What’s a Nitrogen Fixer?

Nitrogen fixing plants have a symbiotic relationship with specific bacteria. The bacteria colonize the plant’s roots and pull nitrogen out of the atmosphere. The bacteria uses the nitrogen and then it becomes available to the plant.

Nitrogen fixing plants include most plants in the legume family. They also include certain grasses like buckwheat but legumes are generally the most efficient. 

Why are they important?

Nitrogen is key for plant growth. Plants require it in order to perform photosynthesis. Yellow or pale leaves can be a sign that your soil lacks sufficient nitrogen. Rotating nitrogen-fixing crops through your garden replenishes nutrients in the soil without resorting to using synthetic fertilizers. 

Many nitrogen fixing crops, like those listed below, are used as cover crops or green manures. Like other cover crops they help prevent moisture loss, reduce erosion, and provide habitat for beneficial insects and fungi all while adding nitrogen to the soil. Using cover crops is in investment in soil health.

Nitrogen Fixing Cover Crops

Other legume crops like beans and peas are also nitrogen fixing. Pole beans are grown in the “Three Sisters” garden technique because they help provide nitrogen for the heavy-feeding corn.

Growing Cover Crops

Nitrogen fixing cover crops can be used in different ways. Biennial or perennial crops like clover are often grown for a season or year and then tillled under. This process adds organic matter to the soil and makes the plants’ nitrogen and other nutrients available to your crops. Alternatively winter-kill or annual crops like Sunn Hemp die back on their own and can be used as mulch. As they decompose they add nutrients and organic matter to the soil. 

These nitrogen fixing crops are also perfect for permanent pathways between rows or beds. Clover pathways in particular can be mowed through the summer. The clippings make excellent mulch for the adjacent beds.  

You can find more individual information under individual variety descriptions. 

 

Pros and Cons of Gardening with Ducks

Animals are part of any natural ecosystem. Adding small livestock to your garden can provide a host of benefits. One great option is ducks. However, there are pros and cons to adding ducks to your garden.

Pros

They’re great at slug patrol.

Having a couple ducks roam through your garden is one of the easiest ways to deal with your slug problem. They love slugs! They’ll happily wander around keeping your plants or mushrooms slug-free. They’ll also eat a host of other pests. 

They don’t scratch like chickens.

Unlike chickens, ducks don’t scratch to forage for food. While chickens are helpful to turn over a plot after or before the growing season they can be destructive to plants in the garden. Their vigorous efforts tear up roots and shorter plants. Ducks on the other hand simply plod flat-footed through the garden. They’re generally not destructive. However, they may eat or trample seedlings and some greens. 

They provide fertility.

Ducks obviously produce manure which is an excellent source of fertility for the garden. If they’re allowed to roam the garden during the day they’ll add fertilizer as they go. Ducks should be kept in a coop at night and you can compost the manure/bedding from their coop. 

Cons

They need a water source.

Ducks need a water source big enough for them to bath in. It helps keep their feathers in good condition. Muscovy ducks, native to South America, need less water than other breeds but still benefit from being able to bath.

They’re noisy.

I’ve heard some people claim that ducks are a quiet alternative to chickens but in my experience it isn’t true. Ducks quacking can rival a rooster’s crow. They may not be a great choice if you have close neighbors who wouldn’t appreciate barnyard noise.

They need a coop, space, and other care.

Ducks aren’t free. You’ll need to build or buy a sturdy coop, predator proof coop as well as feed. You’ll also need to care for them at least twice a day all year round which can make it tougher to leave for family vacations. The more space you can offer them to roam the happier they’ll be/

They can be destructive. 

They’ll dabble in wet areas adding to any mud problems you may have. As mentioned above they can also destroy small plants and won’t hesitate to sample your lettuce!

If you decide to add ducks to your garden system consider the pros and cons. They can be very helpful and rewarding but they still require money, time, and patience. 

 

Grow Your Own Baby Greens Mix

Growing baby greens is a great way to kick off your spring garden. They’re cold tolerant, quick-growing, and nutritious. They’re also a great choice for first time gardeners. We have a a selection of pre-mixed seeds but if you like to customize your mix here are a few great varieties to include in baby greens mixes. 

Note that greens grown during the late fall and winter will grow more slowly due to the decreased daylight.

Arugula (Roquette)

Arugula adds texture and a mild peppery flavor to salads. It can be harvested as baby greens in as little as 21 days. Arugula can still be eaten after it has flowered but the taste will be stronger. Try our standard arugula or Even’ Star Winter Arugula.

Pak Choi (Bok Choy)

Looseleaf pak choi is perfect for baby greens and can be aded to both salads and stir fries. Pak choi is cold-tolerant and quick growing. The variety we offer, Tokyo Bekana is mild with almost lettuce-like flavor. It’s ready to harvest for baby greens in as little as 21 days or 45 for full leaves. 

Looseleaf Lettuce

There are so many lettuces to choose from that are great for baby greens mixes. Looseleaf varieties perform well in cut and come again mixes. Add some color to your mix with varieties like Bronze Arrow or Red Sails, interesting shapes with Sword Leaf or Thai Oakleaf, or stick with hardy favorites like Red and Green Salad Bowl or Black-Seeded Simpson. Most looseleaf lettuces take about 35 days to mature for baby greens. 

Chicory

Chicory is another nice addition to a greens mix. It’s ready to harvest as baby greens in 28-35 days or 55 days for large leaves. It’s heat-sensitive and grown like lettuce.

Kale

You may be accustomed to growing kale for full sized cooking greens but baby kale makes an excellent addition to salad mixes. Some kale varieties can be ready to cut for baby greens in as little as 21 days. Lark’s Tongue  and Lacinato Rainbow Mix Kale are a couple great choices.

Mustard Greens

Mustard greens can add a lot of beauty and a touch of spiciness to your greens mixture. They can be cut as baby greens in as little as 21 days or about 45 for full size. Some great varieties include Mizuna , Red Giant Mustard, and Ruby Streaks Mustard.

Spinach 

Another cold hardy option, spinach is ready to cut for baby greens in about 30 days. Abundant Bloomsdale and Longstanding Bloomsdale are great choices.

Planting

Your soil should be cool and moist in order for your mix to germinate properly. Cover seeds with 1/4 inch of soil. Sow more of your mix every two weeks for a continuous supply of greens.

Care & Harvesting

Keep the soil fairly moist to get the best harvest. Plants can be shaded with row cover or relay blanket if temperatures are hotter than ideal. 

When you’re harvesting a mix of baby greens it’s easiest to use a pair of scissors to avoid tearing the roots out. Cut the leaves off close to the soil a small handful at a time. For the best sweetness and quality harvest your greens in the morning, especially during the summer.

 

Saving the Past for the Future