Greetings from Abingdon, VA. Deni here, reporting on another productive month. Hard to believe it’s already September, and while some crops are done and over, others are still producing beautifully. Harvest data is coming in from all over the region from our Grow Your Own participants; we anticipate huge harvest numbers with all the potatoes, tomatoes and winter squash our growers have grown.
It’s cover crop time… as space becomes available and time runs out for yet another succession of something, it’s time to give the garden soils a break and throw some cover crops down. Cover crops help with soil erosion from winds, rain, snow, freeze and thaw. Covers also improve soil tilth helping to break clays and enrich soil health.
This year we chose 4 varieties; Two grains: Oats & Winter Wheat and two legumes: Crimson Clover and Austrian Winter Peas. We chose oats for its quick growth and winter kill tendency, making it easier to prepare spring soils for early crops like peas and greens. Winter Wheat will establish and grow during the fall; hang around thru winter and green up and grow again in the spring. It’s great for areas that are planted later in the season, like tomatoes, beans and squash. This year, we allowed our winter wheat to form seed heads before bending over to the ground. We tried a “no till” planting method of digging holes into the bent wheat stalks and planted pumpkins. The cover did its job well; reducing weeds while pumpkins grew. We had minimal “wheat” re-sprout which was something we were fearful about since we let the seed heads almost mature before bending. It worked so well, we plan to try again.
Legumes are slower growing in the fall, so we mix them with the grains. Crimson Clover is a fantastic source of nitrogen and has beautiful spring flowers that pollinators love. Clover requires spring tillage to make it stop growing (and producing seeds, thus weeds). This requires a mow down of plant matter and a tillage of the remaining green matter. There should be so much green stuff going into the soils that a two week “wait period” is often needed before planting or you can risk “burning” tender roots if planted too soon. After the two week wait, till again and you’ll have some incredibly fertile soils. Austrian Winter Peas can withstand low temperatures over winter but can winter kill if temps get below 10 degrees. When spring returns the white and purple blossoms are fantastic pollinator nectar. Pea shoots can be eaten in salads.
In preparation of distributing 200 pounds of cover crop seed, students from Abingdon High School special education classes gave their helping hands willingly. Students with good penmanship took the lead on printing cover crop names on paper bags. Other students poured seed into bags using scales to measure, while others folded and taped bags for transport. Still others packed seed bags into storage totes and helped get them to the car. It was a fun afternoon and everyone worked together as a good team should, congratulating one another for good work and correcting each other when things didn’t go so well.
Meanwhile, we welcome two new community gardens to our family. #1 – Bristol Redevelopment Housing Authority built 10 raised beds for low income families. Bristol VA Special Education students helped fill the raised beds. One student loves to garden so much that he chose to shovel compost from the truck bed rather than go swimming at the local YMCA. Dedication! #2 – Washington-Lee elementary school will revitalize 4 raised beds that were built three years ago and plant a fall salad garden. A team of 4th and 5th graders will work together in a six session mini garden course to grow lettuce, spinach, kale, carrots and late sunflowers. They will build a worm bin and participate in 3 Farm to School taste tests, two of which will use foods grown in the garden the other will highlight fall fruits of apples and pears.
Here’s a note from our new Garden Assistant Michelle:
Since I’ve started working with Deni on the Farm to School project, I’ve met a great number of wonderful people. I have also learned how to interact with people again, free from pretenses and motives that drive so many modern social interactions. A great example of this is working with our special needs youth at Abingdon High School. This week we received our winter cover crop seeds which needed to be divided for easy distribution for Grow Your Own participants. Deni knew who to ask for help.
That project of dividing, weighing, and labeling which would have induced an eye roll with many youth was met with determination and enthusiasm by our AHS kids. They made quick and lively work of the project and greatly reduced Deni and I’s work load.
All this to say, I’ve learned that there are wonderful spirits all around us if we just take a moment to introduce ourselves.
Michelle and I wish you a wonderful September! Here’s to last of the tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, and summer squash. Welcome Autumn!