Monday, December 7, 2009

Winter Garden Ammending

This time of year, as our bodies adjust to the onset of another chilly Mendocino winter, it is easy to want to hide inside by the woodstove and let the garden do its own thing through the winter. However, with a little bit of work now, you will be rewarded in spring with stronger, more fertile soil with much less overall work. The key is to let the winter freeze and thaw cycle do you work for you.

The first thing to do is to check your soil nutrient levels. A simple $20 test kit will set you on the right path. Once you have a rough idea of your soils needs, it is fairly easy to lightly work soil amendments into the ground, and let frost heave and winter rains finish the job. While it is not recommended to add nitrogen until spring, you can boost your phosphorous and potash levels now with great results, especially if using more slow release organic nutrients like greensand, bone meal or wood ashes.

Now is also a good time to dump a bit of compost into your beds to get the earthworms working again to disperse your amendments. Once you add your nutrients and compost, plant a simple cover crop to be tilled down in spring. Not only do cover crops fix nitrogen in the soil, when tilled down in spring, they boost the organic matter in the soil giving a strong boost to the microscopic culture in a spring time bed.

Winter Tool Storage

Winter cold, rain and disuse plays havoc on our tools. Now that the seasons work is done, special attention should be taken to make sure your tools are stored properly. From garden spades to tillers and mowers, a small amount of work now can avoid costly repairs next spring.

For motor driven equipment, you should cover the equipment, or store it inside if possible. Prior to the winter, it is advisable to either drain the fuel or add a fuel stabilizer such as Fresh Start. Sold in convenient self-measuring bottles, you simply add a few ounces to your tank to stop oxidization of the fuel which can cause poor performance and engine and carburetor damage the next time the tool is used.
Now is also a great time to change your oil! Doing your own oil changes is quick and simple, or we can do it for you in our small engine repair shop. Bring in your model number and we can set you up with new filters, spark plugs and oil to make it an easy job.

Once you drain all that spent oil, you can recycle some of it yourself. By filling a bucket with sand and pouring your used motor oil into it, you can create an easy way to clean your tools and prevent rust with a simple dip. This is great for shovels, picks and pitchforks. Those of you with organic plots can use Stylet Oil or even plain-old vegetable oil for similar results. Be sure to cover the bucket to keep water from filling it and spilling over. This sand and oil bucket can be used season after season, and refreshed with a light addition of used motor oil once a year. The oil soaked sand, once used up, can be dropped of with the haz-mobile at any of our local transfer stations.

Keep those tools working for you year after year!

Erosion Control

So, some of us put it off until this late, and our hillsides and roads are starting to show the first rivulets and ravines of the winter rain season. But it is not too late for erosion control! You don’t need to construct stone terraces or use expensive hydro-seeding or hydraulic-mulching to control erosion; in fact with a little bit of ingenuity and know-how, erosion control is dirt cheap.

The two simplest ways to curb erosion are mulching and seeding. A simple straw mulch, held in place with jute netting is nearly 100% effective in stopping erosion, and you can easily put down seed prior to the mulch for a more long-term solution. Straw mulches work even better when smashed into the soil with a flat head shovel, creating pockets to catch accumulated runoff and silt. The punched in areas should run at a slight diagonal to the hillside for the best results.

We carry a number of erosion control blends for roads, hillsides and tilled pastures. Uniquely blended for Mendocino’s climate and landscape, these grass blends are simple to choose and easy to apply with a shoulder spreader.

For a more finished look, and ease of application, we sell erosion control blankets, 5’x100’ swaths of compressed jute fiber. Roll it out along the hillside, securing every six feet or so with landscape stakes. In high wind areas, smashing rocks and boulders into the ground along the edges can keep the blanket from shredding in all but the most heavy of winds.

The digging of diversion trenches is hard work, but by adding a trench above the affected area, in addition to ground covers, you can reduce runoff to almost nothing. The same holds true for roadsides. You can also lay out straw wattles; specially made rolls of straw in a tubular netting. Stake the wattles down along the contour of the slope to catch silt and accumulated run off. This can also be used on ridges and hilltop landings and house pads to create a containment dyke and keep the landing’s edges from running away with the rain.

