Winter Spinach Recovered from Rabbit Damage

Spinach eaten by rabbit (funny it didn't eat the stems)-March 13

Remember the severely eaten spinach I showed last month (March 13)? Now that the cold frame is repaired I can keep the rabbits out again.  No more feasting on my spinach! While the cold frame was damaged and open to rabbits, I kept some row cover over the damaged spinach and I held it down with rocks. The rabbits couldn’t get to it and the spinach made a glorious recovery! Had spinach and cheddar omelet yesterday with it! I should be able to get more meals out of the spinach as it is doing great and we have lots of time before the heat comes and it bolts.

Spinach recovers in less than a month

 

Coldframe repair

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I had to rebuild the top and one side of my coldframe as I left it open one day and the wind wrecked it. The new lid has turned out great and is much lighter than the previous lid. On the first lid I used 1/4 inch plexiglass for the clear top which made it really heavy to lift. So I went to Home Depot and got some lightweight clear corrugated polycarbonate panels that were more expensive than plain clear corrugated plastic panels. I hope they won’t get cloudy or streaked and they say they are almost unbreakable. We’ll see in our wind! I won’t leave it wide open again, that’s for sure!

Wind broke my coldframe

Plexiglass broken/bubble wrap insulation shredded

Dang it! I left the lid to the coldframe up the other day and the wind came up while I was gone and broke the lid. I mean it must of really come up cause it broke one of the 1/4″ plexiglass panels in it. Plexi isn’t so easy to break.

Rabbits don't need to sneak in with an 8 inch gap!

Anyways it also torqued the frame as well because now there is an eight inch gap in the corner where the wood frame was forced apart. Great, now the rabbits can walk in. I have to rebuild the lid and somehow pull the wood together on the frame with the dirt inside and re-screw it back together. Way more work than I have time for. And the arugula is coming up inside. Bummer…

Whole left side of coldframe broke-ARRRGH!

On the good side, look at my view from the house in the bottom photo!

Plant peas, spinach, and arugula on St. Patrick’s Day

Today is ST. PATRICK’S DAY- TIME TO PLANT PEAS, SPINACH AND ARUGULA. I always plant them right around now and use the holiday as a reminder. I stayed home today to recoup after putting Butch down. Getting my hands in the soil is always grounding for me. Lots of things to do right now regarding gardening. Here are some of the things I did today.

COLDFRAME-I inspected the rabbit damage to see if the spinach seedlings are salvageable. All but one of them are starting to grow back from the crown which were undamaged. I planted seeds of the following in the coldframe:

SPINACH-Bloomsdale-45 days in the other half of the coldframe.

CHARD-I didn’t know (or remember) that chard is a biennial (meaning two years) but spends it’s second year mostly growing to produce seed which is why they never seem to produce as big of leaves the second year. I will pull them and plant more chard seeds-white variety.

OUTSIDE RAISED BED-Checked the outside raised beds by the house. Last fall I I dug some old horse manure into one of them and it looks great. I planted the following seeds and covered them with row cover to keep the rabbits from them:

PEAS-Dwarf Grey peas and Oregon Sugar Pod II-60 days

SPINACH-Bloomsdale-45 days and a giant variety of spinach (there I go again!) called Monstrueux de Viroflay-50 days

BUTTERHEAD LETTUCE-Yugoslavian Red-40 days

MESCLUN-Provencal mix-40 days

CILANTRO

CUTTING LETTUCE-a new super red variety of  called Sea of Red-40 days

ROMAINE-Paris Island Cos-68 days

ARUGULA-Apollo-30 days

IN THE SECOND RAISED BED- Took out the last of the carrots from fall that overwintered. They should be extra sweet! The garlic I bought at SF Farmers Market last fall is coming up in it. Lightly dug in some Yum-Yum Mix in the remainder of the bed as I’m going to plant more carrots, beets and shallots which are heavy feeders and need some extra fertilizer especially if you are putting them back in the same area. I will plant:

CARROTS- Purple Haze and Danvers

BEETS-Detroit Dark Red-60 days, Bulls Red Beet-50 days and Early Wonder beet-48 days

DUTCH SHALLOTS-picked up some Dutch Red Shallots while I wait for the French shallots to arrive. Should be a good taste test at harvest time.

MAIN GARDEN-I hooked up the hose and watered the strawberries and the asparagus. Underneath the layer of dried leaves in the strawberry bed I see new leaves starting to grow from the crowns. The asparagus is either dead from our very cold winter or they haven’t started growing yet, we will see..

