It's hot out, which means it's time to plant the fall garden. The fall garden has always been the most challenging for us, not only because we're planting in the dog days of summer but the bugs eat up the new seedlings, the weeds compete for space and nutrients and additional watering is needed to get things started and keep plants growing.
We practice no-till gardening. Not tilling the soil maintains the soil biodiversity and top soil health. If you have the luxury of time, this Mother Earth News article is a great way to get started on no-till. In all honesty, this is the first year we're barely ahead of the game in terms of preparing the soil for our fall garden, so we're sharing with you our shortcut method.
Preparing your soil
Weed and grass competition is the first thing we focus on. 3-4 weeks before planting we lay down cardboard to help kill the weeds and grass - if you can, do this step a few months ahead of time, it'll make the rest of the steps easier.
Initially we were using small cardboard boxes, but it took forever to cut them, remove tape and lay them out. It also took a lot of work to keep them from blowing away in one of our summer storms. Then we asked the owner of a locally owned appliance store if we could take some boxes off his hands. He was more than happy to let us take them because he has to pay to dispose of them. The large fridge and freezer boxes are awesome! One box cut open will cover about 10x6ft.
Before laying out the cardboard, I mow close to the ground and if it hasn't rained much recently I give the ground a good soak. I use step-in posts to keep the cardboard in place. Step-in posts are used for portable electric fence, but they make great anchors too. You can find them at your farm supply store for about $2.
4-5 days before we're ready to plant, we pull up the cardboard and use a rake to clear off the dead grass and weeds. This can be hard work with normal rake, especially if the cardboard has only been in place for a few weeks. This year we forked out on a hand-forged seed bed rake from DeWit. Yes, it's more expensive than a big box rake, but the the longer handle makes work much easier on my back (I'm 6ft3) and it uproots and cultivates better and quicker than any rake I've used. You can find DeWit hand tools at Country Farm & Home in Pittsboro, NC, or you can order online from Earth Tools and they will ship one straight to your door.
When the seed bed has been cultivated, we add some compost, mix it in and cover it back up with the cardboard until we're ready to plant. If the soil is compacted, we usually loosen the soil with a broadfork, especially for root vegetables.
What to plant and when to plant your fall garden
What and when to plant will vary depending on your plant hardiness zone. For zone 7, we have planted a variety of vegetables. We are expanding the diversity of crops this year. We've found that we have more luck if we plant fewer of a lot of vegetables than a lot of a few vegetables.
This years fall garden will include beans, beets, carrots, swiss chard, collards, dill, kale. kohlrabi, lettuce, okra, onions, black-eyed peas, radishes and turnips. If you're looking for a great source of open pollinated and organic seed, we highly recommend Sow True Seed. If you use this link you will get a 5$ coupon from Sow True Seed and we'll get one too when you make a purchase.
We thank and honor enslaved Africans for bringing black-eyed peas (aka cow peas) and okra with them to what is now America. They braided them into their hair to bring them aboard slave ships. Hoppin’ John (black-eyed peas cooked with a smoked pigs foot) is eaten by many - including us - on New Years Day to bring good fortune to the new year. Black-eyed peas are rich in Vitamins A, C and B6, folate (very high), thiamine and riboflavin. Okra provides, vitamins B6, C, and K, folate, calcium and manganese.
For timing the planting, we follow the old-time method of planting during the most auspicious time during the lunar cycle. Without getting too technical (we recommend the book Raising With the Moon if you want to learn all the ins and outs) you basically seed above ground crops while the moon is growing and root veg and onions while the moon is shrinking. The second factor is which sign the moon is in, again too technical to get into here. Following the most auspicious lunar times, we plan on sowing above ground crops on July 27 and 28 and again on Aug 23 and 24, root veg and onions will be planted August 14-16 in 2020. You can use this as a general guide as well. We have had better and healthier crops since we started planting by the moon last year.
Giving the garden a fighting chance
In our experience, the abundance of heat, bugs and weeds this time of year make the fall garden the most challenging to grow. We have adopted a technique which we think improves our chances but I can't really recommend it yet because we haven't applied it for an entire growing season. Having said that, I will share it, but please use your best judgement for your specific circumstances and weather.
Once we have sown the seed, we will water lightly and then cover them with cardboard. The theory is that the cardboard will help retain moisture in the soil and give us a better germination rate and protect the tender shoots from hungry bugs. This has worked for our winter, spring and summer gardens, but I am a bit more wary of using this method when sowing at the height of summer. The heat retention under the cardboard may be enough to kill the seedling. This may not be as big of an issue if your garden is partially shaded, but our plot gets full sun most of the day. When trying any new technique for the first time, we have learned to always balance our approach. We will cover 1/3 of the seeds with cardboard and the other 2/3 with old window screens from the farmhouse. Although the screens may not retain as much soil moisture as the cardboard, they will protect the seedlings from bugs and I will be able to water directly through the screen to keep them hydrated which is especially important during germination. Once I remove the cardboard, I will cover the remaining seedlings with the screens as well.
