It has been said that Autumn is an odd time of year to start a column on gardening. I guess you could say that, but a gardener’s list of fall “chores” can be pretty daunting! With the weather we’ve been having, now is the time to start on that list.
The first thing I would like to suggest is this: Start a gardening journal. It is so easy to skip this part when you are beginning, but you will be surprised at how much you can forget! You don’t want to be like a gardener I live with. When someone asks about the tree in her front yard, she has to answer, “I don’t know. I bought it from some guy at the farmer’s market. He said it was a tree indigenous to New Mexico.” Well, isn’t that helpful. Actually, NO.
Once you get the hang of using it, it becomes very helpful. It doesn’t have to be fancy. You don’t need feel like you are writing a garden memoir, destined to be read by future generations spreading the gospel of gardening for the improvement of world health. Keep it simple. What seed varieties germinated well? Did they produce the way that you needed them to? Planting dates? First and last frost dates? Did I rotate my plantings last year year? There are a hundred details that if you know them in the future, you can use them to prevent problems or improve performance. You can use it to determine which experiments were a huge success, and which you definitely do not want to repeat.
Another topic you might want to consider while in the planning phase this winter is whether you want to go completely organic. People’s opinions range from following strictly organic practices to sustainable practices to “Get the big guns out Ma!” All have their place in my view, but most gardeners these days like using the most innocuous remedy first and ramping up from there. Be willing to accept some damage. I don’t mind sharing my produce with the local fauna, but when they don’t leave any for me, it is time to do something. Many still have, way back in the darkest corner, a stash of Sevin Dust, just in case of emergency.
Trap crops are something that I am trying to utilize in my garden more often. The theory goes like this. Find something that the pest you most often have likes to eat better than it likes your veggies. Plant a thick row to act as a bit of a barrier. Plant the trap crop before the crop you are trying to protect comes up and gets going. I’ve been using a mixture of kale, lettuce and chard. They are easy to grow, germinate in cool weather, tolerate being eaten and they keep growing more food for the bugs. This method does require that you plan ahead, but I’ve had moderate success with it, especially against flea beetles.
As you garden, you will constantly be learning new lessons. This year, while investigating possible topics for the Moriarty Garden Club’s educational program, I came across an article that was about using alfalfa meal as a soil amendment. The more I read, the better it sounded. It adds structure to the soil, increases humus, helps moderate pH, adds phosphorus in a readily available form, can be used as a mulch if needed, etc. Wow! How have I not heard of this? I haven’t looked for it yet, but the article I read said that if you can’t find alfalfa meal, you can use the small alfalfa pellets from the feed store. I’m trying it!
That brings me to the last pointer for this article. Have a list of reliable resources, people you can contact when you have questions and trust that the answer they give will work in our area.
Local nurseries and growers are usually willing to share what they have learned. Facebook has a page that I have found very helpful called simply “East Mountain Gardeners.” Some of the PBS Garden shows have useful information too. “Growing a Greener World” is one of my favorites, and there is “West Texas Gardener.” They aren’t specific to New Mexico, but have useful information with their favorite hints and tips. Just keep your ears open, and you’ll find all kinds of people willing to help you.
There are so many things to do in fall and winter, you may need to make a list. Maybe in your journal? Happy plotting, oh, I mean planning, for next year!
Resources: “Using Organic Alfalfa Garden Fertilizers,” plantcaretoday.com