FALL is a season of renewal and inspiration in the garden, especially if you're working with students to prepare the vegetable garden for winter.
The students at the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden are interested, enthusiastic and they work industriously. They actively absorb all the science we teach them while learning about soils, botany and plant identification in their first term.
Students also participate in simultaneous garden practicums to train and hone their practical skills.
Our recent practicum in the Food Garden at the UBC Botanical Garden was particularly interesting for several reasons.
Firstly, were able to work with Brendan Fisher, the food garden's horticulturist and former Capilano College horticulture program graduate who trained with me at Park & Tilford Gardens.
Secondly, Fisher is knowledgeable in all things food and veggie and his wealth of knowledge about which vegetable varieties to grow for our climate was an invaluable resource for the students.
Thirdly, one of the first practicum training tasks the students learned was how to divide and replant chives, something that anyone can do at this time of the year.
The chive clumps were first cut free of their earthly bonds using a square garden spade. Then the chive clumps were lifted out of the beds and placed on plastic tarps to prevent soiling of the pathways. Next, using a garden fork, the chive clumps were split into halves and then quarters by pushing the forks back-to-back into the chive and gently pulling apart the clump.
Garden forks are the preferred tool to use for all perennial plant division because forks pull roots apart and do less damage than the crude and caveman-like use of a shovel or garden spade would do.
After all the division was completed, the soil in the beds was amended with rich compost that was mixed into the soil to replenish soil nutrients. Adding compost also builds soil structure, something which no chemical fertilizer can claim to do.
Once the beds were amended, the quartered chive clumps were replanted and watered into place. Remember that watering after planting is done to provide water for the new plant but also to settle air out of the soil to prevent airpruning of the new roots which would stunt growth.
Students also learned how to work the soil gently without pounding the soil's structure into submission which is a good lesson for all gardeners. Heavy feet cause soil compaction which prevents the soil from breathing and draining properly which ultimately affects plant health. We used wide pieces of wood to walk on while entering the beds which spread out the gardener's weight and lessened soil compaction.
During practicum training the students were also shown by Fisher how to plant garlic at this time of the year. For those who don't know, fall is an opportune time to plant many different bulbous plant species including Asiatic lilies, daffodils, tulips, crocus, the many types of ornamental onions (Allium species) and garlic.
Fisher took one large garlic bulb and split it into several individual garlic cloves which he then planted into the soil 15 centimetres (six inches) apart and eight centimetres (three inches) deep. The garlic row was marked with an identifying label and we watered them in.
All bulbs planted in the fall will make root growth as they find purchase in Mother Earth's warm embrace. No need to worry that fall planted bulbs will grow a vegative shoot up to the surface, the frost will keep their heads tucked below the surface.
It is important to remember that the warmest soil temperatures found here on the West Coast occur from September until late November which makes fall an excellent time to transplant or plant anew. The warm fall soil temperatures combined with some sunshine, nighttime dew or rainfall afford good growing conditions for new plants or transplants.
The other learning task taught during this practicum was how to weed ergonomically. Yes, I know it sounds simple but oddly enough most people have the same tendency to bend over and use their hands to weed or get down on their knees to weed, which is all quite wrong.
Weeding by hand is akin to pushing a snowball uphill, it simply takes too long, it's laborious and not healthy for the body. Yes, there are times when hand weeding may need to occur, but generally everyone should use a proper longhandled weeding tool, stand up like a human, keep your back straight and diligently work the tool to loosen and remove weeds.
Ergonomic gardening techniques are designed for maximum comfort, efficiency, safety, and ease of use, especially in the workplace. By using ergonomic techniques, all gardeners can work in the garden happily and efficiently, well into old age.
Todd Major is a journeyman horticulturist and chief horticultural instructor at the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden. For advice contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.