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Your experiences with annuals in zone 3?  RSS feed

 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Location: Oakland, CA
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I think there's an opportunity for me to develop an urban zone 3. I'd like to hear your experiences, to help me make an informed decision on how much I should put into pursuing this opportunity.

First, some downsides: the land has been treated with herbicides recently, I'm not sure what kind, and might have heavy metal contamination. My tenure there would be contingent on a lack of trees and the appearance of good maintenance. Perhaps most importantly, I only have about a year's worth of gardening experience, and might not be able to commit much time.

Lots of good news, though: a mild climate, clean organic matter can be had for free in reasonable quantity, close to markets, and I think minimal yield would be OK for at least a year or two.

So: how much work does it take to keep a given area of zone 3 annuals looking reasonably tidy? Any other thoughts, or experiences you'd like to share?
 
Leila Rich
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Before you spend any more time, energy and money on this idea, I'd get a good soil test done. I wanted to grow food out in front of my house, but suspected because it's over 100 years old, there was a high likelyhood of lead contamination from old paint. The tests came back at several times the safe level for edible plants.
Not what I had in mind, but at least I know. The plants don't care, so it's ornamentals all the way.
 
Brenda Groth
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i agree about the soil tests..but if it tests clean you can grow a lot of annual vegetables in zone 3..and you can extend your season really really a lot on both ends if you protect from frosts..so watch your temps..

i'm zone 4/5 so i'm a little warmer and we have had a very long growing season this year..and last year..so it depends on the year and the weather..we have only dropped into the 40's so far..and probably won't freeze for a few more weeks..and having blankets ready for those frosty nights

my fall garden is planted in a small greenhouse over buried pexline from my wood furnace
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Location: Oakland, CA
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Thanks for your responses so far!

Frost is rare here. Deep frost, especially so. No month sees an average low temperature below 45 F, and record lows are barely below freezing; with a few small tricks, chile peppers are perennial. On the flip side, high heat is also scarce: this past week was the first time my tomatoes got warm enough to ripen significantly, and I doubt most breeds of sorghum could ever thrive here.

It would be a fair amount of work to get to the point where I could test the soil, unfortunately. If it works out, it won't be much money, but a significant time commitment.

I've read the primary danger from lead-contaminated soil is due to inhalation, but I hope to till minimally, hopefully not at all, even if the soil is clean.

I'm not necessarily looking to feed myself directly, at first. If the test points to toxicity, I suppose I'd grow mustard along with some sort of green manure in the winter, and use the summer to grow soy, sunflower, and gourds, to sell as diesel fuel and dishrags, until the minerals drawn out by the mustard and sunflower and the added humus brought bioavailable heavy metals into the safe range. I've also read that lemon-scented geranium is good for phytoremediation, though I'm not certain I want to get into the business of distilling essential oils.

I'm open to more comments, by all means. For instance, have any of you developed tricks for satisfying a non-permie aesthetic, without doing tons of extra work?
 
tel jetson
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lead:
my understanding of lead is that it doesn't move very far in most plants.  so root crops would be the worst, stem crops would be a little bit better, leaves better, and seeds/fruit probably the best.  acidic conditions make the lead more mobile in the soil, which could mean easier to leach if there's enough water moving through the soil (doubtful in your case), but also easier for your phytoremediators (and crops, unfortunately) to take up.  so you're in a funny position: maintain acidic conditions to help clean the lead out, or alkalize and/or buffer with good soil building techniques to bind up and immobilize the lead where it is.

sorghum:
Sudan grass (Sorghum bicolor subsp. drummondii) matures seed easily in western Washington State, so I would bet it could grow where you're at.  not sure where your thoughts concerning sorghum were headed, but I don't think you need to rule it out.

tricks:
borders are important.  I don't know the particulars of your site, but keeping the most visible parts looking orderly should help a lot.  a screen grown out of something like large sunflowers is hard to object to and could effectively hide some more disorderly and productive ground.  the entrance, if there will be one, is probably the most important to keep looking acceptable.  wood chip mulch conforms to most folks' expectations for gardens.

how much work?:
your relatively low average rainfall is going to be an asset for you since you're trying to keep things tidy.  rain makes weeds, and weeds - despite all the assets they provide - do not look tidy.  the actual amount of work is going to depend on how you want to distribute it.  if you can organize some work parties at the outset or put in some long hours initially, your work load to maintain it in the long run will be less.  less work up front will mean more work later, but not necessarily an unreasonable amount.  my usual estimation is that two acres managed to maximize production of annual food crops using hand tools can keep a relatively experienced gardener busy full time.  it's pretty variable, though.  you can design your garden to keep you busy all the time, or you can design it to be relatively maintenance free.