I will update this post once I have witnessed how each method works. Good luck with your fall garden! Please let us know how it works out and if you adopt any of these techniques, how they worked for you by commenting on the post.
Keep Grazing Against The Machine! - Mike
Update August 8, 2020
I decided only to cover the seed bed with window screens. After thinking about it, the cardboard not only helps retain moisture, but it also helps heat the soil to encourage germination. This is of course important in the spring when soil temperatures are low, but this time of the year we have plenty of heat. So far that seems to have been the right decision. We sowed black-eyed peas, beans, okra, lettuce, dill, parsley and snow peas on July 28th and as of this morning, peas and beans have germinated well. I expect the rest will follow in the coming week.
We are also in the process of harvesting the rest of the potatoes this week. Potatoes need to cure at the ideal temperature and humidity. We don't have the right temperature or humidity in the farmhouse so we decided to leave them in the ground because it seems to have the ideal conditions. We have only been harvesting enough for 2 or 3 meals at a time. We have been trying to figure out what are the best vegetables to rotate into a potato plot and after much research we found a really valuable and easy to use crop rotation guide at the Royal Horticultural Society. Based on their advice, we are going to plant beans, onions, beets, radishes, carrots and later this fall, garlic into the potato plot.
If you're planning your fall garden, be sure to buy your seeds soon. With Covid19 there are a lot more people growing their own food and we've noticed seeds selling out earlier in the season. We primarily buy from Sow True Seed because we have get excellent germination rates and they have a wide variety of open-pollinated and organic seed. We also buy from Johnny's Selected Seed if Sow True are out of stock.
If you use this link you will get a 5$ coupon from Sow True Seed and we'll get one too when you make a purchase.
This article originally appeared in the Courier-Tribune on June 7, 2020
I have lived in big cities most of my life. The constant traffic noise and streetlights are annoying. You never get to hear crickets or see stars.
When I was in my late 30s, I moved to a semi-rural community in North Carolina. I say semi-rural because it was on a private road and had no streetlights, but it was only a mile and a half to the nearest mall.
When we moved there, I immediately realized how little I missed big city noise. When I sat outside at night, the sounds of crickets, tree frogs and wind through the pines were so comforting. But the lack of streetlights was terrifying. I was sure that I heard Jason from Friday the 13th creeping around in the woods carrying 2 large axes and a machete.
As soon as my imagination kicked in, I couldn’t hear frogs or crickets or anything else over the commotion made by all of the hairs standing up on the back of my neck, arms and legs. I told my wife that I was going to leave the outside lights on because of monsters. She grew up on a farm and loved the fact that we didn’t have streetlights, but she humored me. After a few months, I was finally able to sleep with the lights off.
Country living is filled with critters, indoors and out. My first introduction to critters indoors that belong outdoors were two huge snakes that had coiled themselves around each other, they were mating. While I spent 5 minutes on hold with animal control, my wife Sue, amid loud screaming, managed to wrangle them outside. She knew they were black snakes and not poisonous. All I knew was that they were enormous snakes that could possibly kill my family. She laughed at me for calling animal control while wiping the sweat off her brow from having to do all the heavy lifting.
The second time a critter got in the house it was a bit harder to find. Somehow, a possum got into the space between the bathtub and the tub enclosure and made a home there. Until it died. The smell slowly filled the house, and it took a few days until we worked out where the stink was coming from. I removed the tub, but all I found was possum poop, nothing dead. It had crawled under the floorboards and bit the dust.
The next home we moved to in North Carolina was in rural Randolph County. The house had been abandoned for more than 10 years and had its share of resident critters. Our cat Lemmy didn’t think it had enough. He brought in mice, voles, rats, bunnies, birds, lizards and snakes.
Our other cat, Bones, invited a possum in to share some of her food; it followed her in through the cat door. We’ve also had a few possums loudly rummage around the porch in the middle of the night. Something about us clearly attracts possums.
Six years later, Lemmy still brings critters into the house, and they are almost always alive. He lets them go and they scurry around the house until we catch them. He thinks we need a lot of hunting practice. That was true six years ago, but we’re expert hunters now. He should find something else to train us in, like taking a bath more often — which might help keep the possums away.
Of all the critters he has trained us to hunt, mice are the hardest to catch. They are fast and can jump surprisingly high! Rats are the easiest because they are a lot slower. One constant is that once we’ve caught and killed his prey, Lemmy eats it, or at least he eats the head.
Living on a farm, I’ve also learned a thing or two about domestic farm animals. We raise an endangered breed of cattle called Pineywoods, and we were encouraged early on by other breeders to freeze and sell our bull Rocky’s semen. My response was “there’s a market for that?!”
So, we put Rocky in the squeeze chute, and asked a technician to take a sample. Cattle can get a bit nervous while being held in a squeeze chute and I had noticed previously that most of the herd would calm down a little if I scratched between their horns. I didn’t give much thought to scratching Rocky while he gave what the technician called “a big ol’ sample.”
