Sunday, October 6, 2013

Perfect Days for Gardening

Our exceptionally pleasant fall weather continues. The low humidity has led to the need for some irrigation, but we will gladly buy the water in exchange for less mugginess. Already I am harvesting baby arugula, along with Sugar Snap peas, the last of the leeks and okra. The bak choy is coming on strong, and we will be able to pick a few leaves of kale within another week or so.

This weekend I planted out lettuce, cilantro, scallions and spinach that were started in cell trays September 7th. With rain on the way, the timing should be perfect. Mache growing in the greenhouse will soon be ready to transplant. I start the seeds in a 6 X 30 planter and transplant to thin them. The ones left behind in the planter will mature about ten days earlier than the transplants, extending the harvest to a month or so.

Many people do not transplant spinach, direct sowing instead. I find we get a bigger harvest with less work when we transplant and give the plants growing space. Japanese spinach farmers employ this technique.

We have been amazed at the productivity of the pond. In this year's experiment, we stocked two dozen immature tropical livebearers for mosquito control. By summer's end, we had harvested roughly 500 fish, which were sold to a local aquarium store as "feeders," for predatory pet fish. We moved 7 of the prettiest ones to a small aquarium where they will spend the winter and provide stock for next spring.

We have little interest in food fish, not wanting to have the trouble of cleaning them and dealing with wastes. Nevertheless, it is clear that even a small garden pond could theoretically supply some additional protein. Others who, like us, would prefer to sell live fish rather than dead ones, have the option of producing a small income from the pond by cultivating and harvesting smaller, tropical species. The key to this, of course, is finding an aquarium shop that wants to purchase your stock.

Next season, we intend to construct a growing bed that will filter the pond while providing space for additional crop production. This form of hydroponic growing, known as "aquaponics," uses the fish wastes to fertilize organic vegetables growing in an inert medium. Most of these culture systems rely on inputs of prepared fish foods and operate under the protection of a greenhouse room. Our interest lies in creating systems that can function year round in the local climate zone, with minimal inputs of fish food. By planting flowers and other plants around the pond and providing a diverse community of aquatic and semi-aquatic plants, it should be possible for the system to produce enough algae and insects to feed the fish. Stay tuned.

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