Starting COLD HARDY VEGETABLES Super Early

lettuce_greenhouse germinating

So now that the Persephone period is almost over and the magic date of January 15th is upon us, what does that mean? It means our day lengths are getting longer and January 15th is when we start getting 10 hours of daylight that will continue to get longer every day. Have you noticed already it now gets dark around 5:30 instead of 5 pm? The darkest time of the year is over. What does that mean to gardeners? To learn how to start cold hardy vegetable seeds super early outside and how also how to start them inside read on.

STARTING COLD HARDY VEGETABLE SEEDS OUTSIDE: cold frme opened
If you want to try growing cold hardy vegetables outdoors at this time of year, you will need a cold frame, low tunnel or hoop house.

If you already planted cold hardy vegetables late last fall in a cold frame, low tunnel or hoop house, you may have noticed that the little seedlings haven’t been growing much at all as winter set in. Now with longer daylight hours, they will start to grow again and barring any devastating freezes, they will continue to grow and you can get cold hardy crops earlier this spring.

In late winter, before you have harvest your winter crops, decide what you want to plant in your bed once space opens up in your cold frame.  As the end of the Persephone period draws near (January 15) , you can re-seed the openings created from your harvesting or you could start planting seeds in your bed if you don’t have anything growing. My soil in my unheated greenhouse is at 40°F right now (as of January 12). Lots of cold hardy vegetables germinate in cold soil.  They will be slow to start at first but they will start as your soil warms up to 40°F and warmer. Now with the day light getting longer, you can think about starting early. The winter sowing you do will be ready for harvest by early spring, often long before the same crop when grown outside without protection. A bonus is many of the cold hardy winter crops don’t like our springs, bolting on the first few warm days so you’ll be able to harvest that spinach before it bolts!

Some cold-hardy plants planted inside a cold frame, low tunnel or hoop house can tolerate a hard freeze at night, provided they are allowed to thaw during the day. The plants must be completely thawed before you harvest them. In addition, put some winter row cover over seedlings at night to give them an additional 4-6°F protection even though they are already in a cold frame, etc. Remove the row cover on days when it is above freezing. Watering is necessary to get crops started, but they will generally need very little water during the winter season-early spring once established.

STARTING VEGETABLE SEEDS INSIDE:
I’ve already written about starting seeds inside on many earlier posts.
To learn all about starting seeds indoors to get a head start go here:
http://giantveggiegardener.com/2012/03/08/starting-seeds-inside/

WINTER HARDY VEGETABLES
The following list of winter vegetables to grow is from ‘The Winter Harvest Handbook’ by Elliot Coleman. These can be planted either as transplants (first started inside under lights) or outside as seeds in cold frames, low tunnels or hoop houses.

Asian greens-Tatsoi, Pak Choi (Mei Quing Choi), Mizuna, Tokyo Bekana,Komatsuna

arugula-Astro, Sylvetta

beets-Red Ace, Merlin, Touchstone Gold

beet leaves-Bull’s Blood, Red Ace

carrot-Napoli, Mokum, Nelson

chard-Fordhook Giant, Ruby Red, Argentata

claytonia

endive-Bianca Riccia

leek-Tadorna

lettuce-Red Saladbowl, Tango, Rex, Rouge d’hiver

 mache-Vit

minutina

mustard green-Toyoko Beau

radishes-Tinto, D’Avignon, Cherriette

scallion-White Spear

sorrel

spinach-Space

turnip-Hakurei

watercress

Early Spring Planting-Three Important Factors

Three important factors should be considered before planting seeds in early spring:

Amount of daylight hours-In the winter the sun is weaker in the northern hemisphere and we have less daylight hours. If you plant seeds too early either outside or in a greenhouse, the seedlings will be spindling when they germinate. Once we have 10 hours of daylight (we currently have over 10 hrs), we can start planting our cold hardy seeds. So in Santa Fe, we now have enough daylight hours. But wait, there are several more factors we need to consider before we plant seeds.

Soil temperature for germination for different vegetable seeds

Soil temperature for germination for different vegetable seeds

Soil temperature-If you are thinking of planting OUTSIDE, forget about it, your soil is probably frozen so of course you can’t plant anything! Even if it’s not frozen, it’s probably still too cold to plant outside. However it will warm up soon. How can you tell what temperature your soil is? You’ll need a soil thermometer. I prefer a compost thermometer that is about 18″ long so you can check both the soil and a compost pile. A soil thermometer is invaluable, as different veggies like to germinate at different soil temperatures. Insert it about the depth of the root zone of the plants, about 4”-6″ in the soil to see how warm it is. Notice the chart above gives an optimum range for each veggie.  If you have a cold frame, hoophouse or greenhouse your soil is probably much warmer already. So are you ready to plant? Not quite. There is one more factor to consider.

