"Ninja Gardening" was originally a newspaper column I wrote in September 2018 but somehow never posted here. This is this the 2019 installment, seven more projects to do in a few minutes :
Winterize: Get your perennials and fall crops ready for winter with seaweed. Besides potassium, seaweed contains plant hormones and sugars that increase hardiness. You can use dried kelp meal or soluble seaweed powder. These are easy and fast to apply—kelp meal can just be sprinkled around your plants. (To me, that means run by and throw some around.) Soluble seaweed powder is mixed into water (1 teaspoon to 4 gallons) and dumped around your plants. Both will help harden new growth and thicken the sap so that they don't freeze. Don't give nitrogen fertilizers from now on—they promote the kind of sappy growth that freezes easily.
Save some Seeds: I just timed myself, and it took 3 minutes to locate a bucket, cut some dead cilantro plants, and stuff them in. It took 6 minutes to strip off the seeds, shake the chaff to the bottom, and pour the round seeds out into a bowl. It took one minute to use a kitchen strainer to get out the dust and little leaf crumbles. See what I'm getting at? Saving seed sounds more daunting than it is. Sure, some seeds are rare and difficult. Most aren't.
Plant Some Glory: Pacific wildflowers are spectacular, and most are winter annuals. They sprout with the fall rains, make a rosette of leaves over the winter, then bloom in spring. That means two things: One, you need to plant them in fall, unless you live where the ground freezes solid. Two, they will act like a cover crop and hold your soil over the winter. Seeds can be hard to find, but I've just listed several kinds here at Quail Seeds. One, phacelia, is even used by farmers as a cover crop. It's also the bees' favorite flower. Full disclosure: This is one time when you do need to take the time to prepare a weed-free planting bed. Wildflowers don't need rich soil, but they have a hard time competing with weeds. So it's not quite ninja, but its so worth it.
Bug of the Year: Suddenly everyone seems to have aphids. I find that the beneficial insects can keep the aphids under control IF you have a lot of small nectary flowers like alyssum, IF you don't spray poisons, and IF you prevent ants from carrying new aphids up your plants. So, aphid control is really ant control. Use diatom dust. For larger plants, paint a mixture of coconut oil and mint essential oil in a band on the trunk. Ants won't cross it.
A Semi-Wild Garden: A few edibles can be planted haphazardly, left unthinned, compete with weeds, and (usually) survive. They overwinter in my garden, and bloom very early with edible flowers that attract aphid-eating beneficials. I plant them together as a “meadow garden.” Mizuna, Cilantro, Arugula, Turnip, Miner's Lettuce, Texel Greens (Ethiopian Kale), Italian Dandelion, Mustard Greens, and Escarole. (This was the subject of my very first blog post in December 2018.) Anyhow, if you are really pressed for time, it is quick, and better than nothing.
Mildew Prevention: September is mildew month, when the air gets cooler and moister. You can't change the weather, but you can change the pH of your plants. You can also coat the leaves with mildew-eating microbes. Do both at once by spraying with compost tea or LAB (lactic acid bacteria--yogurt for plants.) You can find information on these probiotic brews in our How-To section here.
Undersow: Most of us know that cover crops do good stuff, and most of us put planting off too long. This year, do it fast and early. It doesn't matter that your tomatoes or whatever are still in the ground. Throw seed for clover, vetch, or rye all around and under those tomatoes. Rake it in or cover with a light layer of straw. If you can rough up the ground and pull some weeds before you start, works even better. It's called undersowing, and it allows you to get those cover crops going while your summer crops are still in place. Takes about 8 minutes to do 100 sq ft. A real ninja move.
Jamie Chevalier lives and gardens on a river in the Coast Range. She has gardened professionally in Alaska and California, as well as living in a remote cabin and commercial fishing. She wrote the Bountiful Gardens catalog from 2009 to 2017, and now is proprietor of Quail Seeds.