Saturday, August 31, 2013

How to Increase "Red Wigglers" in your Garden

Worms under edge of manure pile.
Underground activity, although not visible, can be what makes or breaks your garden.  All species of garden worms, especially night crawlers, are quite useful for more than fishing.  These powerhouses create tunnels from the lower depths of your garden to the surface, aerating and leaving behind worm castings (poop), which allows better root penetration for your bulbs, annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees and more nutrients available to your plants. The loosened soil drains better and is easier on your back when planting new garden treasures.

Ever see night crawlers on the soil surface after a heavy rain?

Worms require moisture to stay hydrated.  For them to break down organic matter from the top few inches of your garden and make it accessible to plant roots, that means fresh water loaded with oxygen, not over-saturated and stagnant mud puddles.  During heavy rainfall, when the ground water is closer to the surface, worms rise.  The old fisherman's trick of heavy watering the night before a fishing trip mimics nature, in order to bring them closer to ground level for collection.  The easiest-to-find worms for fishing always seem to be a few inches below a moist (fresh) manure pile—a little messy and aromatic, but a good place to start looking for home-grown bait.

How to increase your worm population.
  • Avoid the over-use of chemicals in your garden. When garden soil becomes sterile from using too much (or too many years) of easy to spread fertilizer, herbicides, fungicides or pesticides—and as more product is needed to reach the same level of effectiveness—worms die and soil loses its aerobatic properties.  Reasonable use of granular or liquid fertilizer would be only once or twice a year at most and generally provided only as a supplement for plants with specific requirements.  Use of a copper-based fungicide for Botrytis in spring or a sulfur spray in winter on fruit trees are accepted as organic in many states, of which are old-fashioned controls that are both inexpensive and effective.  Weed problem?  Consider only applying a "spot spray" of herbicide on tough hard-to-kill plants should the infestation be too large and hand-digging of deep roots is not practical.  Creepy-crawly bugs and beetles—most are beneficial and feed the birds—but some destructive types will need control for a good vegetable crop or beautiful flowers.  We do not advocate the use of pesticides in the garden if there is an organic solution of hand picking, trapping or even a less toxic spray available.  Yes, this can be more labor-intense or take longer to see results, but it is much safer for humans, animals, birds and our watershed reserves.
  • Spread mulch/compost liberally around your large perennial plants, shrubs and trees, but go easy where bulbs are planted—don't end up burying them too deep by using a thick layer of permanent mulch.  (This is different than "winter mulch" that is removed in spring.)  Avoid using "shredded tire mulch" because it doesn't add any nutrients, or landscape fabric topped by decorative rock, which tends to create compacted soil, because there are no organics for worms to eat.  Grass clippings from the lawn that has not had weedkillers applied, fallen leaves (naturally small or shredded large ones), compost, and manure are all heaven to earthworms and the softened soil makes pulling weeds easy.  Worms break down large particles of compost and leave behind castings to further feed your plants.  If you do not have access to ready made compost, aged manure or fall leaves, consider growing a "green manure", cover crop of fast-growing grains, such as oats, buckwheat, winter wheat, etc., that can be dug in while soft and tender to improve your soil. (See our Blog posting;  Healthy Soil with Oats, not Weeds.)
  • Keep your garden watered.  Clay-based areas allowed to go bone-dry over summer will have rock-hard soil because beneficial worms are not present in great enough numbers to keep it soft, friable and nutrient rich.  In areas of heavy rainfall throughout winter and spring however, go easy on mulch to allow your soil to dry between storms—so that bulbs, perennials and other low growing or dormant plants do not rot underground or at the crown (soil surface).

Start Now.
Oat cover crop in veggie garden about 8" tall and
ready to till into the soil.

Even if your garden has been mistreated in the past by a previous occupant or you are just beginning to prefer organic methods of gardening, the land can heal itself over time.  Be patient and do not give up.  Educate your neighbors who might be tempted to spread "death and destruction" along your boundary fence.  Explain the beauty of a simple compost pile for returning unwanted biomass—weeds, trimmings, grass clippings, etc.— back to the garden, encourage natural insect control by attracting birds, and allow worms to do their assigned task in life. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Lily Bulb Hardiness & Warm Winter Tolerance

Colder climate leaves turning colors.

