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A Warm Blankie for the Garden

As Irvin so beautifully illustrated last week, winter has arrived. I have had to break out my heavy coat and glove liners for working in the gardens.  At home, I’ve had to light the furnace and there have been “three-cat-nights.”  But if I see one more Snuggie or Dreamie commercial , I’ll scream.

Dreamie (via buydreamie.com)

Dreamie (via buydreamie.com)

Particularly as I am a traditionalist when it comes to warmth, sticking with moth-eaten wool blankets, like the all purpose flannel of one of my childhood heroes, Linus van Pelt.

Linus, by Charles M. Schulz  (via fanpop)

Linus, by Charles M. Schulz (via fanpop)

"It just needs a little love!" (via JKönig)

"It just needs a little love!" (via JKönig)

He is of course correct, our gardens just want to be shown a little loving care.

There are several versions of horticultural “blankets” in the vegetable garden of the Tanner Orchard this winter.  The one I am most pleased with is our “cover crop” or “green manure.”  In mid September, after all the squash, carrots, beets, and onions were harvested, I spaded over those areas to more deeply incorporate the horse manure and compost applied in autumn 2008.  Then spread and lightly tilled a thin layer of new compost and did a dense broadcast seeding a mix of Austrian field peas and barley (Pisum sativum and Hordeum vulgare).  The pea will add nitrogen to the soil, and both help smother fall and spring sprouting weeds. Neither plant is hardy below 20F and will die down and be easy to till under  in spring, adding organic matter.

Green manure cover crop

Green manure cover crop

The strawberries get about two inches of straw as a blanket against damage to buds and crowns by drying winds and temps below 20F.  The straw will be raked off in March, when nighttime temps are consistently out of the mid-20s.

straw image option 2

To help the asparagus and rhubarb beds get pumped up during 2010, so that they will be ready for cuttings to eat – finally – in 2011, I’m following a recommendation form the ag extension office at Texas A&M University and applying 2 inches of rotted horse manure.  Rain and snowmelt will carry nutrients into the soil, and act as an insulating mulch protecting the shallow crowns of the rhubarb.

Rotted horse manure on asparagus and rhubarb

Rotted horse manure on asparagus and rhubarb

Finally, the remainder of the beds have been deeply spaded, to bury crop and weed debris.  Then 3 to 4 inches of leaf compost are being added, too be incorporated in the spring of 2010.

aaaaaaah! mmmm! all snug and comfy.

For more on green manure, check out Johnny’s Selected Seeds. No endorsement by the IMA Environmental and Historic Preservation Dept is implied.

Filed under: Horticulture

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