How to Make a Coldframe

My coldframe

A dear friend of mine, Kim, asked me if I would explain how to build a coldframe while there is still time before planting time in early Spring. There are many designs available online to make a coldframe or hot bed. Here is the coldframe plan (as a pdf) that I basically used when building my coldframe with a few small exceptions. Now mine isn’t super refined as you can see in the photo but seems to be working! (Be sure you look at the pdf because there is a lot more information in it). As you look at the plan, it’s pretty self explanatory but here is what I did for the sides and the bottom inside.

one page of the coldframe plan

I used 2 inch x 10 inch lumber for the bottom section all around and another 2″x10″ section for the top side slanted pieces. Cutting the diagonal piece is easy, I drew a line from one corner across diagonally to the other corner and cut on the line then I used one piece for each side on top of the bottom piece. The only thing I did differently is I put one more 1 x 2 inch piece vertically in the middle on each side  (screwed in-see photo not diagram) and in the back to join the top and bottom piece together. I added a 2 x 4  (long) piece on the lid that I screwed in (not tightly) so I can raise and lower the lid and prop it up vertically (see the piece holding up the lid on the right side). In the photo you notice I taped BIG bubble wrap (not small bubbles) with duct tape on on the inside of the plexiglass lid to add extra insulation in the dead of winter. I also divided mine into two sections.This isn’t in the plan but in the left section I started with hardwire cloth on the bottom to keep out gophers. Then I added dirt and compost on top of the hardwire so I could plant in it but the soil isn’t heated. The right side has a garden heating cable. I attached the cable with twist ties to the hardwire cloth that is cut out to fit the bottom. Then I turned over the hardwire cloth so now it is on top and place it on the bottom. I did this so I can’t put a spade through the cables while digging around in the dirt when planting. Then I put dirt on top like the other side. So the right side is a contemporary hot house when I plug in the heating cable (which I haven’t done yet). I will use it to heat the soil to a temperature so the seeds will sprout. A traditional hot house has a dug out area where ‘hot’ green manure is placed into. Then on top of that is the dirt that you would put your plants or seeds in. The manure gives off heat as it composts, heating the soil just like the heating cable. Now I love the idea of the manure and doing it naturally but I don’t want to have to replace it every year so I chose the heating cable. I will use an extension cord to bring power from the house. I’m experimenting with the non-heated and heated side to see if it really makes a difference in early Spring. If it does, I’ll heat the left side too next year.

Last time I reported, the right side which I planted with transplants in November, is still doing well while the left side where I planted transplants in January all died in the -20°F we had one night (except the parsley which survived) which is interesting cause I don’t even like parsley! I think the left side all died while the right side didn’t because they did not have any time to grow roots while the right side planted in November did. Remember I haven’t heated the right side yet so I know that wasn’t a factor. Anyways I’m sure the plans will help you more than my description!

Winter Spinach!

Winter Spinach-Feb 1, 2011

 

Just before we dipped down into -10 to -15°F for nightime lows during the first week of February here in Santa Fe, I picked all the spinach that had been growing up till then. I figured the winter garden greens growing in my coldframe (that is only protected by some bubble wrap on the lid-nothing protecting the 2 x 10 wood on the sides) would be toast but unbelieveably it survived! Not only survived but thrived! Now the chard is starting to really grow! I continue to be astonished by it all. I got 4 salads from the spinach and it was the best I ever had-I’m not just saying that either. I’ve never seen such deep green coloring for ANY spinach and it was so tender. Delicious! I only picked the bigger leaves so I’ll see if it regrows again. I’m starting to become a believer in this winter garden thing. Things grow a little slower in winter but hey, I’m a little slower in winter too.

OMG-what will it do in Spring?!

More winter greens go in the cold frame

Well I got some more winter greens to plant from ‘The Veggie Man’ from the Santa Fe Farmers Market on Saturday. My good friend Lava, told me she saw him there selling veggie starts and found out where he has his greenhouse and we went over there and picked some up. I got Argula, Endive, Blue Kale, and Baby Bok Choy and Parsley. I will plant them on Wednesday in my Cold Frame (where I already have Swiss Chard, Oakleaf Lettuce and Spinach growing), weather permitting. We are suppose to get cold again on Wednesday so we will see if I or the plants can stand it.

Winter Purslane (Miners Lettuce) and Mache (Corn Salad)

I was doing some research on Winter Purslane and Mache for including them in my cold frame for next fall/winter gardening and found a seed company in (of all places) New Mexico.  It is called www.gourmetseed.com and hails out of Tatum, NM and you can purchase these items and more from them.  Mache is pretty common but I haven’t heard about Purslane (except the wild kind that grows here). So let me talk a little about these two winter crops that have been grown in Europe for centuries.