(The chart published by the USDA and complete interactive searchinglink belowcan be found on the website for the US National Arboretum, which is a good place to start when trying to determine in what type of climate you live.) 

"When researching your location, bear in mind that all map lines are not absolute and each garden has its own unique micro-climate."

Neighborhoods with many trees blocking wind, hills that "drain" away moisture faster, concrete bulkheads, sidewalks and driveways that tend to collect heat, as well as southern exposures will allow you to grow plants that might not be recommended for your area.  
General Guidelines - Lily Bulb Hardiness 
& Warm Winter Tolerance in Southern States

Tiger Babies Asiatic

Asiatics – Zones 1-9.  (Sweet Surrender, Tiger Babies, Lionheart, “Pearl Series”, etc.) No winter mulch is needed and they prefer colder winters to reset bloom.

Longwood Scented Asiatic

Scented Asiatics – Zones 3-10.  (LA Hybrids such as Red Alert, Nashville, Eyeliner, Party Diamond etc.) grow well in all areas, do not require as much cold to reset the bloom, and would not need an “artificial winter” in the fridge in southern areas.  They start to grow immediately in spring after thaw, which is very helpful during short growing seasons, but a hard frost in late spring could damage sprouts.

Muscadette Oriental

Purebred Orientals – Zones 6-9, colder with winter mulch.  (Casablanca, Star Gazer, Acapulco, Muscadette, Crystal Blanca etc.), but if heavily mulched for winter or with a good snowfall, down to Zone 3 or 4 easily. Oriental lilies dislike hot, dry areas, growing the bulbs in afternoon sun is recommended because the flowers will last longer.

Golden Splendor Trumpet


Purebred Trumpets – Zones 7-10, colder with winter mulch.  (Copper King Strain, Pink Perfection Strain, Golden Splendor Strain, “Angel Series”, etc.), heavily mulched, down to Zone 3 or 4, but can be subject to late freeze damage in May, cover emerging stems if temperatures below 30 degrees F. are expected.


Conca d'Or (OT)

Oriental-Trumpet Hybrids – Zones 6-9, colder with winter mulch. (OT hybrids like Conca ‘dOr, Cocossa, Tea for Two, Eudoxia, Scheherazade, Sweetheart, etc.), same as Purebred Orientals, down to Zone 3 or 4 if well mulched for winter, and seem to be more resistant to late frost damage, plus because of the “trumpet” genes, they do not require as much winter chill as Oriental lilies, thus are very suitable for southern areas and will take higher heat in summer. 

Triumphator (LO)

 Longiflorum-Oriental Hybrids – Zones 7-10, colder with winter mulch. (LO  hybrids like Gizmo, Triumphator, etc.), about the same as Purebred Trumpets and are suitable for southern areas that have higher heat in summer.  For colder areas and heavily mulched over winder, down to Zone 3 or 4, but could be subject to late freeze damage in May, cover emerging stems if temperatures below 30 degrees F. are expected.


Find your USDA Hardiness Zone  
The following are examples of USDA Zones in the USA and Canada, if your location is not listed, look at the average low winter temperature listed (Fahrenheit, not Celsius).  The general guidelines are based on average low temperatures. To open a new browser window access the interactive map click USDA Zone Chart

