Growing plants in the off-season is easy, productive and beneficial to our native birds, bees and bugs
If you aren't planning to plant an edible garden this fall, at least plant some cover crops wherever you normally grow your summer garden – even in your raised beds. Cover crops are excellent for “fixing soil”. They not only provide needed nitrogen, they also help loosen soil, suppress weeds, and support native birds and bugs with their flowers and seeds.
Fava beans are one of my favorite cover crops, but they will grow for several months.
If you want to grow a quick cover and still have time for your cool-season garden, try buckwheat. It will germinate in about five days and be ready to turn under in about a month.
To get all the education and plants you need, don't miss the upcoming Fall Garden Market at Martial Cottle Park's Harvest Festival on October 6.
Celebrating the agricultural heritage of Santa Clara Valley and the newest park in the county, the festival will feature food, entertainment, park tours and more. Master Gardeners will host children's activities, a Green Elephant sale, and a Help Desk LIVE! where you can ask questions and bring in a plant or pest sample to have it diagnosed.
There will be educational talks all day long including “Growing Great Garlic”, “Growing Cool-Season Crops” and “Designing with Succulents”. You can also visit the Habitat, Pollinator and California Native gardens that are on-site.
If you haven't tried growing Asian greens, you are missing out. They are easy to grow, very productive and can be used in salads, stir-fries, and soups. There will Chinese broccoli, pak choi, and tatsoi at the market.
How about some Italian greens such as chicory, escarole, frisee, radicchio, and rapini? There will also be dozens of varieties of beets, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower, chard and kale. And, if salad is your thing, you will have a dozen varieties of lettuce to choose from – or like me, you can plant them all and have your own salad bar! There will also be peas, turnips, onions and even kohlrabi, collards, rutabaga, turnips, and artichokes.
Also, don't miss out on the flowering beauties: Agrostemma, Clarkia, Linaria, Snapdragons and Sweet Peas. Flowers not only add beauty, but they also bring in the bees and beneficial insects that are necessary for pollination and fending off the “bad bugs” that can damage your garden.
Growing your own food, whether with your family or just on your own, is not only enjoyable, it is truly important! You will conserve water, waste less (no one wants to throw away what they have worked hard to grow), avoid using harmful chemicals, nurture your soil and help support and feed our native birds, bees and bugs. And most importantly, you will make a huge and positive impact on your children – kids will actually eat what they grow! So, head on out to one of our upcoming Fall Markets and dig in!
Here are the details for the three upcoming Santa Clara County Master Gardeners Fall markets. The main event is the one at Martial Cottle Park on October 6. Entrance is free, but there is a $6 fee to park.
September 29, 2018, 10 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Palo Alto Demo Garden
851 Center Dr.
Palo Alto, CA
October 6, 2018, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Martial Cottle Park
5283 Snell Ave.
San Jose, CA
October 13, 2018, 10 a.m. – until sold out
1480 East Main Ave.
Morgan Hill, CA
by UC Master Gardener Rebecca Jepsen
Photo by Pam Roper
This article first appeared in the September 23, 2018 print issue of the San Jose Mercury News./h3>
You have these kitchen scraps – potato peels, lettuce leaves, coffee grounds, etc. – and you really don't want to put them in the garbage where they go to the land fill. Or put them down the garbage disposal. You think it's too much of a hassle to put them in the backyard compost pile (if you have one) with the matching of green material with brown material, and turning it once a week. What can you do with them?
You can start a worm bin and “recycle” your scraps into incredibly rich worm castings that you can use in place of expensive fertilizers on both indoor and outdoor plants. You can make your own worm bin using old recycling containers, or old fence boards, or you can purchase a commercial bin through a garden supply catalog. The County will assist you in starting a worm bin.
Contrary to popular belief, worms are really quite clean and the castings they leave – worm poop – is virtually odorless. Worms breathe through their skin, so they have a light mucus on them to keep their skin moist. This mucus is not slimy or dirty. In fact, it will kill e coli bacteria on contact.
The worms used for vermiculture – composting with worms – are NOT earthworms. They do not live in the soil. They live in decaying organic matter such as leaves. The common one used is the red wiggler or manure worm, Latin name eisenia foetada.
Worms are hermaphroditic – they have both male and female sex organs, but it still takes two worms to reproduce. They form a self-regulating population adjusted by the size of the worm bin and the amount of food provided.
So let's set up the worm bin. As a general rule, for the average household a bin with a surface area of 2 to 4 square feet is appropriate. It should sit off the ground and have are holes on all sides. It should be situated out of direct sun. Ideal temperature range for the worms is 55 degrees and 77 degrees. They can handle hotter and colder temperatures for short time periods. A garage works fine. Next you put in bedding material, about 4 inches of it. The easiest material to use in shredded newspaper. The Bay Area newspapers use recycled paper and soy-based ink for their news print. Do not use the glossy magazine inserts. The shred should be between 1/8” and 3/8” in width. If you have a super-secure shredder that turns your paper to confetti, don't use it. It will form paper mache and smother the worms.
Now the food goes in. Worms will eat most of your kitchen scraps. Exceptions are no meat or dairy, no oils, no citrus, no leaves or yard clippings, no soil, and no strong aromatics like garlic and heavy spices and peppers. Their digestive tract is like that of a chicken – a crop and a gizzard. They have no teeth. Therefore, they need coarse material in the crop and gizzard to grind up the food. Coffee grounds and ground up egg shells work just fine. Cover the food with additional shredded newspaper and moisten. This keeps out fruit flies. Feed the worms about 1 lb of food per square foot of surface area per week.
When you have built up a reasonable amount of castings (bedding and food gone, rich brown material in its place – this will take a while), it's time to harvest. Keep the castings and return the worms to the bin.
A source of red wigglers is Jerry Gach in San Jose. He can be reached at www.thewormdude.com. For more information about vermicomposting, call Santa Clara County ROTLINE: 408-918-4640, or on-line at http://cesantaclara.ucanr.edu/Home_Composting_Education/. Morgan Hill offers composting workshops in May and September where vermicomposting is covered in detail.