Nov 122013
 

by Avis Licht

Spring Garden Made Easy

A cover crop is an area of planting that is sown for the purpose of improving the soil and keeping the ground “covered” to prevent erosion.

The right plant can:

  • Increase the  organic matter content of the soil
  • Increase the availability of nutrients
  • Improve the soil’s tilth, which is the texture of the soil
  • Reduce weeds by choking out undesirable plants
  • Reduce soil pests
  • Enhance the soil’s biological activity.

Fava beans are one of my favorite cover crops. You can sow them late in the Fall even in cold weather.

Fava beans germinate quickly and grow even faster.  You can use the tops for compost, eat the beans, and when you’re done with the plants you can leave the roots in the ground.  Fava beans  will have put more nitrogen into the soil than it takes out.  I mean, this is a plant that keeps on giving.

It’s not a good idea to  leave any areas of your garden bare in the winter. Rain will compact the soil. The ground is subject to erosion and leaching of nutrients when nothing is growing. I sowed my Fava Beans in November and 3 weeks later they were over 8 inches tall. The moral here is better late than never.

In the Spring, when you’re ready to plant your veggies, you can cut down the fava beans even if you don’t harvest the bean for eating.  It will make an excellent addition to your compost pile and leave the soil in better condition.

Once we’ve got our garden planted, we can sit back and welcome winter back again.

And while you’re relaxing around the fire, it’s time to start perusing those beautiful seed and plant catalogs for Spring and even get a leg up on your spring garden with my ebook, The Spring Garden Made Easy.

Spring Garden Made Easy

 

 

To help you get started on your Spring Garden, there’s plenty of good advice in my ebook: The Spring Garden Made Easy. It’s only $4.99. If you’ve gotten useful information from my blog,here’s a way to keep me going. Thanks for reading. Be sure to leave a comment and let me know if you have any questions or suggestions. I love to hear from you

Bell beans grow all winter long

Bell beans grow all winter long

The summer vegetables are gone and it's ready for fava beans as a cover crop

The summer vegetables are gone and it’s ready for fava beans as a cover crop

Jan 082013
 

by Avis Licht

Every little hair has frost on it.

Strawberries with frost

In the middle of a cold and wet winter day it’s hard to think about what needs doing in the garden. But there are a few items on the to do list that will give your garden a jump on  the spring rush.

Be sure to take a walk around the garden and check for erosion from rainy day run off. We’ve had some amazingly strong downpours this year that caused some unwanted waterfalls.  Read these posts to correct drainage problems. Sometimes there’s just too much water at once and you have to clean up after the fact. Take a look at my veggie garden: (click to enlarge)

Protect tender garden plants by covering them on frosty nights. You can use row covers, sheets, blankets or plastic.Succulents, citrus, bougainvillea and fuchsias are among the frost-sensitive plants. Use stakes to keep material from touching foliage and remove the coverings when temperatures rise the next day.

Many deciduous trees, shrubs and vines can be pruned now. Do not prune spring-blooming plants until after they bloom. Consult a pruning guide that lists optimum pruning times for different species.


 

 

 

Order seeds for your spring and summer garden. Read these posts I wrote on catalog offerings and seeds choices. Be sure to order my e book : The Spring Garden Made Easy. It will help you get your garden going in Spring.  It’s only $4.99 and you can download it right now!

It’s perfect timing to plant those hardy perennials during this season of rain and plant dormancy. It’s important to get down to your local nurseries to check out their stock of bare root fruit trees, soft fruit, and more. Think asparagus, artichoke, rhubarb, blueberries, raspberries, pomegranate and all those great fruit trees. Just don’t work the soil when it is too wet.

It won't be long before the spring garden starts to grow.

It won’t be long before the spring garden starts to grow.

 

 

Dec 032012
 

by Avis Licht  

Erosion caused by overgrazing of cattle 

I’m sitting in my office, looking out the window at the pouring rain.  A huge winter storm has descended on us.  For the water we are grateful. We just need to make sure that it  doesn’t all run off  and erode our precious soil. Erosion of topsoil is one of those strangely ignored problems that can create huge problems, but can be addressed with straightforward solutions.

In their book, Topsoil and Civilization, Vernon Carter and Tom Dale, make the convincing case that our misuse of topsoil is directly related to the downfall of civilizations. It takes 500 years to form 1 inch of topsoil and with unsafe soil practices this important layer can be washed away in minutes. They write, “Civilized man was nearly always able to become master of his environment temporarily.  His chief troubles came from delusions that his temporary mastership was permanent.  He thought of himself as “master of the world” while failing to understand fully the laws of nature.”