Zone 1--- ( Below -50 F) --- Fairbanks, Alaska; Resolute, NW Territories (Canada)
Zone 2a --- (-50 to -45 F) --- Prudhoe Bay, Alaska; Flin Flon, Manitoba (Canada)
Zone 2b --- (-45 to -40 F) --- Unalakleet, Alaska; Pinecreek, Minnesota
Zone 3a --- (-40 to -35 F) --- International Falls, Minnesota; St. Michael, Alaska
Zone 3b --- (-35 to -30 F) --- Tomahawk, Wisconsin; Sidney, Montana
Zone 4a --- (-30 to -25 F) --- Minneapolis/St.Paul, Minnesota; Lewistown, Montana
Zone 4b --- (-25 to -20 F) --- Northwood, Iowa; Nebraska
Zone 5a --- (-20 to -15 F) --- Des Moines, Iowa; Illinois
Zone 5b --- (-15 to -10 F) --- Columbia, Missouri; Mansfield, Pennsylvania
Zone 6a --- (-10 to -5 F) --- St. Louis, Missouri; Lebanon, Pennsylvania
Zone 6b --- (-5 to 0 F) --- McMinnville, Tennessee; Branson, Missouri
Zone 7a --- (0 to 5 F) --- Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; South Boston, Virginia
Zone 7b --- (5 to 10 F) --- Little Rock, Arkansas; Griffin, Georgia
Zone 8a --- (10 to 15 F) --- Tifton, Georgia; Dallas, Texas
Zone 8b --- (15 to 20 F) --- Austin, Texas; Gainesville, Florida
Zone 9a --- (20 to 25 F) --- Houston, Texas; St. Augustine, Florida
Zone 9b --- (25 to 30 F) --- Brownsville, Texas; Fort Pierce, Florida
Zone 10a --- (30 to 35 F) --- Naples, Florida; Victorville, California
Zone 10b --- (35 to 40 F) --- Miami, Florida; Coral Gables, Florida
Zone 11 --- (above 40 F) --- Honolulu, Hawaii; Mazatlan, Mexico

Monday, August 19, 2013

Low Cost Ways to Increase your Lily Garden

Evaluate your landscape now, during late summer, to decide which lilies might be overcrowded or have outgrown their allotted space and need to be divided, and mark the stems before the flowers completely fade and/or the leaves have browned.
Natural propagation is quite rewarding, you do nothing but water, weed and fertilize and nature provides a bountiful harvest, however it is best to wait until the beginning of fall when lily leaves are beginning to turn from green to yellow and the weather is beginning to cool before dividing your bulbs. Assemble shovel, garden fork, labels and one or more buckets to keep the various varieties from being mixed. Alternatively, only digging and dividing one clump at a time, works well to keep things straight.  A lesson learned from long ago, is that  it is much easier to cover the bulbs, than to dig them up, so pace yourself.  Lily bulbs should not be allowed to sit unprotected in the sun or for any length of time without soil for proper hydration.  Aim for finishing the job within one day.

Best time to divide lily bulbs in October.

 Signs of Overcrowding

The clump on the right side has divided into smaller bulbs with only one or two flowers on each stem, but the single uncrowded bulb on the left side was taller and had many blooms. Dig and divide your lily bulbs when you see a reduced number of flowers and with many stems close together.  Also be mindful of other plants growing over the lilies, shading and stealing their water and fertilizer.  Clean out overgrown patches of garden every few years.

Too shallow
Planted too shallow reduces number of bulblets.

 Planted too shallow - No Bulblets

Notice the lack of bulblets on the lower clump?  Even though the bulbs were making stem roots, as weeds were pulled from around the stems, soil was also removed, leaving the lilies planted too shallow to make bulblets.  Mulch "counts" as depth for planting, but does not give roots a place to grow. The pink shading on the stems shows the "mulch depth" on the clump, with the stem roots only condensed into the two inches above the lily bulbs.  More info on planting depth.

How-to Dig and Divide Lily Bulbs
When the leaves have turned from green to yellow, cut back stem to about 6 inches tall, so you know where the lilies are located.  Carefully dig up the entire clump, with the 6" stems still attached, starting about 6 inches away, going the depth of your shovel or spading fork, and slowly moving to where the bulbs are located.  

Use a garden hose and adjustable nozzle to wash off the soil and expose the mother bulb and the stem roots found between bulb and soil surface. Carefully cut the stem an inch above the big bulb using an old pair or pruners, serrated kitchen knife or carpet knife - something that can be sharpened, for without doubt, you will dull the blade on small pebbles or grit woven into the stem roots.  

