Garden Notes: Conference spurs writer to plan next year’s garden

On a cold, windy day in September, I attended the Grazing Conference and Cattle Evaluation, sponsored by the Blair and Huntingdon Conservation Districts through the PA Agricultural Ombudsman Program.

It was worth every shiver to listen to Dr. Allen Williams and Jeremy Engh. Williams is a founding partner of Grass Fed Beef and a partner with Joyce Farms Inc. He is considered a pioneer in early grass-fed protocols and forage finishing techniques.

Engh owns Lakota Ranch, outside of Remington, Virginia. The ranch is a production model for soil conservation and home to the oldest Devon beef herd in the country.

Devon cattle are an ancient breed — records go back to 23 B.C. They were introduced to this continent in 1623 by an agent for the Plymouth Colony, Edward Winslow.

Today, there are approximately 2,000 Devon beef in Pennsylvania. You might be wondering why you’re reading a garden column about them.

Williams said, “Many of us now understand that you cannot care for the animal without caring for the land.”

Gardeners depend on the quality of their land, too, and his statement reminded me how little thought I’d given to next year’s garden. I’d intended to plant a cover crop, but I hadn’t bothered to buy seed. Nor had I decided exactly where the vegetables would grow.

This spring, I “consolidated” my garden, planting garlic, tomatoes, potatoes and some herbs behind the retaining wall in the back of our house. They replaced the flowers that had grown there for years.

Now, my flowers were in pots that shaded the vegetables, so I moved the pots to the base of the retaining wall and thought I had the best of both worlds. That experiment ended when I moved a pot of geraniums, and found a snake under it. I’ll admit it was little, but it was a S-N-A-K-E!

I’d planted large sections of the new garden with tomatoes and potatoes, both heavy feeders. Those sections of the 2018 garden should be planted with light feeders like red beets, carrots and parsnips. None are family favorites, and the new garden is too small to make room for vegetables we won’t use.

This time of year, Devon owners are looking for ways to fortify their cattle for the fast-approaching winter weather, and they’re looking at legumes like field peas.

We use them differently, but as a food group, legumes are good for both man and beast.

I’ve decided on a cover crop of hairy vetch with a nurse crop of winter rye. That should replace the nitrogen used by the tomatoes and potatoes, while it protects the soil from the harsh winter winds.

The bonus is the roots will loosen the soil, allowing the rain to reach deep into the ground. When spring comes, the ground will be ready for planting.

Leaving me with one final decision … exactly where to plant the tomatoes, potatoes and geraniums.

Contact Teresa Futrick at