Air Temperature-The air temperature is also important and is the main thing people think of in considering when to plant seeds. It’s too cold at night to plant most veggie seeds outside or even in a greenhouse without extra protection BUT there are some wintergreens that are very cold hardy, some even hardy below 32°F at night. Even in an unheated cold frame or greenhouse, the temperature dips below freezing at nights so if you have a one, I suggest you put some row cover (winter weight-.9-1.0 mm.) over your beds. If you don’t have a greenhouse and will be planting outside in early spring, definitely put row cover over it at night but don’t forget to check your soil temperatures too.

I’ve compiled a list of these very cold hardy crops that can be started in a greenhouse now if the soil temperature and daylight hours are good. Many of these cold hardy crops can be planted outside as soon as the soil warms ups in March. For the list go to my blog at: http://giantveggiegardener.com.

Lookee What I Found!

Yesterday I found all kinds of things!  Now I’m not the greatest at putting my tools away after I’m done with them. In fact it’s like leaving a trail of breadcrumbs for anyone to see where I’ve been. So I decided to walk around the gardens here at the house before the Arctic Blast comes in this weekend to see what tools I could still find outside. I wanted to do #9 in my earlier post of 10 Things to Do for December’.

found _lopers

First I found one of my lopers (my best one) hanging on a chair on the deck—and it was in plain sight. I’ve must have walked by it a hundred times and never saw it before!

found _leaf rakeI was wondering where that leaf rake went! Here it is leaning on the arbor in the shadows!

found_rake and apple pickerAnd on the other side of the arbor is a fence and I found an extension cord,  mini leaf rake and apple picker leaning on it (what’s that apple picker doing there? There are no apple trees up by the house!)

found_coffee cupAnd lookee what else I found! My favorite coffee cup still filled with coffee!  Yes that is a cup (the handle is on the other side). I was wondering where I left it cause it’s been MIA for a while. That will be fun to scrub out!

found_sawAnd then when I went to the shop I found the circular saw that I had at the house that mysteriously disappeared.  I took it back to the house so I can finish the greenhouse!

10 Things to Do in December

xmas clip reindeer

HO! HO! HO! Here are 10 things you can do in December for your garden. I wrote in green where I’m at with this list!

1. Don’t forget to feed your worms in your vermicomposting bin! They get hungry too! Also if it has been dry, give them a some water on a warm day. Don’t give them so much food that it just sits there and freezes. For an outside plastic bin, maybe wrap it with a water heater blanket or surround it with straw bales to help keep the worms from freezing. You try living in a plastic box all winter without insulation! For bigger outside vermicomposting areas, put straw bales around the perimeter to add insulation. Also put straw on top.  (I covered mine with about 8-10 inches of straw on top of everything and will check them in about 2 weeks to see if I need to add more food)

2. Reflect on what worked in the garden and what didn’t. What could you do differently next year? (Where do I begin? I’ll write more on this later)

3. Order your new catalogs. That way you’ll have them by January. (Done!)

4. Speaking of catalogs, go through those old catalogs and throw them out! (Done!)

5. Research on the internet new and different veggies you may want to try next year while you are waiting for your catalogs to come in. I’m always wanting to try something new. Start a list of possible veggies and add to it as you find more. You may not try all of them but at least you won’t forget them! (I started mine and keep adding to it)

6. Water your trees and perennials if you don’t get precipitation. We got a great snow in November so that let us off the hook but if Dec is dry, water later this month on a warm day. Forget about it if your tree has snow around it and the ground is frozen-the water won’t soak in frozen ground. (Since it snowed, I didn’t water-yea!)

7. If you feed birds, be sure you give them a source of water too. If my waterer is frozen, I boil water in a teapot and add it to my waterer to melt the ice. If you have bees, keep providing to them water too. (I check daily to make sure they have both food and water)

8. Take a walk around your frozen tundra (garden) and start to plan your next year’s  garden. Walking around when it is barren can reveal problem areas. It’s hard to ‘see’ when the garden is going on in the middle of the season with all the greenery. Perhaps you want to make a new bed or fix an old one…or maybe you could be a nut like me and add a whole new 1000 sq ft section in the garden Now that was a big project in 2011. Was I insane or what?! (This year I vow to finish the greenhouse by early spring.)

9. Organize your garden shed. Find all those tools you left outside-they’re  easy to see on the ground now that the the garden is done! (Still have a few floating around that I need to collect)

10. Ask Santa for some gardening stuff! Give them suggestions of things you want! (Done!)

Is it a weed? White Horehound

?????????

There is a plant that grows everywhere around here and I’ve always wondered what it was. Grows like a weed so to speak. I knew it was in the mint family as the stems were square but was definitely not a mint. I just ID it from a book, Weeds of the West.