Lilies look most natural planted in triangular groups of three, spaced 10”-14” apart. Provide at least 6 hours of sun, dappled shade in very warm regions for Orientals.  Cooler summer regions where the average summer temperature is around the mid 70's can plant all varieties in full sun.  We do, and there is no shade in the propagation fields, but we generally have our coastal fog most July and August mornings, which makes for easy photography of the flowers.

Dig holes about 14 inches across and the depth of a standard shovel.  Place bulbs in a triangle touching the outside of the hole, so they are between 8 to 10 inches apart for Asiatic types and 12 to 14 inches apart for Orientals, Trumpets and Orienpets.  Cover bulbs with fluffy soil and mulch after your soil freezes in November in the Midwest.   It is not necessary to mulch bulbs for winter in milder climates.  Plant bulbs 2”- 4” deeper in areas where daily temperatures average over 90 degrees F. and the soil is sandy. Do not plant among aggressive ground covers or where large trees or shrubs will rob nutrients or moisture. Lily bulbs need regular fertilizer, water, and cultivation. They do NOT “naturalize” like Daffodils or Tulips, which have a hard outer shell. Be sure to mulch bulbs in cold climates if a good winter snow cover is not expected. Likewise, in more temperate areas, cold saturated soil will rot lily bulbs some years, so a raised area and fast-draining soil is recommended.  For more detailed planting information, see our website Cultural Guide.

Mixing lilies with other plants?  Here is the link for a short list of Dianna's favorite bulbs, perennials and shrubs in the lily garden.

Bulblets growing on lily scales.
Would you like to increase your garden of lilies faster?  You can imitate the professional growers, to increase a clonal selection (named variety)  faster by vegetative manipulation called "scaling"  (Click here for definition of Scaling.) The Instructions for Scaling Lily Bulbs can be found on our website.

 Did your lilies make seed this summer because you didn't remove the old flowers soon enough - or you deliberately crossed the pollen from one stem to the flowers on another stem?

Growing new lily bulbs from seed is a long process, because these are perennial bulbs, and it can take between 2 and 5+ years before you see a first flower on your new hybrids.  Click here for Instructions for Growing Lilies from Seed.

In general, Asiatic lilies will multiply the fastest, hence the generally lower cost in catalogs. Orientals, Orienpets and Trumpet lilies make the fewest number of bulblets, but the original bulb can grow to be quite large, almost a pound in weight and the size of a grapefruit on some varieties.  Cutting stems before the leaves have turned yellow, or not leaving enough leaves on a stem when using lilies in a floral arrangement, will reduce the size of your lily bulbs for the next season, so do let the leaves mature (yellow) before transplanting.  Floral Designers: do not cut more than 1/3 of the leaves when using stems for indoor use.  It is best to only use varieties that are at least 4 feet tall for cutting, to allow the remaining leaves to feed the lily bulb for next year's bloom. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Baby Turkeys and Pretty Ducks

Our month old Bronze Turkeys have taken over the end of the barn next to the bulb processing equipment.  They were "grafted" onto a broody Buff Orpington hen when day-old and she kept them warm and safe until they could forage on their own.  "Turkey Momma" rejoined the rest of our free-ranging flock, but the turkeys decided they had enough of "hen speak" and instead stick closer to the barn.

They'll perch on anything, but the trick here seemed to be holding still long enough to keep the picking basket from collapsing.  One finally stretched and "flapped" and down they went.  A few more pounds each and its a "no-go" for sure.

Behind the shipping building however, our beautiful assortment of Ancona Duckings (from Boondockers Farm in Oregon) are conferencing; perhaps on the possibility of a volley of slugs sailing over the fence soon from weeding - or more likely - should they head back to their stock tank swimming pool?

Friday, August 9, 2013

Reasons to avoid planting "Pre-cooled" Lily Bulbs in Late Summer and Early Fall.

Usually just before frost or a chance of snow, we receive a few cries for help regarding newly planted

lily bulbs (obtained elsewhere) that are emerging too early.  For the benefit of new lily gardeners, or those considering "early planting", a recent email brought up a very good question.

Frosted leaves droop down.

