Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Salad Meadow to Salad Bowl

This is not my doing-- this is all self-seeded! Seems to be a mix of poppies behind the tiny fence (yay!), wildflowers, chickweed, and just plain weeds in front of the little fence. I can see a big-leaf seedling of borage there, which I support for the sake of the native bees. I have much less clue about what all that green stuff in my tomato bed is, but since it's not bunch grass, I will let it go for a while. Tomatoes don't go in until late April, so I'm not in a rush.

Back to the Salad Meadow!

Regular readers may recall our experiment last winter/spring of making a "salad meadow" as a permaculture exploration. While we didn't allow our salad meadow to go fully to seed, being impatient types who wanted to get our summer veggies in, the experiment was a definite success in terms of plant compatibility and thriving.

Roll forward to this year, and attempting to improve the process.

Things we liked:
  • Wide variety of salad greens, herbs, and root veggies
  • Little or no effort in gardening: sow and go!

Things we didn't like:

  • Everything was on the same timeframe, so we had too much and then everything bolted.
  • Scattering by hand was irregular, led to clumps which produced stunted or odd results.
  • Creating huge area in the garden of 90% lettuce caused snail/slug population boom.
  • Hard to tell some "wild greens" (purslane, miner's lettuce, chickweed) from undesirables when still small enough to weed easily.

So this year, I made some changes.

I'm sowing in a large planter pot instead of in the ground. This greatly reduces the weed factor, especially since I refreshed the pot with new enriched potting soil and made sure the top few inches were entirely fresh potting soil. Then I covered it with floating row cover, weighted with a spare bit of edging fencing. The only stuff coming up in there should be stuff I planted!

I have three pots this size. I'm going to sow a new planter pot every 2 - 4 weeks. The exact interval will depend on how things are growing. This will let some things mature that take longer, yet keep up a steady flow of goodies for our salad bowls. Now everything won't be ready at once, and bolting at once... in theory. A good run of hot weather can bolt up just about anything, and our spring weather the past few years has included 7 - 10 day stretches in the high 80's before dropping back down to normal mid-to-low 60's. We'll just have to see.

Now to solve the issue of things we didn't like so much, which I forgot to mention above. This year's mix was hand-selected by myself, and made from specific varieties, no "mesclun mixes" or wild greens. While some of the mesclun items are nice, like deer's tongue lettuces and similar, there was enough weird spindly stuff that I chose to forsake them this time. Also included more romaine-type lettuces, like our favorites Cimarron and Forellenschluss.

One thing I did repeat was choosing many Umbelliferae as accent plants. Dill, carrots, parsnips, and similar. You can see their fun little seeds above! In retrospect, parsnips are not a great choice, as they take 90 - 120 days to mature and the salad pots will be recycled before then. But wait! I have a plan!

To address the problem of clumping and spindly lettuces, I tried a different sowing method. I sketched a spiral with a roughly one inch groove from the outer edge of the planter pot to the center, and sprinkled seed in the groove 1/4 to 1 inch apart. My hope/plan is that as things grow, I shall thin them selectively to create room for mature plants. This selective thinning will be applied especially to carrots, beets, and parsnips, so that they can mature in the pot. I can sow more seed mix around them when I recycle the pot for a new crop, and then pull them to make space. What an elegant theory. Let's see if I can keep my act together enough to keep things tidy and the trains running on time.

What's this? A spring flower mix, too? That will have to wait for another posting! See you later!


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