Seasonal Notes from a Backyard Gardener

Article and photos by Casey Cruikshank

As the weather warms, many gardeners are excitedly tending to their spring crops and preparing for the upcoming summer season. Here are some ideas and methods for a successful and sustainable summer garden.

Composting

The tumbling composter is one of two composting methods used in our garden. We use this method exclusively for household waste to speed up the composting process but most importantly, to keep the rats out.

Composting can take many forms, in our backyard it involves three different bins. We have a tumbling compost for household food waste, which plays an important role in keeping the rats out. For our garden waste we repurposed two DIY pallet garden beds into compost bins. It is important to have a two bin system because as one bin fills you can begin using the other while waiting for the first bin to finish decomposing. Keep in mind that a happy compost consists of about one-third green matter to two-thirds brown matter. 

 

Soil Health

The Chop and Drop mulch method in action to support young broccoli. In the early season, a cover crop was planted and grown to about four inches tall then it was chopped down, dropped onto the soil and covered in mulch. Our choice of mulch is organic rice straw from 3G’s Hay and Grain.

After reading Grow Your Soil by Diane Miessler, I decided to swap to a no-till method and I have been delighted by the results. My garden is more lush and exciting than ever and I’ve grown to love the meditative feeling of the “chop and drop” process that involves planting a cover crop, allowing it to grow then chopping it down and covering it with mulch to become nutrients for the soil. When your garden soil is in its natural and healthy state, not only are your plants happier but you’re participating (even if on a small scale) in the larger collective goal of carbon sequestration. This quote from Grow Your Soil explains it well: “The dark color in rich soil comes from humus, the carbon-rich end product of rotted organic matter. Tilling mixes that humus with air, taking carbon out of the soil and mixing it with oxygen to make carbon dioxide. Sheltering your soil keeps carbon in the ground where it belongs, rather than in the air warming up the planet.” 

 

Pollinator Support

Last season I planted my first eggplant and I was very excited for the upcoming harvest. My plant grew big and as it began to flower I watched excitedly every day for signs of eggplants emerging. For weeks I watched in dismay as the flowers dropped and no eggplants emerged. A few weeks later I saw my first signs of an eggplant, hooray! But I wondered what had changed. Just by happenstance, I had planted borage beside the eggplant and in a major light bulb moment I realized that the borage was attracting the bees which brought them to my eggplant and encouraged them to pollinate the flowers. Needless to say, my garden is covered in borage and other flowers this season. 

By allowing your crops to go to seed, you’re providing more diverse options for pollinators and opening the door for opportunities to save seed from your garden. Both activities are very important for the future health of our planet.

This garden lesson helped me realize that in order to have a happy and successful vegetable patch, I also need to make ample space for pollinator plants. Here are the top five flowers that I’ve planted to support and attract pollinators this season: Borage, Bee’s Friend, Milkweed, Calendula and Sunflowers.

 

Favorite Garden Resources 

While I consistently check out gardening books from the Humboldt County Library, there are three books that I’ve added to my personal collection that I am constantly referencing. 

Vegetable Gardening in the Pacific Northwest, Grow Your Soil! and the Humboldt Kitchen Gardener are fantastic garden resources.
  • Grow Your Soil! Harness the Power of the Soil Food Web to Create Your Best Garden Ever by Diane Miessler – This is a short, fast and fun read that uses drawings and humor to provide a step by step guide for maintaining soil health in your garden.
  • Vegetable Gardening in the Pacific Northwest by Lorene Edwards Forkner – This title provides you with handy monthly tips and tricks for your garden throughout the entire season as well as specific guidance on all the common crops. 
  • The Humboldt Kitchen Gardener: A Concise Guide to Raising Organic Vegetables and Fruits in the Greater Humboldt County Region by Eddie Tanner – This 60 page book is cram packed with knowledge and guidance specifically for Humboldt County and all the microclimates within. 
  • Planter App – This free application allows you to plan out your garden ahead of time. It tells you how many plants fit per square foot and which plants work well together and which don’t. I reference this every time I plant in my garden. 
  • The Modern Fronteirswoman Garden Planner – If you’re looking to take your garden planning and tracking to the next level, this pre-formulated excel spreadsheet is the way to go! With 15 tabs that help manage things like seed packet organization and planting schedules, this garden planner has been my best organizational friend this season. 

 

What to Plant in Humboldt (Zone 9b) this Month

Direct Sow: 

  • Carrots, Parsley, Parsnips, Beets, Radishes, Asian Greens, Arugula, Lettuce, Spinach, Cilantro, Dill, Peas, Dry Beans, Snap Beans, Summer Squash, Zucchini, Cucumbers, Pumpkins, Winter Squash, Green Onions, Grain Corn, Sweet Corn, Wheat, Potatoes

Transplant: 

  • Lettuce, Summer Squash, Zucchini, Cucumbers, Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Kale, Chard, Bok Choy, Leeks

 

Gardening is a constant learning process and a great space for experimentation. Referencing books, websites and other local gardeners are all great ways to expand your knowledge of your garden space. Happy Gardening!

Building a cold frame or hoop house over a raised bed not only allows you to grow hot veggies (tomatoes, melons, peppers, ect.) more successfully in the summer but it also helps you overwinter crops for a year-round garden