Don't delay planting fall gardensThere's no space that's too small for gardening, says HGTV personality William Moss. And he should know. He has been gardening on a balcony for years.
By: By Geri Parlin, La Crosse Tribune, Wis., Superior Telegram
There's no space that's too small for gardening, says HGTV personality William Moss. And he should know. He has been gardening on a balcony for years.
Of course, that's not enough landscape for this avid gardener, so he also gardens in a community garden and in a backyard woodland garden. But if all you have is a balcony, you still can grow your own salad, and there's no time like the present, Moss said.
"I'm a full-fledged urban gardener, with a roof deck, balcony containers, dozens of houseplants, a local community plot and a backyard oasis at my mother-in-law's brick bungalow. In these varied spaces I grow edibles, tropicals, succulents, alpines, prairie denizens, woodlanders, woodies and water garden plants -- all within a bustling metropolis.'
Though Moss now has a passion for produce, "I started as an ornamental guy. I started as a landscape designer in Chicago, working with the Department of Environment," he said, and he never has been able to shake that influence. "My main focus in my wife's mother's backyard is neat cool things -- dwarfs, spruce trees, lilies -- and that carried over to the community garden. My grandfather would always laugh. You can't eat that lily, you can't eat that magnolia."
Slowly but surely, Moss was converted to edibles, though he never gave up on ornamentals.
"There is as much satisfaction in a great tomato as a trillium or a rare begonia."
And because Moss and his wife like to raise most of their own food, Moss has figured out the best way to extend his growing season in Chicago. Even if all you have is a little balcony and a couple of pots, Moss has some great advice for you. And that's to get planting -- right now.
The advantage to your small space garden is it won't require as much work and you won't have to do as much weeding. And if you want to cultivate your own garden salad, that's an easy starting place, especially now that the weather has cooled down. Even if you have a large yard, you can small-space garden by cultivating just a bit of it or growing in pots.
Melinda Myers also is an expert on small-space gardening, and she's another advocate of eking the last bit of goodness out of the fall garden.
"Lettuce, spinach, radishes, turnips and beets are quick to mature from seed to harvest. Plus, the cooler temperatures enhance their flavor," Myers said. "Simply count the number of frost-free days left in your growing season and compare it with the number of days from planting to harvest listed on the seed packet."
Those fancy micro-greens you can buy for $12 a pound? Forget about it, Moss said. With a 59-cent packet of lettuce seeds, you can plant your own and be snipping micro lettuce in a few weeks.
"It's so easy and cheap to grow your own," Moss said. "But you want to start now if you want to grow those microgreens. You'll be eating your produce sooner and more often. And it's fresher. There's a huge difference to going to the store and something that was shipped to you. It's as fresh as it can be, and it's loaded with as many nutrients as possible. If you want to garden, and you've got a couple of hours a week to go outside, you can grow fresh, nutritious crops. There's really nothing like it."
For fall gardening, you should be planting field greens such as mizuna, pak choy and lettuce right now.
"Field greens first because they love sunlight, they love cool weather -- lettuces and arugulas, all of those. They're easy to harvest, you can't make a mistake," Moss said. "If you plant lettuce today, in two to three weeks depending on your weather," he said, you'll be eating a salad from your own garden.
And then plant beets.
"Beets are highly underrated. Beets are loaded with all these great nutrients, they're really easy to grow, and they like cool weather. And then maybe some kale or cabbage. You don't want to postpone eating good and growing great food."
Myers recommends protecting late plantings and other vegetables from chilly fall temperatures with cloches, coldframes and floating row covers. "Many of these devices have long been used by gardeners to jump-start the season in spring and extend it much later into fall. These devices trap heat around the plants, protecting them from frosty temperatures."
And it doesn't have to cost a lot. Myers recommends converting gallon milk jugs into garden cloches for individual plants. Remove the bottom of the jug and slide it over the plant. Use the cap to capture heat or remove to ventilate your homemade cloche on sunny days.
Myers also recommends making your own coldframes. Many gardeners convert discarded windows, a bit of lumber and nails into a homemade shelter for their plants. "The window size usually determines the size of your coldframe. Just make sure you can reach all the plants inside. For best results, your frame should be higher in the back then the front so water and melting snow can drain off. And if possible, facing south for better warming."
For more detailed instructions, consult garden books or check online because there are plenty of plans available.
"I prefer the construction-free, all-purpose garden fabrics. Simply drape these floating row covers (season-extending fabrics) over your crops. Anchor the edges with rocks, boards, or wire wickets. The fabric traps heat around your plants, but allows air, light and water through so there is no need to uncover the plants during the day or for watering."
(c)2012 the La Crosse Tribune (La Crosse, Wis.)
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