Monday, 8 March 2010

Planting calendars at ALM Farm

On Saturday I went to a workshop at ALM Farm (also the home of Full Circle Seeds) to learn about planting calendars, and much more besides, from farmer and resident salad genius Marika Nagasaka.

Here in Zone 7, we have good year-round gardening options, which makes succession planting an enticing if complex planning option, as you need to acquaint yourself with the growing qualities, nutrient needs and planting windows of what you want to grow.

Marika recommended a few texts as we seek to plan our gardens and warned that each must be adapted to one's locale, as climate and growing conditions can vary surprisingly much even within neighbourhoods. One free and useful resource is the planting chart in the West Coast Seeds catalogue (available online). Linda Gilkeson's Year-Around Harvest: Winter Gardening on the Coast is a bible to many in these parts; as she is from Salt Spring Island, her advice is close to what we'll be needing in the many microclimates of this region. Eliot Coleman's Winter Harvest Handbook is technical but a boon to those who want inspiration and advice about meeting the challenges of winter growing. His climate is colder than ours in Victoria, but also drier, so like everything, adaptations will need to be made. Last year I had also attended a workshop at the Compost Centre, where I got a copy of The Maritime Northwest Garden Guide: Planning Calendar for Year-Round Organic Gardening.

Afterwards we had a highly informative tour of the greenhouses. In the first,

we saw some beautiful young seedlings (ALM is famous for its excellent salad greens)

and heard about bottom-watering, which can be helpful to keep young plants evenly moist

but in some (for example beet seedlings) you risk dampening off - and losing whole patches of young plants.

You can buy heating mats to start your seedlings (warm soil helps them get going) or in a larger setup you can make heating benches with covered wire (and thermostats if you want to get fancy)

You can also use Remay (aka floating row cover) to cover tender plants to protect them under varying conditions and seasons from cold, wind, sun and insects (many growers use it to protect carrots from rust flies). The fabric allows moisture through but in some weather conditions can trap moisture when you don't want it. You can drape it over hoops, or just lay it over the plants, secured with stones (but be careful not to put physical pressure on the plants and possibly stunt their growth. It's reusable but varies in quality, so give your supplier feedback if it falls apart in the first season.

Marika uses the instincts of the plant volunteers to guide her own planting. Here, a volunteer red orach suggests it's time to seed

Miners lettuce has spring fever in the big greenhouse.

Kale flowerheads (or those of any of the brassicas) make excellent eating - add to salads or stir-fries for fresh, broccoli-like flavour.

We got some pointers on picking salad greens, as there are different approaches to this: cut & come again, or Marika's preferred method. As there will always be insects interested in your greens, leave them the outer leaves and pick the next inner row, leaving the centre to go on generating more greens.

We had talked about overwintering vegetables and Marika observed that the white-stemmed chard had outlasted the rainbow varieties in the greenhouse.