I'm curious to hear more details: what size?  I'm assuming it's in Oakland.  is it a vacant urban lot?  you said no trees, but what about fruiting shrubs?  how long could you expect your tenure there to last?  how about minor earthworks (wear a respirator)?  structures?
 
Brenda Groth
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well in my area where it freezes i prefer to NOT use annuals any more than i have to, a lot of the food crops are obviously annuals so if i want to eat them i have to choose annuals if there isn't a perennial equivilant (like tomatoes here)..but a lot of those plants are perennial in your area.

i prefer as I said to use perennials or biennials as it requires much less planting and things do tend to look nicer year around..although all plants will produce seed if not cut down and will look a bit untidy.

i guess i don't worry so much about what people think, my gardens are beautiful during their non go to seed seasons..so they can put up with a little untidiness when i'm allowing seeds to ripen..or i'll cut the seedheads back if i feel the need (overabundance of some seeds will cause that)..

we have such differences in climates though i really can't give much  advice
 
                                
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One way to get a cheap yet comprehensive soil test is to send samples to Umass Amherst. Despite the carbon footprint of sending a little bit of soil 3000 miles across the country, i believe it only costs about 12 dollars per sample and they will test the soil for everything in a lab.

Joe,
I feel you on this "summer that never was" here in the east bay. I live in the north berkeley hills, just below tilden park, right in the fog belt. One upside to living in the fog belt is that chard and some brassicas will perennialize. you can always sow and grow annual leafy greens year round! In a zone three garden you could find a spot with midday shade to plant bolt resistant greens. or better yet, get a diverse mixture of herbs and veggies and scatter seedballs to allow a more passive selection of what goes where--Less maintenance, but you wont get that "tidy" look.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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UMass Amherst sounds like a great resource! I'll look into it.

Oaktree, perhaps we should hang out once I finish my dissertation. The perennialized salad greens are completely perfect. The self-seeding guild also makes sense, especially coupled with Tel's excellent suggestion of a row of tall, attractive plants screening something less well-controlled.

Tel:

I'm thinking minor earthworks will be OK. A trellis with a gateway to it would almost certainly be OK, the main thing is that I could remove everything on short notice if there is a sudden recovery of the commercial real estate market, and not make extra work for the crew that preps for (now highly speculative) construction.

Sorghum is on my mind because it produces a lot of biomass without much water, and AFAIK mulch grown on-site will be the easiest way to suppress weeds and extend production after precipitation stops. Sudan grass would theoretically be an excellent summer cover crop, except I've read it can't survive temperatures below 57 F and needs to reach 89 F before photosynthesis really kicks in. The two hottest months of the year here (Aug. & Sept.) have average highs of 78 F and lows of 58F, with record cold monthly averages as low as 48 F. Based on all that, I expect few years will give sorghum long enough to develop, but hearing about Washington encourages me to try.
 
Brenda Groth
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i agree with perennializing your greens and salad crops..i've been trying to do that here in a few of our garden areas..esp the new food forest garden area i have south of our woods.

i have allowed a lot of plants to go to seed this year on purpose to see what comes up next year..

i also left some stumps of plants in the ground in the fall of 2009 and they grew new crops this spring and i still have some of them producing..

the best ones were cabbages (the savoy ones worked best) and swiss chard..and a lot of herbs that were supposed to be annual came back again and grew.

the cabbages were a real treat..as they grew new full size heads..and i even moved them to a new spot in the spring..

the swiss chard grew well most of the summer but i allowed a few plants to go to seed to see what i'll get from them next year..

