side of a small fruit or nut tree. It's a nice way to fit a fruit-bearing plant in without needing the space required for a tree.
The fruit is a mix of tart and sweet and can be eaten fresh or made into jams and jellies. Those that have them say they'll give you so much fruit you won't mind sharing with wildlife! Be sure to plant more than one Nanking cherry for cross-pollination. A full sun, well-drained soil situation will make them the happiest. They are very tolerant of drought and heat.
Nanking cherries require minimal pruning, but you may want to cut back the oldest branches every few years to invigorate new growth.
Give this shrub a try for its three-season beauty, wildlife habitat enhancement and no-fuss personality.
Ben Falk of Whole Systems Designs in Vermont is a big advocate of Nanking cherries - check his video out here!