Lettuces to grow in winter

lettuce-jan 16, 2015

Here is some lettuce I harvested from my unheated greenhouse on January 16th! I’ve been experimenting growing some cold hardy lettuce varieties (Winter Wunder and Marshall Red Romaine) this winter.  I told you I would report back and here is my first harvest. I find it amazing that they survived some very cold nights 6 to 8°F (-14 to -13°C for my European friends) in the greenhouse with only some winter weight row cover over them for added protection. I planted them from transplants instead of seeds in November so they had a good head start. It’s really fun to see something ‘green’ growing this time of year and yummy too.

 

 

 

 

 

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:
https://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

Spring has sprung! (well almost)

lettuce_greenhouse germinating

This lettuce is from Johnny’s called All-Star Gourmet Lettuce mix coming in the greenhouse.

In celebration of my FIRST CROPS coming up in the greenhouse, I’ve changed the background color on my blog back to green from winter blue. In my mind, winter is over although not officially – that won’t take place till the first day of spring on Spring Equinox on March 20 and of course we can still (will) get snow. No matter. I’m ready! I’m moving on and planting stuff (in the greenhouse). What kind of stuff? Read on to find out!

bok choy_yellow green

These are a golden yellow pak choi (shakushina) from Kitazawa. They’re already a great yellow-green color and will make a wonderful contrast to the tatsoi.

These first crops took about 12 days to germinate-they actually came up on March 1 so they were planted on Feb 17th. They are all still tiny but coming up nicely. The top picture is a lettuce mix from Johnny’s called All Star Lettuce Mix that’s suppose to grow out evenly. The second picture is a golden-yellow pak choi (shakushina) from Kitazawa. Also from Kitazawa are Pak Choi rosette (tatsoi) and white stem dwarf pak choi (both not shown). These were all recommended in Elliot Coleman’s book, Four Season Harvest (except the golden-yellow pak choi which I couldn’t resist because of the color). According to Elliot Coleman they all do well in cold greenhouses.   I have winter weight row cover over them now to protect them at night. I also planted Winter Bloomsdale spinach from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange at the same time and it’s coming up way slower but the first 2 seedlings broke ground yesterday, on March 3.

Ah, spring has sprung-and we got rain this week! What could be better?! I’m also going to plant transplants this week to see how they do in comparison to the seedlings. I’ll get pics later on that one.

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.

Cold Frame Survivors

I tried to overwinter some veggies in the coldframe that I planted last October. I wanted to see what would survive and what would die back.

coldframe survivors

Here is what has survived (so far) in the coldframe – 1 sad little bok choy, 2 sadder lettuces, 4 happy endives, a row of Bull’s Blood beets and 2 chard. The mache and arugula were doing great but bolted during the 70°F day we had last week and were loaded with aphids so I pulled them out and the chickens enjoyed them instead of me. What didn’t make it was some of the chard, most of the lettuces and mesclun (more baby lettuce).

Now it is suppose to get down to 16°F tomorrow night and 14°F on Sunday night! Yikes! I’m going to spray everything with insecticidal soap for 7 days in a row to hopefully rid me of the aphids. I don’t dare plant anything else in the coldframe till I’m sure they’re gone.

I also planted spinach in an outside raised box with row cover over them and they hung on in a rather dormant state and now they are growing full blast.

Next year I will only plant endive, mache, spinach and arugula as they did great even when we got down to 10°F although I do put a layer of heavy row cover over all when it gets down in the teens.

Univent Automatic Coldframe opener

I just got a Univent automatic opener that opens and close a cold frame lid. I’ve wanted one for a long time. This will save me time running out and opening it on a warm fall day (so my veggies don’t cook) and then running back and closing it when it gets cold later in the day (so they don’t freeze). It is a temperature sensitive opener designed to open windows in greenhouses or lids on cold frames. It can be adjusted to start opening between 60-75°F. It fully opens at 86-90°F up to 18″ and fully closes at 55°F.

Here is a little info from ACF Greenhouses on them- “How do automatic vent openers work? Vent openers do not require electricity. The opener has a metal cylinder containing a mineral which expands when heated. This pushes a piston that opens the vent. As the temperature cools, the mineral shrinks and a spring closes the vent and resets the piston. The opening and closing of the vent is gradual allowing just the right amount of air flow for cooling.”

You can get them from ACF Greenhouses or I got mine from Peaceful Valley. Now all I got to do is get my fall greens in!

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