Text and photos by Diana Maranhao
As the first day of Autumn is noted on calendars and persistently mentioned in weather reports in the days leading up to it, I remain in denial. I am not ready to give up the garden–the tomato and pepper harvest, abundant flowers, the herb garden’s delicious scent as the sun heats up the bed, and the noisy, boisterous monsoonal rains. I take heart though. With the noticeably cooler days and nights, the harvest and garden continues while the root crops come into their peak.
I tried a new method of planting and cultivating the fingerling potatoes this year. In a well amended bed, I dug a trench just 2 inches deep with rows 12 inches apart. I buried the potato seed with soil and applied drip irrigation tubing on the soil surface along each row. As soon as sprouts appeared, I started piling on the straw, loosened to allow for good air circulation. As the plants grew, I applied more straw, burying the foliage with each application until I had a thick 18-inch layer of straw covering the bed. Harvest time was a breeze. Just pull back the straw and the spuds are laying on top of or just below the soil surface. The method saved time, effort, and space and has netted us larger potatoes and a higher yield.
This year, I wanted a specialty onion that would bring caramelized onions to a whole new level, but needed a variety that had good storage life. Yellow Cipollini are worth every bit of space, time and effort. I planted them in soldier-straight rows running around the perimeter of a bed that I have intercropped with successive crops of spinach, carrots and Swiss chard. The bed has remained productive all season while the sweet juicy bulbs gained size. After curing they will store up to five months, but I doubt they will last that long!
I grow a lot of carrots and they make for good garden companions with many crops, so I always find space for just a few more. The only drawback to growing them is the traditional method of thinning them once, twice or even three times during the season. Waiting until the seedlings were four inches tall, I was able to only thin once in a season, but I really wanted to eliminate the painstaking task completely. A new handy tool, Easy Seeder® (Territorial Seed) has holes drilled for spacing seeds at precise final spacing. It was tedious at first to get the seed into each hole, but once I got the knack of it and after seeing the final results, I rejoice that I will never have to thin again.
Diana (Dee) Maranhao is a garden writer and horticulture editor who gardens in southern Utah. Her book, Rocky Mountain Fruit and Vegetable Gardening (Cool Springs Press, 2014) is available at most Lowe’s, Barnes & Noble, and at www.amazon.com. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.