“Sorry for a dumb follow-up question, but it appears you are saying lily bulbs should not be "pre-cooled" for shipping in the fall?  Maybe it is not necessary to pre-cool in the late fall, since they are being planted in the ground that is already cooled?  But if the bulb shipped in the fall is pre-cooled, and then planted in the cool ground, is that a problem?”
Sorry, the answer is "Yes", because it indeed is a problem for most areas.  Hopefully, this little article will help someone make a good decision on planting lilies this fall.  First, and foremost, it is helpful to understand what is meant by the description "pre-cooled and what pitfalls will be encountered in  areas that have heavy frost or snow during the early winter months.

1. Definition of the terms: "Pre-cooled", "Pre-chilled",  "Ready to Grow" etc.

These terms are used to describe lily bulbs that were prepared for out-of-season growth by providing an artificial winter in cold storage.  They are packed in wet peat and slowly cooled until the medium is frozen solid and the bulbs are lightly frozen.  Upon warming, even for a few days, those bulbs will immediately begin growing sprouts – exactly as they were programmed to do. 

"Pre-cooled" is a greenhouse industry buzz word which really means "previously frozen", and is used in the same manner as your neighborhood grocery store, advertising shrimp or fish "previously frozen".  These stored bulbs may be in the freezers anywhere from two months to two years before being sold, but without actually cutting a bulb open to inspect the interior sprout, it is hard to tell from the outside how long they have been stored and if the sprout has died.
2. "Pre-cooled" bulbs are intended for a very narrow segment of commercial growers
The process of artificial cooling was originally intended for greenhouses and for companies in tropical climates growing cut flowers outdoors, who may not experience enough winter chilling to vernalize bulbs naturally.  If a lily bulb has not received enough cold treatment, either it will stay dormant (not emerge), or will grow a stem without any flowers (blind stem). 

Bulbs harvested in fall, and kept in commercial cold storage until a greenhouse operator is ready to plant in the middle of winter, are triggered to grow stems when "thawed".  This is good for a climate controlled greenhouse, because the owner knows exactly how many days until the flowers (and entire stems) are ready to be picked, and so can adjust planting week by week to optomize sales.  Commercial greenhouse growers simply discard bulbs after cutting, no matter what the season or the climate. Forced bulbs have expended all their stored energy growing a stem and flowers, and there are no leaves left from cutting to fatten them up for next year, plus a new crop is waiting to be planted in the same spot.
3. Difficulties in Temperate and Severe Climates, without a heated greenhouse
In areas with a definite winter (temperatures below about 38 degrees F), planting in “cool ground” will not stop cold-treated lilies from beginning to sprout, because once growth has been triggered they cannot be forced back into dormancy.   

Heaping a thick mulch over the top of untimely sprouts will not helpful, because the warm surroundings just encourages more active growth, nor is keeping thawed bulbs in the fridge a solution because they will continue to grow, causing sprouts to curl around inside a bag.  Attempting to home-freeze lily bulbs that have warmed up will only result in a bag of soggy mush; think of an onion that has been frozen whole, the texture would be the same.

"Pre-cooled" lilies planted in the garden in late summer or early fall in warm Southern States (USDA Zone 9 and above) could make it to budding stage in November/December (average 100 days, planting to flower for most Orientals), but only if the nights stay around 55 degrees.  Unfortunately, just a single hard frost can destroy both stem and flowers.  If bulbs are able to flower because the weather has not been freezing or they were planted in a greenhouse, they will still need at least another month of warmer temperatures to mature the foliage.

