Time to Plant Garlic, Grains, and Free Fertilizer
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             Dan PikaDSC_0611 4Natasha with Pika Trit bundleJamie to 7 10 (8)
A special short newsletter on winter crops
To see this newsletter as it is intended to look, click on the small print that says "click to view this email in a browser" or something similar. It is sometimes at the top, and sometimes all the way at the bottom of the email field (outside the border of this newsletter, in your email screen).  
Timing is one of the garden skills that takes a lot of experience. Customers tell us that they like hearing when it is planting time for each gardening season.  So--we saved the tips on winter crops until now, when planting time is coming around.  Everything we mention in this newsletter can be planted from now for at least a month. In mild-winter areas, you can plant much longer. 
Some of these crops grow food for you, like garlic and wheat, others grow fertilizer for your soil, and (best of all), both kinds of winter crops help keep weeds out of your garden!  

A very easy and rewarding winter crop, garlic can be planted from now until frost.  Garlic is not planted from seed--you divide the garlic head into cloves and plant them 4 to 6 inches apart in well composted soil.  You can lightly dig over a bed  and incorporate the compost. Or, if the bed has just held a crop with lots of roots, (tomatoes, for example, ) you can just plant the garlic, knowing that as the tomato roots decay, they will open up channels for air, water, and new roots. (It is even possible to plant garlic while the old crop is still in place, since bulbs spend the first month making a good root system.)  In that case, just spread a little compost on top of the soil.

Once the garlic leaves are up, you can mulch with dead leaves, or plant a low-growing companion crops, like lettuce. This will prevent rain from compacting the soil, and earthworms will gradually drag leaves down into their tunnels, enriching and aerating the soil. (If slugs become a problem, either scatter Sluggo or pull the mulch aside and compost it). When spring comes, about the time you plant peas, harvest any remaining lettuce, (the garlic doesn't want competion at this stage) and give the garlic a boost with a nice top-dressing of compost, aged manure, earthworm castings, or other organic fertilizer. The bulbs will increase drastically in size during the last month or two before harvest, so feed them well. It's best to harvest when about half the leaves have yellowed. Usually, that is just in time for summer crops like peppers, corn or tomatoes to go into the same bed.

We are pleased to announce that, in answer to many requests, we are now carrying garlic. Click here to see amounts and varieties.

Growing Staple Grains at HomeDSC_0780

Seeing fields of grain, it's hard to think of it as a home-garden crop. Yet grains are easy to grow,high-yielding, produce lots of straw (which provides the important carbon layer for your compost pile)  and some grow over the winter when the garden would otherwise be bare.  Even with less than optimum yields, a 300-sq-ft garden bed can provide a 1-lb loaf of bread every week for a year.  That's food security! Winter grains protect the soil from washing away, take up nitrogen which would otherwise be leached out of the soil by rain, and keep down weed growth.

Plant winter grains at least a month before hard frost. Plan on harvest in early summer. Grains have huge root systems which put lots of organic matter into the soil for the next crop you will plant. (You will have growing time left to follow your grains with amaranth, bush beans, potatoes, lettuce, chard, and all the cabbages, broccolis, brussels sprouts, etc. that will make fall and winter food next year.) Or, some people use grains such as rye just for their soil-building root systems and straw, cutting the plants in early spring before planting the summer garden. 

Winter grains are:   Barley (zones 7-10),   Oats (zones 8-10),   Rye (zones 6-10), Triticale (zones  6-10) and most hardy of all,  Wheat (zones 4-10)
Grain Information Chart

To see seeds for all grain crops, click here.

To see our favorite book on growing grains, (155 pages) click here.
To see Ecology Action's booklet on growing grains (25 pages), click here.

Cover Crops and Compost Crops Made Easycompost crop mix
Cover crops don't often appear in home garden catalogs, though farmers have been using them for years. Who wouldn't want free fertilizer, fewer weeds, easier spring planting and better soil?  The stumbling block for gardeners is trying to figure out what and when to plant. We have compiled a chart to help you figure out which crop might suit your conditions. And planting time is now through first frost.

Here's one gardener's experience with winter cover crops: "I got a plot at the community garden, and hurriedly broadcast vetch in the fall, then didn't think anything more about it. The next spring, I was called away to a family emergency, and didn't get back until June. Adjoining plots at the garden were covered with huge, well-established weeds. But my plot had a nice stand of vetch in full flower [pictured at the top of this page] and nothing else. It only took a couple of minutes to pull the vetch (it has a single, weak stem for each big plant). I dug a little and set my tomato starts in place. A week later, my tomatoes were well established and the vetch was a dry hay. I used it as a mulch under my tomatoes; it held low-growing fruit off the ground and kept the soil from drying out. I've never known gardening to be so easy--and it was all because I spent 20 minutes in the fall planting that vetch."
Click here for the downloadable compost /cover crop chart.
Click here for suggestions for cover crops for each region of the country.
Click here for our compost and cover crops.

