by Rachel McAlister, Gardening & Agriculture Intern

Following each growing season, the soil—the most important agricultural resource—gets “worn out,” depleting nitrogen (N) and micronutrients. Home gardeners have several options for handling this: add organic fertilizer, organic compost, mulch, or cover crops.  

Cover crops are a genre of plants that restore soil. In some cases, they may even provide an edible product, such as clover flowers. Here are a few of the general benefits cover crops provide:
  • Increase nitrogen
  • Nutrient replenishment
  • Increased beneficial soil microbes
  • Weed suppression
  • Loosen compacted soil
  • Erosion control


Not every cover crop has the same benefits or is right for all areas. In the south, keeping your cover crops alive throughout the winter is not difficult-- there are several cold hardy varieties to safe-guard against cold snaps: 
  • Hairy Vetch (Vicia villosa) - Hardy to -15° F
  • Winter Rye (Secale cereale) - Hardy to -30° F
  • Crimson Clover (Trifolium incarnatum) - Hardy to 10° F
  • Dutch White Clover (Trifolium repens) – Hardy to -20° F.
  • Oats (Avena sativa) – Hardy to 10 to 20° F


To plant cover crops, prepare the soil as you normally would, tilling and then sowing the seeds at the appropriate depth (check the specifications for each crop). Many of these crops do not need excessive fertilization throughout the winter, as they can thrive on poor soils (and that’s why you want them in the first place!)

After winter and early spring the crops should be cut down, preferably before flowering. Rather than removing the cover crop from your garden altogether, work it into your soil or leave it above ground as mulch (the hairy vetch variety is ideal for this). Most large farms use a tractor to “crimp” the crop down into the soil, but in a home garden, a shovel will do just as well. And voila! You have green manure, as it’s called, giving you all the benefits of compost as the cover crop decomposes directly in the bed restoring any nutrients it used for growth.

So, rather than leaving your beds entirely dormant this winter, try a cover crop, improve your soil, and start getting your garden ready for next year early.   
 
 
A champion in both the culinary and health arenas, garlic accentuates flavor in many dishes and touts health benefits such as reducing blood pressure, fighting fungal infections, and boosting the immune system.

The process of growing garlic, while often shrouded in mystery, is actually rather simple and rewarding. All you need is timing and space....and a little instruction.

Once you have successfully grown your garlic, there are myriad of things you can do with it. For information on garlic's medicinal properties, click this link: http://bit.ly/1rkbfRj.  Or, if you prefer to stick to the culinary uses of garlic, click this link for numerous healthy and delicious recipes: http://bit.ly/1jAtgXe

Types of Garlic

Softneck
  • Prefers mild winters but hardy to zone 5
  • Most varieties do not produce scapes
  • Mild flavor
  • Large bulbs of 12-20 cloves
Hardneck
  • Cold hardy
  • Produces scapes
  • Spicy, sweet flavor
  • Medium to large bulbs of 6-12 cloves
Elephant
  • Hardy to zone 5 with mulch
  • Produce scapes
  • Mild flavor
  • Baseball size bulbs of 4-6 cloves

When to Plant

  • Garlic should be planted in the fall about 1 month before the ground freezes.

Preparing the Soil

  • Fertile, well-drained, loamy soil with a neutral pH (6.5-7.0)
  • Full sun

Planting

  • Pull apart cloves from the bulb.  
  • (Optional) Soak cloves in a jar with one tablespoon baking soda and one tablespoon of liquid seaweed for several hours to prevent fungal infection and promote growth
  • Place cloves in furrow or hole with flat end down, pointed end up, 2 inches beneath the soil
  • Space cloves 6-8 inches apart
  • Cover with 6 inches of mulch such as straw or dried grass clippings. 

Fertilizing & Watering

Fertilizing
  • Foliar-feed garlic every two weeks as soon as leaf growth begins in spring (typically in March) and continue until around May 15

Watering
  • One inch of water per week in spring
  • Stop watering by June 1st or when leaves begin to turn yellow

Harvesting & Storage

Harvesting
  • Early to Mid-Summer
  • Carefully dig up when 1/3 of leaves turn pale yellow and withered
  • Lay whole plants out or hang in ventilated, dry, warm place protected from rain and direct sun. Leave for 4-6 weeks until dry. 
  • Brush soil of bulbs, without removing papery wrapper
  • Clip roots to ½ inch long
  • Clip stems after one additional week (hardneck varieties); trim and braid stems after one additional week (softneck varieties). 


Storage
  • Store in mesh bags or hang from rafters in a cool basement or garage
  • Store at 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit
 
 
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Alexa Morse

Alexa is currently a senior health science major at Furman University. She plans to pursue a Masters in Public Health following graduation, while specifically focusing on a career in the promotion of health and wellness through nutrition.