The plant growing in my gardens is white horehound which is a herb. There are two types of horehound—black horehound and white horehound. Black horehound can be toxic while white horehound can be beneficial. They are easy to tell apart because black horehound has little purple flowers while white horehound has little white flowers.

Since ancient Egypt, white horehound has been used as an expectorant. Native American and Australian Aboriginal medicines have traditionally used white horehound to treat respiratory conditions. Some people make homemade cough drops out of them and some use the dried leaves to make a tea. They actually sell the seeds in Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds but around my place it definitely grows like a weed on its own without my help. I use to pull it out because it is not a particularly attractive plant and frankly grew where I didn’t want it to grow.

But since I became a beekeeper, I noticed the bees are wild about it with its small white flowers, so now I leave it for them. The US Food and Drug Administration banned its use in US made cough drop saying it has no proven benefit. However it is widely used in Europe and you can buy it in European cough drops, just not US made ones.

I recently had pneumonia and a dry hacking cough that would give me fits. The only cough drop that would help stop the coughing that I tried is called ‘Ricola’ Cough Drops’, which is a Swiss made cough drop. Guess what is in those cough drops? Horehound! Only I didn’t know about white horehound, or Ricola cough drops or what that weed was growing in my gardens.  I found all this out while I was recovering and on the computer a lot-how serendipitous!

10 things to do in May

No this IS NOT what my garden looks like right now-I wish!

NO, this IS NOT what my garden looks like right now-I WISH! This is the garden in early June in 2010.

Here are 10 OUT OF 100 things you could do in your garden in May. GET BUSY-9 DAYS TILL MAY 15th!

-Water, water, water–all existing trees, bushes, fruits and vegetables–we’ve had a very dry winter-everything is parched!

-Clean up any perennial beds from the fall if you haven’t already.

-Add composted (aged, old, cold) horse manure to your vegetable beds/turn over.

-Check/install/hook-up drip systems for vegetable beds. Get replacement parts as needed.

-Buy any last-minute seeds/or any vegetable starts you don’t have but still want.

-Buy those wall of waters for your tomatoes and row cover BEFORE you plant tomatoes.

-Transplant up any veggie you bought that is now too small for its pot.

-Buy any amendments, fertilizers and supplies you will need when planting.

-Harden off your plants before putting them outside in the garden.

-Fertilize with fish emulsion and seaweed any cool season crops you have. Start to harvest when ready.

-After May 15th, it should be safe to plant warm season crops-go for it!

OK- these are 11 things but like I said, there are probably 100 things we could do in the garden right now!!

10 more things to Do in February For the Garden

We may not be able to get out in our gardens now but it is time to get busy with things to do to get ready for the garden. March will be seed starting time and there will be lots to do before for that. I will be elaborating on some of these items over the next few posts as I see there is more info I can offer.

1. Go over your current seed supply. Organize it. Get rid of any seeds over 3 years old unless you froze them. Fresh seeds are essential for good germination. Older seeds have less success of germinating.

2. Decide which vegetables you want for this year and order any seeds you may need to get from seed catalogs.

3. Talk to your local nursery to see what they might be growing this year. I give a list to mine and they tell me what they are growing so I don’t duplicate. I prefer to let them do the growing, it’s just that I want to grow so many varieties that they might not have so I have  to start some by seed.

4. Stock up on any fertilizers, amendments, compost, nutrients, mycorizzial, and biomicrobes you may need for veggies. i.e- tomatoes, giant pumpkins

5. Check your grow light boxes to make sure they work. Get new bulbs if necessary.

6. Check grow heating mats to make sure they work and get more if necessary. Last year I had one and ordered another as my seed growing expanded.

7. Consider purchasing a seed mat thermostat. Last year I had to get one because the seed heating mats were running too hot and burning up the seeds before they have a chance to germinate. The mats stay 10° F hotter than the ambient temperature of the room so if we are having a really warm spring and the temperature is 80° F inside than the temperature would run 90°F in the seed flats-way too hot. The thermostat will keep the temperatures in the pots at whatever is best germinating temperature.

7. Purchase soil seed starting mix. I use Metro Mix 100 to start seeds. This stuff is great. The water doesn’t roll off the ‘dirt’ like many seed starting soils

8. Clean and sterilize any containers you plan to reuse for seed starting or transplanting seedlings. Use a 10% bleach to water ratio to rinse off the containers.

9. Buy any containers you may need for seed starting/transplanting. Most gardening stores sell up to 3″ in the peat pots. If you want a 4″ peat pot, go to Territorial Seeds. They are the only ones that have that size. I need them for my giant varieties cause they grow so fast. I also like the flats that have a raised lid. good for germination.

10. Read at least one good gardening book your interested in each month during the winter. I’m almost finished with ‘Four Season Gardening’ by Eric Coleman and just ordered ‘The Compost Tea Brewing Manual’ by Elaine R. Ingham.