Topsoil supports life.  Through thousands of years topsoil was formed as organic matter decayed and was deposited in layers.  For 350 million years the quality and quantity of soil and life increased. With the advent of civilized man, soil building processes was reversed in most places.

A tiny fragment of the land area on the earth represents the soil that we depend on for the world’s food supply.  This small fragment competes with all the other needs – housing, cities, schools, land fills, etc. It is up to each one of  us to take care of, protect and enhance our own topsoil.

THINGS YOU CAN DO TO PROTECT YOUR SOIL:

1. Plant to cover your soil. In vegetable gardens use cover crops in the winter where you don’t have vegetables growing.

Plants cover concrete wall

Once the plants are in you can barely see the retaining wall

2. Judicious use of wood and stone to form retaining walls can make a big difference in stopping erosion.

Stone for raised beds

Raised beds using stone for both low and tall walls

3. Create ditches and/or swales to slow and redirect water runoff.

Swale, at the top of the hill, redirects runoff, and is also covered with biodegradable fabric that has seed sown in it.

Check out these photographs of  waterfalls in my own garden after 10 inches of rain!

[portfolio_slideshow include=”2104,2109,2110″]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nov 142011
 
Vicia Faba also known as Fava Bean

Fava beans make a great winter cover crop

A cover crop is an area of planting that is sown for the purpose of improving the soil and keeping the ground “covered” to prevent erosion.

The right plant can:

  • Increase the  organic matter content of the soil
  • Increase the availability of nutrients
  • Improve the soil’s tilth, which is the texture of the soil
  • Reduce weeds by choking out undesirable plants
  • Reduce soil pests
  • Enhance the soil’s biological activity.

Fava Beans are one of my favorite cover crops. You can sow them late in the Fall even in cold weather.

Fava beans germinate quickly and grow even faster.  You can use the tops for compost, eat the beans, and when you’re done with the plants you can leave the roots in the ground.  Fava beans  will have put more nitrogen into the soil than it takes out.  I mean, this is a plant that keeps on giving.

It’s not a good idea to  leave any areas of your garden bare in the winter. Rain will compact the soil. The ground is subject to erosion and leaching of nutrients when nothing is growing. I sowed my Fava Beans in November and 3 weeks later they were over 8 inches tall. The moral here is better late than never.

In the Spring, when you’re ready to plant your veggies, you can cut down the fava beans even if you don’t harvest the bean for eating.  It will make an excellent addition to your compost pile and leave the soil in better condition.

Once we’ve got our garden planted, we can sit back and welcome winter back again.

Preparing the soil for cover crops

Fava beans will go into the prepared soil

Fast growing fava beans cover quickly
Even in the cold and the shade fava beans grow quickly
Nov 082011
 
Low retaining walls can help prevent erosion

Low stone retaining walls keep soil from falling into the driveway

Erosion of  hillsides can range from minor movement that is easy to repair, to major and dangerous situations.

Caveat! Caveat! Caveat!

If you think you have a major problem, please refer to a professional soil engineer or contractor to help you.  In this post, I am only going to address simple  erosion problems.

 

 

 

 

Building low stone retaining walls can be simple and effective for keeping  hillsides from eroding.

These walls were built without mortar in  a method called drystack.  Only soil was used to hold them in place.  Cutting back into the hillside, laying the stone, back filling with soil and then planting keeps the base of the wall stable.

Loose soil will collect in the beds at the bottom of the hill.

Vegetated swale

The swale is covered with a biodegradable erosion blanket and sowed with clover and wildflower seeds

 

When assessing your slope for erosion problems look for these signs:

  • Channels already formed in the hillside from runoff
  • Bare soil that is exposed to  rain or water runoff
  • Downspouts or other water sources

Ways to minimize water damage include:

  • Create swales that are on the contour of your slope
  • Build retaining walls that have drainage in them
  • Sow seed and plant  fast growing shrubs to cover bare soil
  • Mulch, mulch, mulch

 

Wild strawberry and Mahonia with stone wall

At the top of the stone wall you can see the wild strawberry (click to enlarge)

In the photo above I planted a native strawberry that sends out many runners and roots into the hillside.  It will cover the hill very quickly. Other California native plants that provide excellent cover are creeping Ceanothus, trailing Manzanita and  Sonoma Sage and Coastal Sage Brush.

Planting on steep hills

Creeping ceanothus, trailing manzanita and other natives were used on this steep shady slope

Small stone walls

Small walls at the base of trees keep soil and mulch in place

The most important action for you to take in your garden is OBSERVATION.  Go out in the rain and storms and watch how the water flows.  This is the best way to learn about your garden and the only way to really know what is happening.

 

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