Betty’s Garden Diary Earl Nicodemus December 28, 2015 8 Author’s Note: This is the first installment in a planned series of informational articles for Ohio Valley gardeners. We will publish one installment this month and one in January. Then the installments will be more frequent as we enter the growing season. The goal is to follow our home vegetable garden through a one year cycle. My wife, Betty and I both grew up on farms in Ohio with large vegetable gardens. In addition, I have a BS degree in agriculture, so a little soil science may slip in from time to time. She does more of the work in the garden than me. That’s why this is called “Betty’s Garden Diary!” We are not growing a show garden. We plant what we like to eat. We can show some of what we grow. We are probably not the best gardeners in this area, so you will see some weeds. However, we hope that you will find this series to be useful. Please add your comments and feedback and help and make this series a community effort! Why in the world would we start a series on vegetable gardening in December? The answer is because your vegetable garden is really a year round project. The above photo of our garden was taken December 8, 2015. In the far corner, you will see the remains of our turnip patch surrounded by an electric fence to keep out the deer. (I will publish electric fence instructions in a future installment!) The rest of our garden has been tilled. We have several trees on our lot. Along the left side of our garden is a ridge of the leaves that we collected this fall. We will compost them all summer and put them onto the garden next fall. The leaves on the garden were blown onto it after it was tilled. We don’t pick those up, but we will use a blower to remove them before we till the garden next spring because leaves need to be composted before they are added to the garden. Otherwise, they will make the soil very gummy. We tilled the garden using a small tiller that pulls behind our lawn tractor. Notice that we left the soil somewhat rough with ridges. That rough surface will help to slow down the runoff water when it rains. This garden is on the southern slope of the hill with a 6% slope, so erosion control is a concern. Our garden measures almost exactly 50 feet by 100 feet. We like to grow our own bedding plants. The photo above shows our cold frame. It is built on the southern facing outside wall of our basement. About twenty years ago, we tore down an old chimney in our house and used some of the bricks to build this cold frame. The top has been replaced several times! If you are planning to grow some bedding plants, now is a good time to build your cold frame. You don’t need to use bricks! There are lots of free cold frame plans online that use wood or even bales of straw. Did you notice the row of light bulbs down the middle of our cold frame? Those are for heat rather than light! We will set our bedding plants out into the cold frame very early in the spring. To keep them from getting too cold at night, we close the lids to the cold frame and plug in the lights. The six light strip came from the local home improvement store. The bottom of the cold frame is filled with about six inches of sand to provide drainage under the pots holding the bedding plants. When the time comes, we will make our own pots using newspaper pages. We will provide the instructions for you so that you can do so also! By the way, I am going to remove that dandelion! Build your cold frame now so that it will be ready to go when you need it in the spring! I recommend making your cold frame at least two feet deep from cover to sand in the back. Another thing that you can do now is to download the 2016 edition of the WVU Extension Service Garden Calendar. Just visit this web site: http://anr.ext.wvu.edu/garden_calendar About half way down the page, you will see a link entitled 2016 Garden Calendar Home Printing. When you click that link, the garden calendar will download for you as a PDF. If the weather cooperates, Betty and I will likely plant some of our crops before the recommended dates on the calendar, but we have the advantage of a well-drained garden with southern exposure. One advantage to growing some of your own bedding plants is that you have the choice of a lot more varieties of vegetables than you will find in the local garden centers. Now is a good time to go online and surf some of the seed catalogs because you are going to want to order some of those seeds next month. Here are the links for three of the most popular seed catalogs: Burpee’s Seeds and Plants, Gurney’s Seeds, Park Seed. We have no commercial interest in any of them, but have ordered seeds from all three of these and a couple more. Just go online and search for seed catalogs! We will be ordering seeds in January. At that time, I will tell you which varieties we are going to grow! By the way, this is a good time of year to think about taking care of your lawn and garden equipment and tools. Did you know that the ethanol in the gasoline that is in your lawnmower, rototiller, boat motor, snow blower, etc. can separate out during the long term winter storage and attack the plastic parts of the fuel system? A good plan is to drain the fuel from any lawn and garden equipment that you will not be using for the next few months. Empty the gas tank and then run the engine until it runs out of fuel. Another option is to get a good brand of fuel stabilizer and add it to the fuel. Be sure to follow the recommendations of the maker of the stabilizer and be sure to run the engine long enough to replace the old fuel in the carburetor with new fuel containing the stabilizer. If you have noticed that the gas cap on your weedeater or chainsaw has become hard to remove or install, you have seen some of the effects of the ethanol. We use a marine formula fuel stabilizer. It is more expensive, but works great! If you haven’t already done so, be sure to clean the crap off of the underside of your mower deck so that it doesn’t hold moisture there and rust the deck. Run the engine on all of your power equipment at least once per month to maintain lubrication and charge the batteries. This is also a good time to clean and sharpen your garden tools. Thanks for taking the time to read the first installment of Betty’s Garden Diary. I hope it was worth the electronic paper that it occupied. Please contribute your ideas and suggestions! Earl and Betty Nicodemus Share this:Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pocket (Opens in new window) 8 Responses Kathi January 6, 2016 Have you considered planting a cover crop to protect your soil, scavenge nutrients remaining from last year, increase that all important soil organic material, increase porosity and texture, and keep your soil microbes healthy? Log in to Reply Earl Nicodemus January 19, 2016 Hi Kathi. Thanks for the comment. We have planted and then tilled in winter rye a couple of times, but no longer do so because it takes longer for our garden to get dry enough in the spring to be able to rototill it. During the summer, we mulch everything heavily with grass clippings. In the fall, we add the leaves which we have composted since the previous fall and then we till it leaving it somewhat rough with the ridges from the tiller during the winter to reduce erosion. Since we have been doing so for quite a few years, our organic matter content is quite high. If we were going to have the garden plowed, I would plant the cover crop. The soil is so loose on about 2/3 of our garden that it does not plow very well. Your comment was great because the cover crop will do everything that you mentioned! Log in to Reply Debby Koegler December 29, 2015 Love this new series and look forward to the next installment… Log in to Reply Earl Nicodemus January 19, 2016 Debby, Thanks for the nice comment! I am hoping that folks will find this series to be worthwhile. Earl Log in to Reply Jay D. December 28, 2015 I tried a very small (approx. 12′ x 12′) in the backyard years ago. The local groundhog(s) appreciated my salad bar. I went and bought a small electric fence at Farm & Fleet to show them who was boss. The amount of birds that that fence killed was disheartening. I soon turned off the fence, opened the buffet back up for the varmints and went to Jebbia’s… which was far easier and ultimately much cheaper. Now it’s Cherry Tomatoes in pots that I move around on the patio to follow the sun. Good luck to the rest of you. Log in to Reply Ralph Dunkin December 28, 2015 Thanks for your diary. I love to garden and am already scanning the seed catalogues for ideas. I of use a cold frame in my garden and presently am growing lettuce, chard and two spinach plants. I just picked lettuce a few days ago. On Dec. 21 I planted radish seeds just to see if they might grow now. Ralph Dunkin Log in to Reply Earl Nicodemus January 19, 2016 Ralph, You grow some things that we usually do not plant, so your input is greatly appreciated! Earl Nicodemus December 28, 2015 There must have been some kind of problem with the electric fence. It should not have harmed any birds or other animals. Log in to Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.