Natural Cycle Bulbs are best for Fall planting
Bulbs fresh dug in fall and immediately planted, for the most part, require at least 8 to 10 weeks of cold before they will start to grow, and will simply wait underground until the soil gradually warms before sending up a stem.  They are on a natural cycle that tolerates cooling underground, because this semi-dormant stage usually involves growing new roots in preparation for milder weather in spring.
"Pre-cooled" are for Spring Planting in any region
Lily bulbs straight from the cooler in late February to April are not a problem; they can be planted  as soon as the soil thaws and light frosts above ground will do no harm, because they are waking up in tune with spring.  They'll bloom and have the rest of the summer to mature their foliage.   For example, a lily bulbs the size of a tangerine will lose about 80% of its mass just coming into flower, shrinking to about to the size of a walnut before it then begins rebuilding the bulb following bloom.  They need all their leaves to build that bulb back up again for the next year's bloom and appreciate another shot of fertilizer then as well. 
The Final Advice
If you live in an area where winter temperatures are below 38 degrees F. for more than a week or two, then either plant natural cycle bulbs harvested a few weeks prior to delivery in the fall or wait to plant lily bulbs in the spring, that will promptly begin to sprout as your local weather begins to warm.
 (Also see from December 9, 2011 "Warning about "pre-cooled" lily bulbs in Fall/Winter")

UPDATE: On Facebook this morning (8.10.13) a question was asked about how to "tell" whether or not bulbs offered are fresh, so here is the reply:
"Ask questions!  In general, companies (brokers) who supply greenhouses will say that their bulbs are cold treated, which is what the cut flower growers require.  If they were not already given the required amount of chilling, then they would not grow under glass properly, which is why that market exists.  The down side is brokers also will sell to just about anyone looking for a full case of bulbs and this is where the problem starts.  Now you are dealing with a "jobber", someone that simply buys to resell.  Simply put, they are not the producers but are simply in the business of selling "widgets". 

Asiatic lilies grown in the East and Midwest mature their stems earlier than on the West Coast where we live, so someone who actually is a grower - not a reseller or "jobber" buying from a broker - may be able to supply some bulbs in early September, but I do not know of any farmer who can supply fresh-dug Oriental lilies at that same time without compromising their growth, because they need time to mature stems.  So, in general, Oriental and Orienpet lilies on the market "too soon" in fall may be selling old stock from the freezers. 

I've heard of vendors selling lily bulbs at county fairs or other events in August, telling people that the long sprouts mean “they are alive”, which indicates they were out of a cooler crate, not a field.   I once heard that at an event myself at a late spring show, and just stared at the person in disbelief, until they saw my own vendor badge for B&D Lilies, and clammed up.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

When to "Cut Back" Lily Stems

Work while the weather is pleasant - in early morning or evening.  By only watering in the morning you will ensure that the leaves are dry before nightfall, reducing fungus concerns, especially if you are using an overhead irrigation system.

Freshen the appearance of your garden by simply removing faded flowers once a week, which involves very little time or effort. As flowers finish, cut off the top portion of the stem just below where the flowers were (see arrow on photograph), but do not cut off more leaves than necessary because the bulb still needs them for next year through photosynthesis.

Removing faded flowers will help camouflage maturing stems and direct attention to nearby shrubs and other perennials. 

  • Cut back any lily stem to ground level that has completely browned, usually mid August to late August for Asiatics and late September/October for Orientals.  Where you live, and the summer temperatures, will dictate “when” is the best time for your garden.  Generally speaking, when lily leaves have turned from green to yellow over most of the stem, you can safely cut them back completely. Do not pull still green stems out of bulbs as you risk doing serious damage. Until stems are fully brown and crispy, there is enough moisture in stems to tear tissues within the bulb centers, opening up the possibility of them rotting over winter.
  • If lily bulbs are in pots by themselves, continue to keep the soil slightly moist, but don't over saturate the planting media - lilies never go completely dormant, even when there is no top growth.
  • If you have other plants in the container, continue to water as usual because those actively growing plants will absorb the extra moisture.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Healthy Soil with Oats, not Weeds.

Sow those bare spots with oats as a cover crop.
After our lilies have been harvested in October - and hopefully, before the rains become constant - we first tractor-cultivate, then sow whole oats (stock feed) on the field where the lilies had been planted. This enriches the soil, discourages weeds and helps stop erosion over winter.  Oats usually germinate within a week and natural rainfall keeps the grain growing well throughout the remaining year.  Like your lawn grass, oats will grow whenever temperatures are above freezing. In midwinter, if the weather has been mild, Bob tills in the oats when they are still nice and tender and before they begin to toughen and form seeds.  This creates a nice, friable texture for planting lilies a month or so later in spring.  Other grain crops, like Buckwheat, can be used in summer, but Oats are cheap and plentiful.

