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First Rain- Great for Garlic, Favas and Cover Crops

First Rain- Great for Garlic, Favas and Cover Crops

Awoke to a beautiful rain this morning; I love the first rains of fall, rinsing us clean.  I often wait for the first real rain to moisten the earth thoroughly to dive into the last of the fall planting.  It is time to plant garlic, fava beans, cover crops, winter grains, wildflowers and spring bulbs.

Garlic is a great crop to grow, planted now it grows slowly all winter, and then takes off in the spring and is ready to harvest in June.  Break up heads of healthy garlic; plant the largest cloves (the larger the cloves the larger the head at the end), with the pointy side going up, you want the top at least an inch under the soil– 6 inches apart.  Garlic likes a rich, well-amended soil, with good drainage.  Keep it well weeded, as it doesn’t like competition. After it is up a few inches, I like to put straw or alfalfa mulch on the bed.  Last year I had really bad rust for the first time.  I am going to try using a kelp foliar spray through the winter to see if that helps.  Make sure you rotate the bed you plant garlic in to help with disease problems.  There are lots of varieties of garlic, some with hard necks and others with soft.  Try a few different varieties, softnecks last longer in storage and can be braided.   I also plant all the smaller cloves closer together and use them as green garlic in the spring like a green onion.

One of my favorite crops to grow is fava beans, an incredibly versatile plant that can serve many functions in the garden.  You can grow it for a cover crop that fixes nitrogen in the soil, the leaves and flowers are edible and can be put in the salad, harvest the beans green for a delectable treat or wait until they are dry and use them as a dry bean.  Look for a good eating variety if you are growing it for food.  Plant them about 6 to 8 inches apart in a prepared bed, though they don’t need as many nutrients to grow as other vegetables.  Keep the bed moist until they germinate. They will grow slowly this next month, hardly grow at all in the dead of winter and then take off in the early spring.  They also create a lot of plant mass that is great for the compost.

            Think of cover crops as plants that you grow to feed the soil.  We take a lot out of the soil when we are harvesting all the food and taking it away.  Every year try to grow something to nourish the soil and give back to it.  With our mild winters we can do that in the winter months by growing a legume  (peas and beans) mix.  You can usually find a green manure mix that is bell beans, vetch, Austrian peas and a grain.  They create a great complimentary mix that fixes nitrogen in the soil, smoothers out weeds and creates organic matter that can be mixed back into the soil or made into compost.  There is a new resource sheet on cover crops on the iGROW website worth checking out.   But just a basic thing worth knowing is that the whole pea and bean family work with bacteria in the soil so that they can take the nitrogen that is in the air and form nodules of nitrogen along the root hairs of the plant. The nodules break down to available nitrogen for the plant to take up.  Pretty fabulous little partnership for us gardeners to utilize.

            I always like to encourage people who have space to try growing some grains once and a while.  You can plant winter wheat, rye and oats in the winter with harvest in May and June depending when the rains end.  They are beautiful and you can use them as whole grains- I like to mix wheat kernels into my rice, or grind them into flour.   Try to find seed of a known variety,  plant them in a row 5-6 inches apart, you can also broadcast the seed, but rows are easier to weed. They don’t like lots of nitrogen so you can use an area that doesn’t have great soil.

I wait until the first rain to sprinkle poppy, clarkia, crimson clover and other wild flower seed along the road edges or garden edge.

Enjoy the changing of the season, and the rest that can come with rains slowing us down a bit.  Hopefully you have winter squash in storage, kale in the garden, canned tomatoes in the pantry and a freezer full of excess harvest to keep you well fed through winter.