 
tel jetson
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Joel Hollingsworth wrote:
Sorghum is on my mind because it produces a lot of biomass without much water, and AFAIK mulch grown on-site will be the easiest way to suppress weeds and extend production after precipitation stops. Sudan grass would theoretically be an excellent summer cover crop, except I've read it can't survive temperatures below 57 F and needs to reach 89 F before photosynthesis really kicks in. The two hottest months of the year here (Aug. & Sept.) have average highs of 78 F and lows of 58F, with record cold monthly averages as low as 48 F. Based on all that, I expect few years will give sorghum long enough to develop, but hearing about Washington encourages me to try.


I really haven't read much about Sudan grass, but I've used it as a cover crop a few times.  pretty fun stuff, as it grows to seven feet tall fairly quickly.  it would definitely provide effective weed control and plenty of biomass.

as far as climate tolerances, I think you're in the clear.  I didn't actually buy the seed, so it may have been a cool climate adapted variety, but a quick search didn't turn anything like that up.  we did get temperatures above 90 F occasionally, but summer average highs are in the 70s at the site in question and lows are in the low 50s.  if that conflicts with published tolerances for Sudan grass, I just don't know what to say.  the only problem we had with it was lodging when we waited too long to chop it and the wind picked up.  and that wasn't so bad: it looked like crop circles and provided me a great place for an evening picnic with a nice gal I was sweet on.  it's been at least five years, now, but I don't believe that was a particularly hot year around here.

apart from biomass, Sudan grass could provide an awful lot of fodder for critters.  there are prussic acid issues to be aware of, but it's fairly simple to avoid them.  intensive urban grazing?  maybe not practical, but maybe...

Joel Hollingsworth wrote:
I'm thinking minor earthworks will be OK. A trellis with a gateway to it would almost certainly be OK, the main thing is that I could remove everything on short notice if there is a sudden recovery of the commercial real estate market, and not make extra work for the crew that preps for (now highly speculative) construction.


doesn't sound like small swales, et cetera, would be out of the question if they would be appropriate for the site.  could be a bit labor intensive for this particular project, but maybe you'll find yourself with an abundance of labor at some point.
 
                                    
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Brenda Groth wrote:
i agree with perennializing your greens and salad crops..i've been trying to do that here in a few of our garden areas..esp the new food forest garden area i have south of our woods.

i have allowed a lot of plants to go to seed this year on purpose to see what comes up next year..

i also left some stumps of plants in the ground in the fall of 2009 and they grew new crops this spring and i still have some of them producing..

the best ones were cabbages (the savoy ones worked best) and swiss chard..and a lot of herbs that were supposed to be annual came back again and grew.

the cabbages were a real treat..as they grew new full size heads..and i even moved them to a new spot in the spring..

the swiss chard grew well most of the summer but i allowed a few plants to go to seed to see what i'll get from them next year..



I did the same with salad greens, spinach and radish this year lol you must have been sending me a telepathic message or something. Thanks for the cabbage info. I have them planted now and would have removed the plants if you didn't post this. Do you think it might work with brussel sprouts?
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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tel jetson wrote:Sudan grass could provide an awful lot of fodder for critters.  there are prussic acid issues to be aware of, but it's fairly simple to avoid them.  intensive urban grazing?  maybe not practical, but maybe...


Rabbit tractors are an idea I've considered. Not sure what the legal framework would be, but there is certainly a market for the meat.

Similarly, Sudan grass grown for grain could support quite a few hens, especially if the soil is not contaminated such that oil crops can produce fodder-quality seedmeal.
 
Brenda Groth
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Sue i really don't know about the sprouts, but i figure, it will be trash anyway, why not leave it until spring and see what happens, if it grows more food, bonus, if it dies, fertilizer
 
Jennifer Smith
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I grew some romaine lettuce from the inner part from market and they went to seed and I have baby plants growing now. 

My beets also regrew full sized beets from the green tops I planted.  I will cut them up, eat the beets and replant the tops again...they also went to seed but don't see any baby's but they are not in a good place for seeds to start like the lettuce.
 
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