Twice a year, we find ourselves chanting these words like a mantra. Harvesting happens all season, of course, and so does preserving. But there’s something about both May and October: You’ve simply got to get the next round of plants in, and yet there’s still a bunch of the previous seasons’ produce that needs processing before that can happen. So you harvest what you can, preserve as much as possible, pile up the biomass in your compost, add finished compost to each bed, and get what you need to plant out of the greenhouse. Another circle, another cycle.
This past weekend, we cleared out watermelons, cantaloupe, cucumbers, pumpkins, and beans, before adding some compost to the beds and planting out kale, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kohlrabi, beets, romaine, and braising greens. PVC hoop houses went on, floating row cover went on. It’s starting to look like autumn for real around here.
Our front porch is covered in pumpkins and looks very festive. The bean plants are on the clothesline drying; I’ve been taking off pods as they get crispy and harvesting the dried beans for soup this winter. I think they are so pretty! The cucumbers were bitter, so the chickens got the lion’s share. And the melons mostly did not have time to ripen, so the chickens got those too.
With an eye to the final changeover next weekend, I did the last of my canning, and picked hot peppers for hanging and drying. This week, I’ll continue to pick sweet peppers for freezing, and tomatoes for chunky freezer sauce. Next weekend, those plants must come out to make room for garlic and shallots.
As for compost, I have found it’s very difficult to make any finished compost in the summer here. Without rain, the compost piles don’t stay sufficiently wet enough for decomposition, and using municipal water has its drawbacks; namely, the chloramines used to keep the water safe for drinking, do not off-gas and therefore kill soil life. (This is an issue with our drip system as well, and it’s a frustrating problem that has no cheap or easy solution.) And of course the composting process relies on plentiful microbiology, so killing it with our municipal water defeats the purpose. All this to say, in the fall I have to buy the compost I need to top off all the planting beds.
Usually I buy it from American Soil in Richmond or Sloat in Danville. But I have always had reservations about these products. First of all, I have to have them trucked in from long distances (expensive), or do it myself (borrow a truck, make several trips, etc). Secondly, the product isn’t consistent; sometimes it’s very sandy, sometimes very woody. Thirdly, I can’t obtain the provenance of the materials used to make that compost. This is also the biggest problem, as I want to know what I’m putting in my soil, and therefore my food.
Over the years, I have bought a bag or two of compost from a neighbor named Eldon. He’s a landscape maintenance guy, and he makes compost and sells it by the 2.5 cubic foot bag. (He also chops oak and sells firewood.) His compost is made mostly from oak leaves, redwood duff, and horse manure that he gets from a friend in Briones. The finished product is a gorgeous dark color that smells amazing and is full of moisture. So this year, I gave him a call and asked if he could supply me with all I needed for the garden (about 30 bags or the equivalent). And he has happily complied! He brought over half of it this past weekend and will bring half of it next. I’m so satisfied and glad about having this resource. The compost is truly local and Eldon is willing to share his ingredients and processes, so I know what I am getting. Plus, he turned out to be a kindred spirit and we shared seed and plant knowledge and talked gardening for a while, which always makes me feel like what I’m doing is worthwhile.
If you’d like Eldon’s contact info, please write to me, because I know he’d be glad to supply your garden too. That’s his gorgeous product, spread over my beds waiting for planting, in the picture above.
Before you write to me to ask if that compost isn’t too acidic to put on planting beds (there’s a lot of false information out there about the acidity of tree products), the answer is no. Or rather, yes, but it’s definitely not a problem. Compost should be and usually is slightly acidic. Slightly acidic soils harbor much more organic matter and therefore much more soil biology and LIFE. Most annual veg plants actually prefer a slightly acidic soil. Plus, our native soil here in Northern CA is naturally higher on the pH scale, so adding something with a little acid in it is good to balance that. All this to say that using wood products in your compost or planting beds is FINE.
The only exception is spinach - spinach likes a little higher pH to grow optimally. I’ll treat that bed a little differently. Usually I spread the compost on top and plant directly into it - I do not till the compost in to the soil (I do not disturb the soil at all if I don’t have to). But in the spinach bed, I will mix it in, so that I’m not seeding directly into the compost.
How’s your fall/winter garden coming? Are you chanting the same mantra we are? I’d love to know what you’re planting and how you’re prepping.