The following day I went out to put minerals out for the herd. Rocky took one glance at me and promptly gave another “big ol″ sample” right there in the pasture. When I told Sue, she chuckled and said, “He’s always gonna relate you scratching him to what happened. You should probably watch your ass for a while!” Four years later, I’m still watching it.
Mike Hansen lives and works at Ozark Akerz regenerative farm near Coleridge with his wife, Missouri native Sue Meyer. The Smithsonian preserve endangered farm animal germplasm in case they go extinct, half of Rocky’s “big ole’ sample” is preserved there. If you'd like to learn more about the benefits of raising endangered breeds or to purchase breeding stock or a big ole sample holler at Mike on ozarkakerz.com.
Farmer Mike wrote this article that was originally published in the Courier-Tribune newspaper. We thought you might enjoy a good laugh right now so we're sharing it on our website too.
My love of language has largely been shaped by one word: immigrant. I was 9 months old when my dad was stationed at a NATO base near Thorshavn on the Faroe Islands. The sound of my mother tongue, Danish, suddenly unfolded into Faroese. Two years later we moved to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). My dad found work as an electrician, my mom as a patternmaker at a textile mill. My folks taught English speaking daycare staff 2 Danish words: spise (eat), drikke (drink) and one Faroese word, kooka (poo) so they could communicate basic toddler with me.
Immersed in a new culture, my English flourished. I also learned Ndebele (a Zulu dialect) words like cambalala (take a nap) and xhubha (brush your teeth), pronouncing my c’s, q’s and x’s with tongue-clicks. At home, Danglish, a hybrid of Danish and English developed. Being bilingual, I spoke Danglish without being conscious about what language each word was or in which order they came out. My parents understood me, I figured all other Danes would too. I was wrong. When I was hospitalized while visiting my grandparents in Denmark, I asked the nurse, who was moving me to another ward, a simple question: when are my parents coming to pick me up? He wouldn’t answer and the elevator full of people got strangely quiet. I was really frustrated! Years later, when I learned some Danish slang, I realized why. In my attempt at communicating in Danglish, I had asked a question about sex in Danish that would make 100 sailors blush!
When I was 8, the war for Zimbabwe’s liberation intensified. The Rhodesian government enacted conscription for men, citizens and noncitizens, to fight against liberation. When my parents chose to leave, the government froze their bank account. They sold most of their belongings to pay for the train to Cape Town, South Africa and a two-week journey to Southampton, England on the RMS Pendennis Castle. Three months later we were on our way to Canada with immigrant visas.
In Canada, I used English words for the first time that were nonexistent in my African home. Words like snow, sleigh, skiing, and tuque (toboggan). By the way a toboggan in Canada is a wooden sled that is curved up at one end, not a hat that keeps your ears warm. The English I learned in Africa confused Canadians. I had to replace words like headmaster (principal), lorry (truck) and biltong (beef jerky). I taught my new, mainly immigrant friends, Ndebele, the language of an African culture I felt a close kinship with and had been torn from so suddenly. In return they taught me to cuss in Spanish, Hindi, Vietnamese and Chinese. As I got older, I learned essential Canadian words like twofour, a case of 24 beers, and Molson Muscle, what your belly grows into if you drink too many twofours.
Years later my wife and I immigrated to the UK from Denmark, revealing creative and humorous uses of English. The phrase “all talk and no trousers” means all bark and no bite. A “cheeky pint” is a beer that you probably shouldn’t drink but do anyway. I got a lot of ribbing when I told colleagues that my pants got dirty sitting on the bus on my way to work. Pants in the UK means underpants. The phrase “’Ere be dragons” essentially means stay away, danger. Look on old maps, you’ll see it used to mark places to avoid, like Wales. I would always chuckle when a friend would use it randomly - complete with pirate brogue - in response to questions like “What’s the food like at that pub?” or “How’s your wife doing?”. I had not worked in the UK long before a colleague uttered the words “Hansen, you’re mad as cheese!”, the word mad meaning crazy, not angry. A French coworker who referred to English beef as “crazy beef” during a mad cow disease outbreak would often be referred to as “mad as cheese” by this particular Englishman, to which the Frenchman would respond “everybody fug de cheese!”. Although their banter was lighthearted, they both confided in me that they disliked each other. The Frenchman added that he secretly delighted in the fact the Englishman’s name meant ‘no erection’ in French slang.
My newest home as a serial immigrant is rural Randolph County, in North Carolina. The phrase “skinny minute” was one I’d never heard before, the most poetic way to express doing something quickly! My neighbor Robbie taught me, “I’ll holler at ya’”. It took me a while to learn that it was something he did over the phone. I’ve been caught out on my pronunciation of place names in the county. A few folks have corrected my mispronunciation of the nearby township of Erect, NC (pronounced eee-wrecked). In case you’re wondering Climax, NC is 25 miles north of Erect.
Mike “Mad as Cheese” Hansen lives, works and enjoys a cheeky pint at Ozark Akerz regenerative farm near Coleridge with his wife, Missouri native Sue Meyer. Holler at him on ozarkakerz.com.