What’s Happening in the Garden?
Short days and cold nights are here and that makes for a lot of changes in the garden. This time of year brings a welcome end to the constant weeding or harvesting of summer and an opportunity to direct our attention toward the long term.
We are all about building community here at Eagle’s Nest and that is exactly what this dormant season will bring to the garden. There will be quite a lot of new species with new life styles and symbiotic relationships helping to create a more complete and sustainable ecosystem.
A lot of unsuspecting perennials, like this Black Locust tree, will wake up next spring in new locations ready to change the world, or at least our small part of it.
While the frosts have slowed our harvesting down quite a bit it has by no means stopped. That beautiful bed of broccoli did indeed turn out a nice crop in the beginning of November and should continue to produce smaller side shoots. We are also still harvesting Lettuce, Carrots, Kale, Beets, and Spinach.
Just before the first frost in mid October the Outdoor Academy students and I dug our two beds of sweet potatoes which were planted at the end of May. I had my doubts about the success of the crop due to so much rain and poor drainage in those areas but the sweet potatoes were apparently confident enough to produce more than 230 pounds from only 200ft². We also harvested some of the leaves which are delicious sautéed or in soups and can be found seasonally at farmers markets or growing on sweet potato plants.
There is a major new feature taking shape in the garden this fall, a community garden area featuring 4’x4’ raised beds. This area will provide a space for students and staff to take ownership of a small part of the garden and experiment with backyard scale agriculture on their own. The grid pattern creates an extremely accessible area in which to work and learn. As the hedgerows develop the community garden will become a fairly secluded spot within the larger garden. It’s going to be a really beautiful spot.
There are many different styles of sustainable agriculture and they all share the idea that natural systems should be encouraged and supported. We are attempting to do just that by putting the right plants in the right places and then letting them build a healthy ecosystem. Whatever the problem is we have a plant that will help to fix it.
Black Locust trees, like the one at the beginning of this article, add nitrogen and organic matter to the soil as well as provide bird habitat, firewood, and building materials.
Comphrey is a dynamic accumulator, a particularly vigorous plant that can thrive in poor soils by scavenging nutrients that are inaccessible to other plants. These nutrients become available to your crops when the Comphrey leaves die or are composted. Be careful though while it will not spread on its own, it is almost impossible to remove from a location once it is planted because even the smallest roots will produce a new plant. This one is going to be a major part of the garden for a long time.
Some crops are grown for the kitchen, some are for other plants, and some are for the bugs.
These Fava beans are being grown as a cover crop in the high tunnel. They will produce a large amount of nitrogen and organic matter for the next crop in line. Flowering in November they also provide food for beneficial insects and something beautiful to look at when it’s cold outside. Fava beans actually feed beneficials even when they are not flowering through special Extrafloral Nectaries. Another symbiotic relationship encouraging a healthier ecosystem.
Next season will hold many more exciting new developments as the systems mature and start to create a more diverse and interdependent environment. I can’t wait to see it. For now you will find me collecting leaves, moving trees, planting bulbs, sheet mulching, pruning, harvesting, double digging, and thinking up those new developments for next year.