2020 Isolation Grow: Bed Preparation

Apr 24, 20202020 Isolation Grow Blog

Currently, our beds are filled with nearly flowering fava beans. Why fava beans? Nitrogen is something that has to be replenished in soil. It gets depleted with every grow. If you want to grow effectively again next year, you’ll need to replace the nitrogen, and fava beans are the best to do this where I live. We do not grow fava beans to eat, though we like them. I grow them entirely for the nitrogen. The way to do this is to plant them over the winter. They are pretty hardy and withstand winter well. As soon as the sun hits them, they explode. This year, I watched our favas go from a uniform 4-6 inches to a range of 18-24 inches in about ten days. Once that size, they will start flowering soon, and when they get close to fully flowering, but BEFORE any pod emerges with fruit, cut the stalks down to the ground, and cover with straw. LEAVE THE ROOT BALLS FOR EACH STALK IN THE GROUND. Those fava root balls are slowly disintegrating sources of nitrogen. If you place your starts close to these, your plants will be the grateful beneficiaries of slow leaking nitrogen that will last most of the grow season. It was a secret of mine for years in growing heirloom tomatoes. I use the same strategy with cannabis to the same effect. Cover the downed favas in each bed with straw and then leave that growing space alone for 30 days. This gives worms the time they need to suck the nitrogen from the downed stalks and begin distributing it in the soil via scat. After 30 days, I make room in the soil for my vegetable starts and get them in the ground. I usually leave the straw on. It’s an excellent mulch and good insurance against any odd cold snap that might suddenly arrive in spring.

Word of caution: If you value what you grow, take proactive steps against slugs as soon as you begin thinking of growing anything. Slugs are a menace, but they are simple to control. I use two methods: Sluggo, and the cheapest American beer on the shelf, whatever that is. Everyone has slugs and snails, of course. In my part of the world we get all those little ones, but we also get banana slugs that can be the size of, well, bananas. I have no patience for these slimy six to nine inch long monsters. They can destroy a young plant in a night. Sluggo works when a slug eats it and goes off to die. But sometimes, I’ve watched slugs march right past Sluggo, when they have a tasty plant in their crosshairs. What works every single time, all day and all night, is cheap beer in a cup or container. Just as I’ve observed slugs moving past Sluggo, I have witnessed a banana slug crawl right by a juicy young plant in order to heave itself over the ledge of the container to a blissful demise, courtesy of some of America’s least finest beer. I actually have slug houses for every bed, with a roof on, so the beer does not evaporate as quickly. Anyway, pour that beer into a container in each bed or growing medium and walk away. The next morning, you will have carnage. Slugs race for the beer. Entire families will tragically choose a summer holiday in the suds. They seemingly cannot wait to get drunk, stay drunk and then die drunk. It is not a pretty sight. If you don’t change the trap often enough and run into a full one by accident, you might gag or even hurl. I’m not kidding. But if you change that beer a couple times a week, you will put a serious dent in the local slug population, and you will save your plants. One more tip: make a little hole and bury them in the beds. They are protein rich for the soil as they decompose. All that oil on banana slugs is put to good use underground. I do the same thing when I find dead moles, voles, or other tiny dead creatures; except rats. Of course, I support humanely removing slugs somewhere else, if you wish. But this will not stop the problem. The problem will always come back. While I pour the beer, I periodically explain to the slugs that they have choices. They have an entire, huge world to explore and hunt, far away from what I’m growing. I’m sorry if the beer is too tempting. One more note, beer will attract and kill earwigs, who are also known for burrowing into plants and leaving their waste to mold.

I’d like to introduce you to one of our sons, Brenden. He is a manager (not currently, of course) in a French restaurant, and he is in charge of training our plants. After years of learning through hands-on practice, he has complete autonomy in the garden. Which is good, considering the Coronavirus is going to keep us largely separated while we work this summer. He’s a natural at training cannabis plants. You will learn a lot about this skill, and how it maximizes yield. Anyway, his restaurant has extra fish sometimes that they are not going to use. Last fall, literally two days after harvest was complete, while I was supine with a sore back, and enjoying a bit of what I grew, Brenden came home with a full cooler of fish. This wasn’t something we could put aside for a few days. We had to plant it right then. So back into the overalls I climbed, and out to the beds we dug. A couple hours later, 22 beds were filled with deeply buried fish. We covered each bed with a clear tarp and stapled them shut. This keeps the raccoons out, and allows the fish to decompose. The clear tarp also allows for a process called solarization, killing harmful pathogens that may still be attached to the soil from under the heat of the tarp. We remove the tarp after about six weeks and I usually brew a compost tea just to replenish any micronutrients that did not survive the heat. The ideal time for solarization is when the weather is warmer. We opted for it here out of convenience, since we were already going to cover the beds, and we were having a relatively warm late fall, after a brief freeze.

Growers note: Don’t use a black tarp for solarization, only clear. Use black tarp for covering and killing weeds. A black tarp in solarization is not as effective, and can kill beneficial micronutrients.

Cutting the favas and covering with straw is the final step in bed preparedness. It closes the winter portion of my work, and opens the door to a new growing season. Two weeks prior to planting the cannabis, I will resume brewing and pouring compost tea. When the plants hit the soil, I want the medium primed and ready to grow.

Jeffery Hickey
Oaksterdam Alumni

Jeffrey Hickey is a 2014 IPPY award winning novelist, performing in over 900 Reader’s Theater shows that featured his authorship of adult novels, and books for children. His accomplishments include a program of self-empowerment and effective oral communication, “Find Your Voice,” that he taught in public and private schools throughout Northern California. Jeffrey is the father of twin sons, and is arguably the happiest married man on the planet.