Alexa was born and raised in Tampa, Florida, and relocated to Greenville to attend Furman. In her spare time, she enjoys doing anything outdoors, including hiking, running, and biking. Alexa also enjoys cooking and testing out new recipes she finds, when she has the time. Coming from a large Sicilian family and traveling throughout Europe has lended to Alexa’s appreciation and love of food.

As the Health Education Intern of GOFO, Alexa is most excited to learn how to effectively spread awareness of healthy living styles, while being further involved in the Greenville community.

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Emily Hays

Emily Hays is a 2014 Sustainability Science graduate from Furman University. A native Atlantan, Emily relocated to Greenville in August to work at both GOFO and Mill Village Farms. She will be acting as the Fundraising and Development Intern at GOFO, and is excited to learn more about non-profit management, grant writing, and community development. Simply put, Emily's interests span from learning more about corporate social responsibility to the impact of urban design on public health as well as sustainable food practices. You can always find Emily with either a bike or a cup of coffee in tow as she seeks to build meaningful relationships and figure out the so called "next step" along the way.

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Rachel McAlister

Rachel graduated from Furman University in May with a B.S in Biology and concentration in plant biology. Born in Jacksonville, FL, she moved to Atlanta and Maine before landing in Greenville. Traveling has been the greatest part of her education: she went to Puerto Rico for her thesis research, spent a semester studying abroad in New Mexico and South Africa, travelled to Costa Rica for study, and attended a conference in Sabah, Malaysia this past summer.  She plans to complete graduate work in the western United States—New Mexico ideally—but hasn’t chosen a specific research question yet.

As the Gardening and Agriculture Intern, she is looking forward to learning the ins and outs of running a non-profit organization and experiencing first hand how sustainable and organic agriculture fits into making the modern lifestyle healthier and more sustainable. Growing up and all through college, she had plenty of farming and gardening experience, and is looking forward to putting that knowledge to use.

Of herself, she says she is addicted to book stores, likes to make things out of whatever she can find, take photos, dances, is an archer, an aspiring barista, and is always for humor.

 
 
by Rachel McAlister

With a busy summer of tying back tomatoes and wrestling squash boring beetles, fall can sneak up on home gardeners and leave us with too little too late. Planning fall gardens should start before summer has run out and grocery stores start stocking copious amounts of candy and spindly scarecrows. Pumpkins and winter squash, for example, should be sown directly in the ground as early as May and June to ensure a Halloween harvest.

In mid-July and August, summer heat is often at its peak. However, the best time to begin fall vegetable seedlings is about 12-14 weeks before the first frost date in our region. Brassicas such as cabbage, kale, and brussels sprouts should be started indoors. Lettuce, radishes, beets, carrots, peas and potatoes can be sown directly. Spinach requires colder temperatures to germinate and can be directly sown later in the season along with arugula, Chinese cabbages, Asian greens, turnips, mustard, and lettuce. Adding mulch will help protect less cold hardy plants and maintain moisture in the last days of summer.

In both the garden and the kitchen, home gardeners can pair herbs and vegetables. With shallow roots, herbs require the addition of compost and most require 6 hours of sun per day to maximize aromatic oil production. Some require well-drained soil—rosemary, thyme, and sage—while others need damp soil—chervil and parsley. Borage, with beautiful blue, star-shaped flowers are eaten in salads and used as a garnish. With its cucumber-like odor and flavor, it is a great companion to broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, cauliflower, peas, and squash. Coriander also pairs well with broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, and cauliflower as well as carrots. The leaves may be used as cilantro and the dried seeds are often used in Middle Eastern and Indian dishes. Quite aromatic, chervil has edible, thick, carrot-like roots and the parsley-like leaves may garnish soups and salads. It pairs with garlic, lettuce, parsley, radishes, and coriander. There herbs are just a few of the many that are in season during fall—for more information see this website: http://bit.ly/1x6lU7H

By the end of summer, the soil is exhausted and needs replenishment. Composting is a great choice, as it gives you the nutrients that are needed without the expense associated with production. Organic fertilizers may also be used, yet these cover the crops.  Legumes planted in areas occupied by high nitrogen users, such as corn, can double as fall vegetables and cover crops that fix nitrogen back into the soil. Leaf and mushroom composts add necessary nitrogen and micronutrients back into the soil. If using leaf compost, ensure that it is sufficiently broken down; uncomposted leaves actually remove nitrogen from the soil as they decompose.

If fall has caught up with you, there are ample farmers markets and local farms that can provide fresh fall vegetables, fruits, and herbs. Additionally, some farms also have seedlings for sale that you can use in your own garden. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs are another option for seasonal vegetables. The following website links to a number of local farmers markets and CSA programs: http://bit.ly/1plHPO4


Click to view the Winter Hardiness and Care of Herbs from NC State University


References

http://solutionsforyourlife.ufl.edu/hot_topics/lawn_and_garden/herbs_for_fall.html

http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/fall-garden-vegetables-zmaz09aszraw.aspx?PageId=5

http://www.almanac.com/content/succession-gardening-planting-dates-second-crops