Mache (French Corn Salad)-picture from gourmetseed.com

Mache-(Valerianella locusta)

This gourmet green is also known as corn salad and lamb’s lettuce. It has been cultivated from France since the 17th century. Mache was named because it’s leaf resembles the shape and size of a lamb’s tongue!  It is one of the few greens that can handle our winters (like spinach). It grows in a rosette if you plant individually but most just broadcast the seeds (like you would for mesclun) in an area to make a carpet of leaves as they are very small. Growing low to the ground, it is harder to harvest but it has a nutty, sweet flavor worth the effort. To harvest it, just take a knife and cut it off below the leaf level being careful not to injure the delicate leaves and wash well. You can eat it alone or put it in with other salad greens but use a light vinaigrette or even lemon juice and a little oil-it is too delicate for heavy dressings. They say you can steam it like spinach but it is too small for me to do that. I grew this many years ago under row cover in raised boxes and it did well but grew very slow in our winter but when Spring came it was ready and I went out one day only to find the chickens had escaped and raided the garden and they ate all but a few leaves of my Mache! The few leaves left tasted wonderful so I hope they enjoyed it! It like colder weather so I may try again this early spring as it takes 6-12 weeks till harvest but much longer if it goes into winter. Mache doesn’t like to be warm. Maybe I’ll try it when I plant more spinach in early March and again next fall.

Winter Purslane (Miner's Lettuce)--picture from gourmetseed.com

Winter-Purslane-(Montia perfoliata)

This is not to be confused with the purslane weed that grows wild in New Mexico and throughout the U.S. I will write the next post on that one (Portulaca oleracea) because it is interesting too but for now I want to focus on this variety. This winter green is also known as Miner’s Lettuce or Indian Lettuce and is rich in Vitamin C. It was eaten by early miners to avoid Scurvy. This wonderful wild green is used in Germany and other European countries for it’s tender young leaves. It is used as an addition to mesclun and other salads or steamed like spinach. You pick the leaves when they are young and tender. Most people plant this in fall because it handles the winter so well. I think I will try this in my cold frame next fall. I haven’t done a cold frame in years until this year, but am enjoying seeing the spinach, oakleaf lettuce and chard in it. It’s nice seeing something green in the dead of winter and hopefully if they survive this winter, I will get an early crop of some wonderful greens and now that I’m excited again about fall/winter gardening, I will definitely plant some Mache and Purslane next year. You might consider it too.

Winter gardening

Main garden Jan. 8, 2011

Bri's Pumpkin Patch Jan. 8, 2011

It really looks like old man winter has arrived. Here are pictures of  the main garden and pumpkin patch down by the barn that I took this morning. We’ve had some precipitation (finally) on Dec 31-Jan.1 and some absolutely frigid temperatures last week which is why it is still on the ground.  Another Arctic blast is due here next week. Oh boy, can’t wait..

I went to get some carrots in my small patch protected only by 12 inches of straw up by the house for dinner last night and the carrots (yellow carrots) were looking good but the ground was frozen. All those nights in the single digits made the ground rock hard. Guess I’ll have to wait till spring when it thaws to harvest some.

Cold Frame Jan 8, 2011

When I checked the cold frame, the soil is still soft and the plants are doing great!

Winter lettuce damage

A little damage on some of the lettuce leaves from the -4° we had one night but not bad considering I don’t pay any attention to it except for an occasional watering. In the picture notice I have large bubble wrap on my cover to add insulation and you can see the row cover to the left that I have to cover the crop with to also add protection. Guess this is working pretty well. The transplanted chard is holding it’s own and the spinach leaves ARE ACTUALLY GROWING-slowly but growing!  So I watered the cold frame winter veggies before the next big weather front.  I use gallon jugs to water-easier than the frozen hose…

Closeup of cold frame veggies

Cold Frame Winter Gardening

Growing Spinach and Lettuce in a Cold Frame in December

Checked my cold frame today and my winter greens are coming along. I’m growing spinach in foreground, and oakleaf lettuce behind it and behind the lettuce is some little Swiss chard transplants and a few onions from the summer garden. There is not much to do except give them a little water when the soil dries out which is about once every week. I haven’t been paying much attention to them. I’m not the best winter gardener. I don’t always open up the cold frame in the day or shut it down completely at night. It’s interesting to see how much neglect they can take and still produce in winter but it is nice to see something green.