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Organic Gardening Newsletter #12 - 4/8/2009


Organic Gardening Class Newsletter #12

Hello Organic Gardeners,

We look forward to seeing you tomorrow at 1:30 at the Chico Grange Hall for the tomato culture presentation by Nancy Heinzel and Brian Marshall of Sawmill Creek Farm.

Please CARPOOL, bike, walk, or fly if possible.  If you do drive, please park parallel just off the asphalt if you are next to an orchard.

If you have already registered and paid for the class, there will be a class card for you to pick up, so you won't have to wait in line.  If you are registering tomorrow, please write your check for $60 payable to Valley Oak Tool Company.  We will have registration forms and clipboards available.

Now is the time to start planting your warm season seeds and transplants.  Nancy and Brian will have a variety of tomato starts for sale tomorrow at the break and after class.  

The seed rack of Fedco Seeds will also be there.  We can take orders for Hortonova trellis netting and Agribon row cover, push planters, and of course wheel hoes. The experiment of having retail hours for the tool company has not worked out, and has been discontinued.  You are welcome to call or email David if you want to purchase any of the above items.

We are videotaping the presentations, and are working with Carl Rosato on a DVD of Woodleaf Farm, which should be available in a few weeks. If you miss a class and want to find out about that week's topic, we hope to be able to offer a DVD of the sessions sometime soon.

A few tips for planting summer vegetables: Pre-irrigate.  Give your ground a good soak (but not too much) so that you can most easily break open the soil.  A sprinkler is probably best for wetting the entire area. Wait a couple of days, and dig or till when the ground breaks apart easily. This may not be necessary if you have a cover crop growing or a heavy mulch in place.  Dry soil is much harder to spade, or fork, or rototill.  If you have weeds or a cover crop growing, mow it prior to tilling, and if the vegetation is not chopped up pretty well, remove it to your compost pile. After you break the soil, add your amendments and compost, and mix them with the top few inches.  If your soil is moist enough, you can plant right into that moisture and not irrigate larger seeds like squash, melons, corn, and beans until the plants are up.  You have to plant an inch or more deep, and into some good moisture to do this.  If you can, your weed pressure will be later and much less.  A push planter like the Earthway (which Valley Oak Tool sells) makes deep planting at a uniform depth much easier.

Smaller seeds need to be planted only a 1/4" or less deep, and watered frequently until germination. (beets, chard, radishes, lettuce (lettuce is difficult to grow this time of year).  It works well to make a tiny furrow an inch or so deep, and sprinkle a band of compost over your seeds.  Compost provides strong nutrition, and doesn't crust. A crust from irrigation or rain can make a barrier that can impede the seedlings breaking through to the light.

Most warm season plants germinate faster and better in warm soil.  In mid April, the soil is still too cold to plant okra, for instance.  Melons planted a week or two from now will catch up with earlier plantings, so no rush on that.  It would be good to get the zucchini and summer squash seed planted now.  You can transplant these, but they do better if seeded directly.  

If you are watering up your seedbed, daily for a half hour or less might be good.  If you don't have a drip system set up yet, you can sprinkle now until the plants get a foot or so tall.  Leslie Corsbie will talk about drip system design and installation next session on April 26.  Summer weeds sprout in the warmer soil, and they grow fast.  Hoeing while the weeds are small (even the size of alfalfa sprouts) is the least work.  I let the weeds get bigger than that in my garden this year, so that they would show up on the videotape of wheel hoeing.  

Thinning plants at the right stage will increase growth and yield.  For example, once squash plants have a few true leaves (not the initial cotyledon leaves), they should be thinned to about a foot apart.  When they get a foot tall, they should be thinned to 36" apart.  By the way, squash rows should be 36" to 60" apart.  When I was growing squash, melons, and tomatoes on the farm, our rows were 60" apart, and the melons and squash covered the entire area before harvest.  Our melon plants were about a foot to 18" apart in the row.  You can plant in hills, but if you are drip irrigating with T-Tape, a row configuration works better.

Borders  and areas of weeds and flowering plants provide habitat for beneficial insects. Weeds which overpower the garden should be kept in check, of course.  Cover crops can be planted at any time of year.  For a really nice short video on cover crops, go to and click on "see our farm" and scroll down to the frame at the bottom of that page.  You will see our local organic flower farmer Marc Kessler explaining the hows and whys of cover crops.

Carl Rosato is looking for a cat to live on his farm.  Carl tells me that he prefers to have a tame pregnant female.  He will get the kittens spayed and neutered.  If the mama cat teaches her kittens farm life (seems like part of it is catching gophers), and he is feeding and handling the kittens, then they aren't completely wild, and he can pick them up and take them to the vet when necessary.  So, if you know anyone with a short-haired pregnant (or at least unspayed) female cat, give him a call at 589-1696.  I met a couple of his cats, and they seemed to enjoy their life at Woodleaf Farm.

see you in class,

David Grau

Valley Oak Tool Company
P.O. Box 301
Chico  CA   95927
telephone 530-342-6188

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