Thursday, April 10, 2014

Finally - A Nice Day!! Well, sort of...


The snow has almost all melted & we finally have a nice day with temps going up to 15°C (59°F) today.  Only one problem – it also happens to be the windiest day we’ve had in a while with winds in the 40-50 km (25-31 miles) per hour range.  Not exactly the best for starting my garden cleanup, but at this stage of the game I can’t afford to be too picky.  If I was to wait for the perfect day, I would probably be sitting here till June.

Which I’m thinking is about the time I’ll be taking down my Christmas decorations this year.  Normally, I take them down during the couple of nice days that typically accompany a January thaw.  Not this year - as of yesterday, one of the garlands on our fence is still encased in ice & snow:


Christmas Decorations Held Captive
 
Yes, I know this has nothing to do with gardening – other than the wildly snowy & cold winter that is trying it’s hardest to hang on – but I thought I would share just because every time I see these decorations still out there it kinda freaks me out…

Back to gardening business.  I have 4 beds right now.  Two of them are empty, one has strawberries in it and the last one has garlic & shallots.  In the fall, I usually cover all the beds with straw since I had read that the soil should not be left exposed.  Covering it with an organic material would not only protected the soil but also incorporate a few nutrients.

I had noticed last year, that many people use grass clippings as a type of mulch in their beds.  I thought this was a fantastic idea.  The only problem with our grass is that we have issues with bindweed and it seems that this insidious weed is in flower for the better part of the spring & summer.  But by the fall, this was no longer an issue and I had a thought – what if I used a thick layer of grass clippings on my empty beds instead of the straw.  The grass would protect the soil surface and then decompose over the winter.  In the spring I would simply incorporated it into the top few inches of soil for a nice boost of nitrogen.  The strawberry & garlic beds would continue to get their covering of straw as grass clippings would likely smother these overwintering crops.

So that is what I did.  Today I went out & surveyed my beds.  The grass had not decomposed as much as I would have thought & there was actually still a lot of green in it.  But usually, once something is frozen and then thaws, it tends to decompose a lot faster so I’m not too concerned.  I simply turned the soil over so that a lot of the grass was now covered with soil & this will hopefully speed up decomposition.


Bed on the Left - Winter covering of grass
Bed on the Right - Grass turned over & partially covered with soil
 
I wasn’t able to do that great a job as only the top couple of inches of soil were defrosted – underneath it was still rock hard.  After turning over the grass, I covered these beds with black plastic to speed up the warming of the soil, something else that I have often heard about but never done.  I had some contractor grade garbage bags so I used those by cutting them open & weighing them down with some wood & logs that I had lying around.
 
Beds Covered with Black Plastic (aka ye ol' garbage bag)
 
Yeah it’s not exactly pretty & there are gaps along the edges as the bags were about 5” too short across the width.  But improvisation is usually the name of the game when I do something new like this.  I always seem to do a quick, down & dirty kind of setup to see how it works.  If I like it or it seems to have promise, then I will spend more time and/or money in putting together an easier to use/better system.

So with the empty beds finished – or as finished as they were going to get – I moved on to the strawberry & garlic beds which simply needed the straw removed.  Once again, the beds were still pretty frozen & some of the straw was frozen to the soil so I did the best I could to clean them up.  Now at least, the sun’s rays can actually reach the soil & do a better job of warming it up.


Removing the Straw from Garlic/Shallot & Strawberry Beds
 
The strawberries I planted late last summer are doing great!


Strawberries Planted Last Fall Looking Perky!
 
I had never planted an entire bed of strawberries before.  I planted a few in 2012 but almost half of those perished over the following winter.  Last year I took the few surviving plants & re-planted them together with a single Fort Laramie plant that I picked up at the garden center.  Then I spent the rest of the summer pinning down runners from all of the plants so that I ended up with an entire army of new little strawberry plants by August.  I dug these up and planted them in a dedicated strawberry bed.  I am so excited to see all the green underneath the straw especially after such a frigid winter.

Till next time..

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things” ~~ Robert Brault

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