Oklahoma gardens look like hell in August. Scorched, blistered, and withered - despite mulch and constant watering. The two bright spots are my okra plants, which are still pretty and prolific, and the crop circles that we installed during the Permablitz, which have exceeded my hopes. The two watermelon and two Black Futsu winter squash vines have gone wild and covered almost the entire 300 square foot area between my driveway and our neighbor's driveway, and quickly growing watermelons and squashes dot the plants (shhh ... don't tell the squash bugs!).
Luckily, every year, while the garden is burning up in August, I can look forward to September, when we plant the fall garden. I love fall gardening in Oklahoma. A lot fewer weeds, a lot less watering - a lot less effort overall. And then, when frost nears, we can protect the crops a la Four Season Harvest and harvest fresh salads all winter.
Actually, I confess, I've never protected the fall garden before - just watched as the kale survived and everything else perished in the snow. This year, however, will be different! We are building a miniature bamboo hoop house to cover the crops and, based on the experience of my friend Shauna, we'll be eating well through the winter. Although Shauna used insulating cold frames covered in plastic, we'll be using row cover held just above the bed to extend our season. Closer to winter, we'll cover the hoops with plastic instead of row cover to provide more protection. I hope this will do the trick - like most of my gardening, it's an experiment.
I have one garden bed that we will be planting with fall and winter crops that like cold weather. I'll plant garlic, onions, bok choy, three kinds of lettuce, spinach, carrots, kohlrabi, Chinese mustard, arugula, beets, and maybe some kale. Last year everything loved our fall weather and grew easily until frost. After frost, only the kale survived over the winter to explode with growth in March. This year, we'll protect everything with the miniature bamboo hoop house over our garden bed except for the garlic, which doesn't need protection.
My husband and I harvested the bamboo for the hoop house from our friends who live four blocks away. The bamboo is an experimental substitute for the metal and PVC hoop houses that I've seen. Bamboo is strong, not to mention free, local, renewable and toxin-free. The smaller bamboo poles are more bendable than the larger ones, and we've already installed them in the beds so that they will dry in the hoop shape.
Then, in the spring, I'll replace the plastic winter covering with netting. I use netting to protect my seeds in the spring from birds and squirrels. In the past, I've used simple stakes to keep the netting off the plants - but they do tend to poke holes in the netting, so I hope that the bamboo hoops will work better. Stay tuned for pictures next weekend!