As distant as summer might seem on a day where temps are currently -25 degrees Fahrenheit, February is a great time to start northern garden planning. While I feel like I have a good handle on crop rotation and what produce sells at market, I also need to tackle issues that have plagued our gardens over the last three summers. But wait…there’s more!
The Tangled Mess…WEEDS.
While the thistle has simmered down, we have a large issue with Field Bindweed. Yes, it may look pretty given the appropriate setting but unfortunately, my garden is NOT one of those locations. It literally gets wrapped up in everything!
This Wikipedia definition relates this weed to the morning glory family, some may also know it as Creeping Jenny. Unfortunately, most definitions actually stop short of telling you how invasive this weed truly is. Because of Bindweed’s proliferation, it can climb, choke out, compete for soil nutrients in many a garden. The rhizomes (the creeping horizontal roots) can even remain viable for upwards of 30 to 50 years! More Bindweed Facts
Getting rid of this beautiful creeper is nearly impossible, but our aim this year is to control it better. As with all of our garden grown produce, we want to stay away from chemical weed control. This year, we are opting to run a trial in our main garden with black plastic mulch sheeting. By effectively blocking out the sunlight, we hope to reduce the amount of Bindweed growth and minimize the need to hand weed and dispose of the rhizomes.
Creepy, Crawly, Hopping Things
Over the years we’ve had our share of garden pests, from chipmunks to rabbits to bugs. Last year the flea beetles were so bad they decimated the test area of Kohlrabi and moved on to Broccoli and Cauliflower for dessert. If that wasn’t bad enough, a purchase of unknowingly infested pepper starts had my greenhouse crawling with aphids! By the end of the season I vowed to exterminate all who threatened my crucifers and greenhouse.
This year’s garden pest plan starts with Row Cover, Diatomaceous Earth and Neem Oil. The latter of the two have always been my go-to’s when it comes to organic control of garden pests. What is new this year is the floaty, white fabric of Row Cover. This should also work well for the Cabbage Worm Moths that tend to gravitate towards my Cabbage and Brussel Sprouts. As an additional measure, I’m going to install some yellow sticky traps to attract as many flea beetles away from my Kohlrabi as possible – we both know how delicious it is and I want to enjoy some this year!
To help combat the aphid situation in the greenhouse I plan to employ some natural enemies – Ladybugs! By hand removing many of the aphids last season I was able to keep the population under control – but far from eradicated. Sadly, when it comes to aphids one bug can turn into thousands in a blink of an eye. Diatomaceous Earth and Neem spraying also helped minimize populations but this year I’m hoping to let the Ladies do the work for me!
Plant Support, Water, Fertilizer
Time to take stock in the ease of caring for what we typically grow. In all of the years I’ve been gardening I’ve always supported my plants the same way. Tomatoes get tomato cages and everything else gets the ground. Over time, cages have warped and the ground has strangely become farther away – in other words, bending over is less fun.
This year we will be trying T-posts and Cattle Panels for our tomatoes. By tying plants up as they grow along both sides of the panel, I hope to obtain better overall support against the strong North Dakota winds. Frost cover should also be a bit more simple.
In the case of my cucumbers, I’m still toying with the idea of a raised or arched Cattle Panel “tunnel”. In theory it would help reduce the number of “Sleeper Cukes” I inevitably miss at harvest time. Each fall both the tomato and cucumber panels can be removed and stored easily – it’s worth a shot!
When it comes to watering, especially in the case of using black plastic mulch, hand watering is healthier and more efficient. My husband has already stated his case for running and installing a hose on the far side of the main garden. This will eliminate the need to drag a heavy hose from one side of the garden to the other. Additionally, I will be using a long watering wand with a convenient valve shut-off. No more “full blast” watering from a hose and no more bending!
Consistent nutrient replacement within healthy garden soil is a MUST. Here on 25 Acres we are composting year round as well as using chicken poop and fallen leaves to enrich our soil. Due to some end rot issues with our tomatoes, I know what I’m currently doing is just not enough. Soil testing kits are an easy way to determine what my garden’s needs are. I’ve also found an adapter kit that will allow me to add liquid fertilizer via the same source I’ll be using to water my garden. A bucket siphon attachment will allow me to easily spot fertilize via the watering wand.
Seeds & Miscellaneous Supplies
Per my usual routine, February is the best time to get my seeds on order. Many suppliers will ship seeds immediately and live plants according to your growing zone. While I currently have my seeds in hand, my live plants will be on-hold until May or June. This takes the logistics of ordering what I can’t find locally off of my plate.
Around this time of year I can also order the items I know I’ll need right away in the spring. For example, I have shelving ready to be installed in my greenhouse as soon as it heats up. Various additional supplies such as seed mat support trays, stakes and labels will also be at the ready.
When it comes to selling at the market, I need supplies for that too. Who will have the time to think about those things when you are already too busy planting and caring for your gardens?!?! A delivery of packaging materials for our farmers market stand will be here soon.
In the end, it’s all about planning ahead to make one’s life easier. That’s not to say that I’ve thought of everything but at least it will take a little pressure off – once the snow and ice finally do melt!