Around the house, check to see if there are any areas where water is coming out of storm gutters and digging holes. The addition of a paving stone or a bit of gravel will stop erosion immediately.

With a little bit of work and ingenuity, it is easy to keep the world from washing away. For insight into your own situation, stop by, or ask a question here on the blog!

Thanks for reading!


Hello, and welcome to the somewhat official blog of the Mendocino County Farm Supply.

I’m Sean Spicer, editor of those fun monthly newsletters you’ve been seeing around the shop and I’d like to warn you that I am taking full responsibility for this blog. That means that even if I can’t spell, hold a coherent thought, or make you laugh you should not assume the farm Supply shares my shortcomings. Just a general disclaimer I wanted to put in here.

The purpose of this blog is to disseminate some of the incredible information I glean from my coworkers and customers here at the Farm Supply, and get it out there on the internet where it can help others. Here you may find information on everything from winterizing your chicken coop to solarizing your compost pile.
I would also like to encourage everyone to ask questions, no matter how obscure. If I don’t have an answer, I will find one. So, if you need to know how to build a snake trap or a potato bin, here is the place to ask.

So, welcome aboard!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

All About Onions and Garlic

We get alot of questions about planting onions and garlic. here are two articles from the newsletter which should help out!

A Bit about Onions and Garlic
October means the arrival of another years worth of garlic and onion seeds! Planted in the fall, with enough time to set root before the first frost will assure a decent. If you lack the space to have a dedicated bed for garlic and onions, try planting them in along the perimeter of raised beds. They can repel certain insects and even deer.

To plant garlic, break bulbs into individual cloves before planting. Plant at 8” intervals, with the pointy side facing up. Set aside smaller cloves for eating, as the small cloves will produce small bulbs. While garlic will grow in nearly any soil, it loves loamy well-drained earth packed with organic matter. A winter mulch stops frost heave which can sheer off the young roots as the plants winter over.

Planting onion sets is as simple as sticking them in the ground and covering with a quarter inch of soil. They can be closely planted in fall and thinned or transplanted in spring. For ideal growth, start at 3” apart and thin to 8” after the last frost. For better growth, trying mixing either super-phosphate fertilizer or bonemeal into a few inches of the soil before you plant. For particularly pungent onions, try adding a small amount of sulfur; being careful not to upset the PH of your soil.

A Bit More about planting Onions and Garlic

Onions have been grown since prehistory, and was one of the first plants cultivated by our early agrarian ancestors. Ancient texts rave about the legendary mildness of ancient Egyptian onions, and one finds mention of the savory crop in the pages of Aristotle and Plato.

Onions like rich, fertile, well drained soil. The top soil should be deep and humus rich for best growth. Heavy soils can be corrected with the addition of peat moss, well composted horse manure or other organic matter.
In order to plan your crop, remember that one pound of onion sets is roughly enough for a fifty foot row. Choose sets roughly dime sized or larger, as smalled sets will produce weak, tiny onions. Plant onions in their natural position, with the fine root hairs facing downward two to three inches apart in the row and cover with a quarter inch of soil or sifted compost. When spring arrives, smaller less robust plants can be thinned for use as spring onions or green onions.

Most onion varieties mature in about 100 days, marking their maturity as their tops gradually fall to the ground. When most tops are down, it is common to knock down the remaining tops with the back of a rake. (We used our dogs for this last year, but not on purpose) two or three days later, onions should be pulled and left to sit on the ground for another couple of days of curing in the open air.

To plant garlic, break up a bulb into individual cloves and plant with the hard neck facing downward, and the pointed tip facing skyward. Garlic loves the same soil types as onions, and should be planted with four to six inches between plants and a foot between rows.

Should your plants grown higher than six inches before the first frost, a heavy mulch of straw or other insulator is advised to lessen the effects of frost heave, the shifting of frozen soils that can shear off the young roots of onions and garlic sets.