Fenced "winter bird yard" grows veggies in summer.

Yes, even between the corn...
You can use the same technique in the home garden, but there is no need to wait until fall; any bare spot in the garden which is not immediately planted with another food crop, or even a new flower bed waiting for bulbs in fall, can be improved now with little effort.

...and cucumbers!
Farm stores are fascinating places.
A sack of whole oats (not rolled) can be purchased at any feed store; the cost yesterday in Sequim, WA was $15.99 (for 50 pounds) and that is retail, not a co-op "member price".  Oats kept dry and in a reasonably cool spot still germinate after a year, so you don't need to use the entire sack at once, but discard any grain that has become moldy. If you have a large garden, save money and buy your fertilizer in big sacks as well, storing it for years in a trash bag lined, tightly covered can. While shopping, check out tools and other handy objects for your garden because many places also have a retail gardening section.  There will be feed troughs, fencing, plus a few things that you'll probably wish you hadn't asked, "What's this for?" 

In the 30' x 40' fenced space shown above, about 40 pounds of oats were thickly sown around a small plot of dent corn, a few squash plants and cucumbers.  Most of this area was bare ground, newly cultivated, as the vegetables that were growing from spring had all been harvested.

Use a steel garden rake, not a springy leaf rake.

The technique is easy.
Oats are simply hand spread and lightly raked into the soil.  While covering the seed you are bound to pick up overlooked stray roots for disposal, an added benefit.  Some grain will be touching, others perhaps 2 to 3 inches apart, but it is not necessary to be precise because raking will disperse the seeds in a random pattern anyway.

In our garden, Anne Marie's Buff Orpington rooster, always out scouting for tasty tidbits, eagerly leads his free-ranging harem over the 6-foot fence when the sprinkler is off to pick up exposed grains.  Rodents will snag more at night, but the remaining oats germinate quickly, especially with regular, deep watering.  If you are concerned about exposed seed, a light sprinkling of peat or compost will do nicely to camouflage your planting from airborne marauders, like crows.

Sometimes "stealth" is in order.
Since our geese, ducks and chickens are fed a scattering of oats on the ground during "pen up" in the evening, it is absolutely necessary to move everyone out of sight, preferably on the other side of the house, before sowing a cover crop.  If we are ever caught dropping grain out of reach, there is an outcry (loud honking and grumbling) followed by "wailing and gnashing" of "beaks and bills".  After the cucumbers, squash and corn are harvested, the poultry are allowed to clean up the garden for winter, dropping a bit of fertilizer along the way while removing pesky weeds.  Winter crop rutabaga, cabbage, broccoli, kale, carrots, lettuce, spinach, rocket, etc. are planted elsewhere for people food, or would quickly disappear, leaving fifteen innocent-looking geese strolling about.

Pretty and practical.
Six inch tall oats make a clean and beautiful green mat for vine crops and a soft surface for kneeling while picking, but "bend over" the stalks and bring the smaller vines of cucumbers to lay on top on a regular basis.  Bees will find the larger squash flowers for pollination.  Because oats will tend to draw moisture from the vines, be certain to water deeply and thoroughly on a regular basis until your veggies are harvested.  Persistent weeds will be easy to spot and should be pulled out when discovered.  Slugs may take delight in the moist cover, so either use bait on the garden perimeter or another method of control.  (See 'How to Control Slugs in your Lily Garden'.)  Any time after oats have grown six inches tall - or are nicely shading the soil - their soft green stems can be dug into the garden as "green manure".

 UPDATE:  8.6.13
After three days, tiny sprouts had begun to show, but now five days later, a nice green carpet of oats is very evident.  A flock of eight Mourning Doves (Zenaida macroura) found the oat seed a day after planting, but our chickens mercifully did not, or there would have been bowl-shaped craters throughout the area.  Keep your soil moist, but not soggy, until its time to rotary till, chop into the garden with a hoe or turn over clumps with a shovel.