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short-season garden questions  RSS feed

 
Nick Kitchener
Posts: 476
Location: Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
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Hi all,

I'm establishing a new garden on loamy / sandy, low organic content soil in a northern climate where the growing season is short (tomatoes ripen 80% of the time, peppers generally do not)

I decided to make a double keyhole shaped garden but instead of a flat bed, I piled the dug soil from the pathways into as steep of a mound as the soil would naturally hold.

I did this in an attempt to increase the amount of solar energy hitting the growing beds.

We planted seed directly into the mound and then we got a serious amount of rain. The type of rain that caused flooding in the city.

The rain caused some surface erosion but I don't think it was serious as the mounds seemed to have just sucked it up.

What I did notice after the storm had past was how quickly the beds dried out. A few days of sun and the beds were bone dry, so I quickly covered the soil with dried grass clipping mulch. This seems to have helped with retaining moisture but the wind is now blowing the mulch away.

It's now 10 days since we planted, and there is no sign of anything popping up, and I'm getting nervous.

Did the dry spell after all that rain kill my germinating seeds? (note to self - we had frosts last week so maybe the soil temp is still too low)

Any ideas for keeping that mulch in place? I didn't want to mulch too heavily as the seedlings need to grow through it.

I'm busy making compost as fast as possible, but this is not our property and we got access to it only a month ago. Time is of the essence...

What does everyone think? Sit tight? Flatten the beds and re-seed? Just re-seed? Add compost from the local landfill and re-seed?? FWIW, we put about $150 in seed into this garden already.
 
Travis Philp
gardener
Posts: 965
Location: ZONE 5a Lindsay Ontario Canada
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Ah I just saw this post now. I've not a lot of time for Permies.com these days. How did things work out?
 
Nick Kitchener
Posts: 476
Location: Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
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We had unusual spring and apparently everyone has had difficulty here.

Anyway, I watered down the dried grass and it stayed put until the next downpour really flattened it out. I also added some green clippings thinly and it remained in place and also helped with the moisture retention.

We got a lot of warm then frost cycles this spring and I think most of the seeds just didn't make it. All the peas and beans germinated and punched through the mulch. The carrots, parsnips, dill, cucumbers, zucchini, lettuce, corn, and sunflowers all germinated although somewhat late.

No sign of the tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, peppers, or any herbs and support plants like borage, safflower, comfrey, marigold, lovage etc.

I noticed lettuce growing in the pathways which indicate some of the seed was washed away in the rain.

The einkorn wheat is struggling but I think it's to do with where it is as it was the first up this spring, otherwise, the other wheat and both barley is doing fine.

It turns out that radishes love the garden. I've since inter-planted everything with them as they push through the grass mulch wonderfully and provide some shade for the other plants. If I had done this in the beginning, I think the garden would have been much better for it.

Next year, if we still have access to the garden, I think I'll start a lot of the plants indoors in paper pots and heavily mulch around them.
 
Nick Kitchener
Posts: 476
Location: Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
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Well the garden is looking like a jungle. Here are some interesting observations:

We have had no deer damage in the garden but I see their droppings and prints around the yard. I suspect the shape of the garden has acted as an effective deterrent.

I've noticed a few pest bugs in the garden but nothing serious. There are aphids on the sunflowers, and a caterpillar here and there. However, there are no aphids on the onions, nothing eating the lettuce, beans, peas, or spinach.

It's been a cold and wet summer so maybe the bugs in general are not present however I have seen aphid infestations on vetch around town.

We have an explosion of borage, which means an explosion of bees and I've seen hummingbirds in the garden too. A lot of radishes bolted and the bees seem to love the flowers so I left them in to add colour and texture.

The nights have been cold this year. It gets below 10 C most nights and this seems to have stunted most of the plants. I'm seriously wondering if the corn and sunflowers will produce at all.

As the soil lacks organic material, I've been adding compost and also dumping grass clippings onto the pathways. The clippings reduce the mud issue after rain and also hold the moisture which looks to be wicking up into the grow beds as they dry out.

When the growing season ends, I'll collect the clippings, compost them, and put it out on the grow beds.

 
Nick Kitchener
Posts: 476
Location: Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
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Here are some pictures...
Orig Garden.jpg
[Thumbnail for Orig Garden.jpg]
Garden Dug.jpg
[Thumbnail for Garden Dug.jpg]
Garden Mulched.jpg
[Thumbnail for Garden Mulched.jpg]
 
Nick Kitchener
Posts: 476
Location: Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
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Here is a photo of the current jungle:

In the foreground is sunflower, popcorn, wheat, beans, peas, borage, lettuce, sorrel, cilantro, and raddish.
In the middle is sunflower, corn, zucchini, cucumber, radish, broccoli, spinach, dill, beans, peas, lettuce, carrots, parsnips, cilantro, and onions.
In the background are sunflowers, corn, tomatoes, radish, dill, peas, beans, cucumber, broccoli, spinach, onions, carrots, parsnips, cilantro, wheat, and barley.

I actually have trouble finding things to pick amongst the biomass, and it usually takes a few passes to get it all.
Garden Jungle.jpg
[Thumbnail for Garden Jungle.jpg]
 
Nick Kitchener
Posts: 476
Location: Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
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Well the freeze came before the corn was ripe, and the sunflowers were touch and go. My 4 year old was so looking forward to popcorn too.
The brussels sprouts didn't produce before the freeze and neither did the broccoli.

