Gardening this spring

trini

But first one last memorial-I couldn’t resist because I found this photo. I haven’t written much lately because I’ve been sadden by the death of my favorite kittie-kat, Trini. Above is a photo taken by Genevieve Russel several years ago when Trini was younger that I just found and wanted to share. Wasn’t she beautiful? She had a heart of gold too. She would let you do anything to her-toss her around, make her dance or dress her up in doll clothes and put her in a high chair (Flynnie did that years ago). I even made her play the drums with me once! And whenever you answered the phone, there would be Trini, meowing loudly in the background so as not to be ignored. Absolutely had no boundaries (which is unusual for a cat). We have two other kitties (with boundaries) who would never let us do any of those things (probably claw our eyes out), who are wonderful too, but Trini was a very special being.

But I haven’t been sitting around either. I’ve been sooo busy finishing planting cool season veggies outside in the greenhouse and coldframe, and doing succession planting of more lettuces as I use them up. Here’s what’s been up around the farm:

coldframe+04-2016

Wrapping up all cool season crops-lettuces, bok choys, kale and chard are going outside either in the greenhouse, cold frame or in the main garden. Many have already been growing (and eaten). Pictured above, my coldframe shows lettuces, cilantro and bok choy ready to harvest. As we eat them, new ones go in any empty place. This cool spring has been great for the cool season crops this year. Absolutely no bolting yet-wonderful! Notice the bamboo shade screening on the outside of the top of the coldframe. It was cut to size and screwed on and provides wonderful shade to help keep the plants cooler and keep them from bolting. I won’t be planting any more lettuce greens for a while, but when I do, it will be with HEAT TOLERANT lettuces for summer outside in the shade. Besides I have enough to eat for at least a month…

GH_04-2016

Here are some other lettuces inside the greenhouse we’ve been munching on since winter. This variety is ‘winter wonder’. I’ve already harvested a bunch and will soon finish it as this variety likes cooler weather. In case you’re wondering, that hardware cloth in the pic above the lettuce, is a lid covering all those beautiful lettuces. I propped it up to show the lettuces. I built it to keep the mice from eating them first. Last year was terrible for me and great for the mice-they ate anything young or tender. The lid is working-no lettuce has been eaten in the greenhouse by mice, only me! Haaa!

BT in GH

But maybe the presence of one of our cats, BT (broken tail-hey we didn’t do it, we got him that way!) the great mouse hunter, also has been an influence on no mice in the greenhouse! Here he is checking out my building skills.

Bt in lid

And here he is trapped in one of the lids!

 

spinach spring

 

spinach bed with shade clothWonderful spinach-this variety, Carmel, shown above has some radishes growing with them. You can still buy starts from Aqua Fria Nursery but soon the spinach season will be over so don’t plant by seed now. To extend the season at this time of year, I put a shade cloth over the bed (right) so they will last a little longer and not bolt. Meanwhile the spinach has been wonderful with this extended cool weather we’ve had. Better enjoy it now as it’s gonna get warm soon.

 

kale floweringLast year’s kale is toast. Finito. The pic on left shows them bolting (flowering) and putting all their energy into making seeds and fighting off the aphids. Kale is a biennial plant, meaning they will live two years, putting most of their energy into making leaves the first year and making seeds the second year. Since I don’t want to keep the seeds this year (I have plenty), I will pull them and give the plants to my chickens after they finish flowering (the bees like the flowers). The chickens will enjoy the kale and get extra protein with the aphids-perfect. Otherwise if I had no chickens, I would be composting them. There would be no problems with the aphids as they need living plants to feast on. In the compost pile, as it heats up, they will become toast anyways (I like that word)! But don’t worry, I have another crop of kale going in this week!

red orach reseeded

In the left pic is Red Orach. Plant it once and you’ll have for a lifetime. It readily reseeds itself. It is very tasty—kinda like spinach (in the same family) so you can cook it or put it into salads. Here it is growing willy-nilly everywhere.

 

garlic and shallotsIn the right pic is garlic growing nicely. Planted it last fall and mulched it with straw to help keep moisture in the soil. It’s not a cool season crop but does come up with the other cool season crops. I bet you wonder why I have a ladder across the bed-well it is to keep the neighbor’s dogs off of it and it works! They use to come over and lay or wrestle on top of the garlic and straw and now they don’t bother it at all.

rhubarb spring

And let’s not forget rhubarb this year! Mine is up and I’ve already cut off the flowers so all of their energy will go to the leaves and stalks. Only eat the stalks as the leaves are toxic. They have concentrated levels of oxalic acid in them.  How toxic? I don’t know how toxic for humans but I once saw a dead mouse who ate part of a leaf and died under it! Soon there will be rhubarb-strawberry pie-yum!

 

potato bags in herb garden

Finally I planted some of the potatoes in ‘potato gro bags’ in the herb garden. Can’t wait to see how they do! These are “purple’ potatoes whose variety name I can’t remember, but they are a fingerling type. The herbs are doing well too. This is the second year for these perennial herbs. There is marjoram, oregano, kitchen sage, winter savory, thyme, chives, tarragon, lemon thyme and garlic chives. We beefed up some of the drip system so they should get plenty of water this year. Lavender is in another part of the garden and lots of basil will go down in the main garden later when it warms up!

 

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!