Easier yet, we have a mix that we use successfully at our research garden. It is a combination of wheat, vetch, rye and bell beans, calculated to produce a maximum of nitrogen and organic matter while holding the soil and its precious nutrients safe from winter rain, snow, wind, and compaction.  Not to mention weeds--this shades out most weeds if planted in a prepared bed.  (In other words, you can't just throw it out in a place already full of weeds, but if the bed is clear, new ones won't take over.) And you don't have to guess how much to get--each 2-pkt set covers 100 square feet. Cut and compost the plants when the vetch in the mix starts to bloom, then use a fork, spade, or tiller to prepare the ground for your next crop. Allow a week after tilling before planting seeds in the bed. It will have more organic matter and nitrogen than it did before. (Mix shown in the picture above.) 
Click here for Compost Crop Mix

Trees, Shrubs and Perennials from Seed--Now is Planting Time.
Trees, shrubs, vines, and other woody perennial plants have a very different life cycle than annual crops.  They often need a period of winter dormancy before they will sprout. The process of giving them that cold wet period is called stratification. In nature, the seeds fall from the plant to the ground and winter in the wet cold soil.  Of course, in nature, few survive.  In gardens, we try to improve the chances of survival by hawthorn 2planting in pots where we can protect the seeds from being eaten, dried out,  or disturbed.  We can mimic the seasonal dormancy by putting the pots in the refrigerator, but it is much easier to plant in fall and leave them outdoors all winter.  (After checking if your climate zone matches their cold-hardiness.) These types of plants are harder to start than garden vegetables, but can be very interesting and rewarding. If you have the time to wait, it is also a cheap way to get trees for a shelterbelt, wildlife habtat, or landscaping. (Please note:fruits are very unpredictable from seed. Seed-grown fruit will not be as large or sweet) Our tree and shrub seed comes with a sheet detailing the treatment each one needs.
Click here for tree and shrub seeds. (picture shows hawthorn)
Good King Henry is a perennial vegetable that prefers to go through the winter before sprouting.
Click here to see Good King Henry seed.

Some herbs also sprout better after the seeds have experienced cold and wet.
These herbs benefit from fall planting:
                                    Nettles                                Meadowsweet

Fighting Fall Pests and Diseases
Fall is the season of harvest and abundance--and of mildew, aphids, and slugs. We have found there are organic solutions to those problems, though.  Try these:

Sometimes the root of the problem is that the plants have run out of food and developed nutritional imbalance, weakening them and attracting pests.
A little nutritional boost can boost their resistance to disease and pests, as well as to cold.  You don't want to give them fertilizer at this point in the year--lots of quick sappy growth will make the problem worse. Usually the most helpful thing is a blend of potash,( the nutrient that helps plants resist both disease and frost) with trace minerals and natural plant growth extracts. Seaweed just naturally contains all of these things, and is the perfect immune-system booster for plants. If you live near the ocean, you can mulch your plants with it. If you don't we recommend MaxiCrop seaweed extract for either foliar or soil feeding. 
Click here for MaxiCrop

Mildew usually strikes as temperatures fall and humidity rises. So it can become a big problem in the fall, particularly on squash. Actinovate is an OMRI- approved mildew-fighter for organic gardeners. It is not a chemical, but a type of bacteria, (much like those that make yogurt) that inhibits the growth of mildew fungus.
Click here for Actinovate

Slugs and snails (and earwigs and pillbugs) love those long fall nights. By morning, they can reduce a plant to tatters. We were thrilled to find that Sluggo Plus is a snail and slug poison that is approved for use on organic farms and gardens. It is primarily mineral iron (slugs have copper-based blood and iron is poison to them) along with spinosad, a bacterial agent. A sprinkle amoung your fall lettuces, flowers, seedlings, and other crops can make a big difference.
Click here for Sluggo Plus

Aphids aren't usually a problem until either spring or fall. Then they can suddenly become a big problem on greens. We do not recommend using insecticides, even organic ones, on aphids, because they usually kill more of the predators that eat the aphids than they do the aphids themselves, leaving you worse off than ever. The first thing to try is a thorough blast with the hose. Sometimes a few days of that will allow the insect predators to catch up and bring things back into balance. However, if you have a bad outbreak, it can be helpful to wash the aphids off of the plants with Safer's Insecticidal Soap. You should just target the clusters of aphids, not the whole plant. Water the plant well first, and don't spray when the sun is hot. Once the soap has knocked the population back, you should be able to keep them under control with watering.
To see Safer's Soap, click here.

Frost Protection for your Vegetables
You can often get an additional few weeks of harvest from your summer vegetables(more ripe tomatoes and peppers!) if you can cover them during the first frosts of the year. During the winter, a cover can make the difference between lots of winter salads and a few frozen muddy leaves. You can use old bedsheets at night and remove them in the morning. If you'd like something you can leave in place, try fleece.  Also called "floating row cover", fleece is a lightweight, spun-polyester fabric that can be draped over beds pots or plantings to give them several degrees of frost protection.  It is light enough that it does not require a framework like plastic row covers--it can sit directly on the plants. Eliot Coleman explains in his book, The Four-Season Harvest, how he uses fleece inside his poly tunnels and cold frames to give extra protection during the Maine  winter. (He produces year-round salad greens, without a heated greenhouse, in Maine). The type we carry is lightweight to let in lots of light. It can be doubled for maximum frost protection.
Click here for Harvest-Guard fleece.

News.....News......News.......News.......corn girl
If you live in Northern California, come see us at the National Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa. We will have a booth, and be available for garden questions. We will be selling seeds to plant now for fall, as well as books tools and supplies. Ecology Action will have an adjoining booth, and interns from many countries will be on hand to give demos, talk about their home countries, and answer questions about internships at Ecology Action's research garden.  Our director John Jeavons, will be giving a talk at this national event.

The next workshop on our GROW BIOINTENSIVE method of gardening will be November 4th and 5th here in Willits. For more:


Our first group of 2-month interns have just finished their time at Ecology Action. The six-month interns and three-year apprentices are seeing the abundant fruits of their labors and harvesting their crops (as well as having fun together). Rachel from Golden Rule Garden is pictured above enjoying her corn harvest. These two blogs document the interns' adventures:
for more on internship opportunies, and on our work here and abroad:

We are on facebook and are glad to have more friends:

Happy gardening and enjoy your winter season!