Well at least I have some good cloche candidates for next spring.


Next season I'm going to try a new experiment. I found the slopes I made in the keyhole beds were too steep and the beds got too dry. The soil isn't the best...

So in the fall I flattened the lot and made double reach raised beds vanilla style. I gathered up all the biomass and composted it with chicken manure. 10 days later I took of the tarp to turn the composting pile and it had frozen solid

Meanwhile, I collected 150 garbage bags of fallen leaves and covered the beds about 2ft think with them. On top of that I spread chicken manure, and then I covered the lot with plastic before the freeze came.

It's been so cold this winter (-25 C daytime temps without wind chill for 6 weeks now) so I suspect my the soil has frozen solid regardless of my insulation efforts. I was hoping to prevent a freeze so that the soil life had 6 months to deal to the biomass. That said, the garden is under about 3 or 4 feet of permanent snow pack so you never know...

I guess I'll find out in April when the thaw comes.
 
Roberto pokachinni
pollinator
Posts: 1214
Location: Fraser Headwaters, B.C., Zone3, Latitude 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
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Well Nick, You've had another growing season there, or not? How are things going? Yeah, I would have suggested that corn might not come to fruition without it being an adapted northern/extreme climate strain. Many where I live transplant corn starts. I'm hoping to take a native corn from the Northern U.S. and slowly adapt an outdoor seed supply. Your efforts are commendable. Too bad the raised beds didn't work for you the way you wanted in some regards, but there was some really good production in the end, right?

You have made some good observations and are dealing with some fairly difficult issues, not the least of the fact that you don't know if you'll be in this spot long. Great to see the progression from your initial post.

How did the soil do after having all those leaves on it and then the snow? That must have helped. Did the leaves have much decomposition after the snow melted? I'm really curious about that, especially after your compost froze! You could cover your compost with many additional bags leaves as you did you beds.
 
Nick Kitchener
Posts: 476
Location: Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
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No I have only had one growing season on this plot. As far as the leaves went, I got it covered in a plastic tarp before the first snow. It got a few days of rain on it - enough to wet down the chicken manure and we had a warmish spell about a week later for a few days so I took the tarp off to catch more rain. I could feel some warmth coming off so I think there was decomposition happening.

Then I covered it up again and we got snow. We haven't had a thaw since (3 months so far) and it's been down into -40 to -50 territory for days on end. The soil is under a few feet of snow, plastic, and a few feet of leaves that are hopefully decomposing.

If the winter is short then we'll get the first thaw cycle in March some time. I don't think I'll be uncovering the garden though until mid April. Planting typically happens in mid to late May.
 
Roberto pokachinni
pollinator
Posts: 1214
Location: Fraser Headwaters, B.C., Zone3, Latitude 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
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My homestead site is as yet undeveloped... and so I'm really looking forward to getting deeply involved in it.

Your garden in the first few photos reminded me of a plot that I had at a rental long ago. Made me all nostalgic.

In the future, something that I'm planning to do to speed spring along is to melt the snow just a bit earlier than normal, using biochar, tossed on it. (I made my own little retort and am planning to make another bigger system) The dark char will melt the snow and then darken the soil so that it absorbs more sunlight/heat. The nutrients in it will feed the soil as it warms.

I think you have done well with the leaves and such. You will have a noticeable difference in the growing this year. One suggestion, is to remove the mulch a few days before planting to help warm the soil up. The mulch kept it warmer in the winter, but it will keep some of the winter cool in if it's on in the first part of spring. After the first seedlings come up, and the soil is warm, weed water and then re-mulch it. you really got some serious cold there! I don't envy that. Even as far north as I am, because of various factors, it seldom gets that cold at my place. This year, in B.C., it has been exceptionally mild. I will be at my place next week. Really looking forward to snowshoeing about in my woods. Good luck with your garden.
 
John Polk
steward
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Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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As far as growing corn in short season northern regions, I have heard numerous stories of people having great success with Painted Mountain Corn.

It is the results of 30+ years of growing mountain and prairie corns at altitude in Montana. The seed is readily available.
I know that Johnny's Select Seeds sells packets all the way up to 100 pound bags. However, I don't know if they ship to CA, with all of the border hassles.

If you need to find CA sources of seeds, the Canadian Seeds of Diversity page lists 9 CA seed companies that offer this variety.

 
Victor Johanson
Posts: 372
Location: Fairbanks, Alaska
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John Polk wrote:As far as growing corn in short season northern regions, I have heard numerous stories of people having great success with Painted Mountain Corn.


Yukon Chief is the earliest sweet corn around, I think. It has Gaspe flint (super early genes) in its heritage, and was bred here in Fairbanks at the University of Alaska. Some years ago I did a trial with about 10 cultivars (Orchard Baby, Glacier, Art Verrel's White, Fisher's Earliest, Simmonet, Ashworth, plus some others I can't remember) and Yukon Chief tasselled out a couple weeks ahead of anything else. A number of places online sell it. Small ears, but very tasty. I'm trying Painted Mountain this year, but dry corn's a real feat around here.
 
Cee Ray
Posts: 98
Location: BC Interior, zone 5a
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I grew yukon chief the past 2 years, was ready in early aug, 4-5" cobs, 8-12 rows..
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://stoves2.com
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