Sleepy time for plants

When winter days are less than 10 hours a day in length, plants in the ground slow down or stop growing altogether. I’d like to think that the plants are sleeping. Eliot Coleman, who wrote The Winter Harvest Handbook, calls this time the Persephone Period. Our Persephone period here in Santa Fe is from Thanksgiving thru January 14th. What does this mean for us gardeners?

If you are thinking about transplanting plants that you started or bought into a hoop house, low tunnel or greenhouse, forget about it right now. Wait.

If you had planted greens in August for a fall harvest, you probably notice that they aren’t growing much anymore. But they should be big enough to harvest assuming you protected your cold hardy plants from our winter nights with winter weight row cover. I have 2 big cabbages still in the garden and a couple of kale that I plan to harvest this week since they won’t be getting bigger.

But plants that are small, will stay small now until Jan 14th when our daylight hours start to get longer again. Other parts of the country further north will have longer time periods of less light days. This has nothing to do with the Winter Solstice, which is the shortest day of the year but rather a time period of less light. After January 14th, daylight hours will start to get longer than 10 hours again. That’s when the plants wake up and start growing again.

So my recommendation is to hunker down with some good gardening books, get your gardening catalogs and plan next year’s garden (and get some rest too.)

Fall Vegetable Gardening starts in August

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s hard to believe it’s already August. We’ve had plenty of hot days and hail storms to contend with this summer here in Santa Fe.  With August, temperatures should start to drop and daylight hours are getting shorter. This means August is a great time to plant a fall garden with some cool season crops, just like the ones we planted in Spring.

We are just starting to harvest our warm season crops like tomatoes and now we should think about starting our fall gardens. No rest for the wicked! Now some people are too burnt out to start more plants but some of the best crops do well in fall with cooler temperatures.

The day length is about 2 minutes shorter every day in the garden and fall crops may take a little longer to mature so get them in soon. This month you can still plant by SEED, many cool season crops like carrots and beets (plant these by seed right now as they take a little longer) Other cool season crops like lettuce, mesclun, chard, spinach, scallions, radishes, peas, arugula, bok choys, mustards, and other Asian greens can be planted throughout August by SEED. When planting by seeds, look for those varieties that have shorter ‘days to harvest’ on the packet. Pick something that is around 60 days or less to harvest so you’ll get a chance to eat some of the crops you’ll try before a freeze sets in, usually in October.

Other crops that do well, like broccoli and cauliflower and some cabbage should be started with transplants that you can get at a nursery. And if you procrastinate, you can still plant by buying all of the crops listed above as transplants up into early-September and enjoy some great crops. I’ve already planted peas (again-right on top of spring’s crop), and spinach and lettuces by seed. I already have enough bok choy, chards and beets growing from spring to take me into fall for those crops.

Here is a FALL PLANTING SCHEDULE for you to print for Santa Feans in Zone 6a:

FALL VEGETABLE PLANTING SCHEDULE

Cold nights are here-protect you plants!

Atomic Red and Cosmic Purple carrots harvested last week

 

Here it is Friday, November 17 2017 and I was just remarking that except for the one cold night that killed off all the tomatoes in September, how warm it has been. If it wasn’t for that one freezing night, we’d still be harvesting tomatoes!

Well it changes tonight getting well below freezing and will continue to be cold with temperatures in the mid-20’s at night and low 50’s in the days for about the next 5-6 days.

All the warm season veggies have been done for a month but I still have a few cool season crops out in the garden like Lacinato kale, Voiletta bok choy, Florence bulb fennel, Atomic Red and Cosmic Purple carrots, Detroit Red beets and Argentata chard. Since I want to keep them going as long as possible, I will put winter weight row cover (.9-1.0+ mil weight) over the plants to protect them until the temperatures get above freezing at nights. Also I have lettuces and spinaches growing in the unheated greenhouse and will cover them as well. Of course an option is finish harvesting everything and call it a season!

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Cool season crops have begun

transplants-2-weeks-old

When I was looking through what I plant each year, I realized I actually grow many varieties of cools season crops (like greens/lettuce). I started some seeds of cool season crops inside under lights but no heat on Jan 17!  I never put the heat mats on for cool season crop seeds, only for warm season crops and it is way too early for them just yet.

I started:
Asian greens: bok choy, pak choy, Wasabi arugula

Lettuces: 4 Season Lettuce butterhead, Yugoslavian Red butterhead, and Santoro butterhead lettuce. Can you tell I like butterheads?!

Leeks: Solaise, King Richard and American Flag

Onions: Candy (it is an intermediate or neutral variety) which is they type of onion we have to grow here.

Spinach: Carmel-Just planted the seeds today. Still have some spinach plants that have overwinter nicely outside in a raised bed with only winter weight row cover on it. By planting a crop of spinach last fall, I’m hoping I get a bumper crop of spinach in March! The variety of spinach I like the most is called Carmel which overwinter last year and looks to do the same this year. You can get seeds from Johnny’s or plants from Agua Fria Nursery.

4-season-lettuce

four season lettuce is looking good

Today I transplanted up lettuces and Asian greens to pony pots from seed trays. The plants are looking good but need to grow more before I put them out in my green house or cold frame. You can plant outside in sunny raised beds in March but all-greenhouse, cold frames or just plain old beds will need winter weight row cover on the little starts to protect them from our cold nights.  I’m hoping to put them out by beginning of March. The varieties I grow at this time of year are very cold hardy. I’m trying to get a head start as our cool season crop season is pretty short here before it gets too hot and everything bolts. And there is nothing better than spring spinach or lettuce!

More daylight hours/plants start to grow again

Growing Spinach and Lettuce in a Cold Frame

The Persephone period is over. Elliot Coleman in his Winter Harvest Handbook, coined this name. When daylight hours are less than 10 hours per day, the plants that are in the ground slow down or stop growing altogether during this time. This means that the spinach or mache you planted last fall had slowed down and by Thanksgiving stopped growing. The Persephone period can be longer or shorter depending on what latitude you live in. For us in Santa Fe, it is from Thanksgiving to Jan 14th.  In states that are further north, they are still in the Persephone period. As the daylight hours continue to get longer and longer, you should notice the plants starting to grow again. I grew ‘Carmel’ spinach last fall in one of my beds up by my house and it is still alive, covered with winter weight row cover. I did this the year before and it survived and gave me beautiful spinach by March that I was able to harvest 4 times before it became too warm. If you didn’t grow anything to overwinter, you can now start spinach, Asian greens like ‘Tatsoi‘ and ‘Baby Bok Choy’, mache and some very cold hardy lettuces like ‘Winter Wunder’ and ‘Marshall Red Romaine’ once the soil warms to 40•F+. If you keep them covered with winter weight row cover to protect them from our cold nights, you will be able harvest them in early spring barring any devastating deep freezes. If you can’t wait and want to speed up the process, start the seeds under lights inside now and transplant them next month in February. To find other extra cold hardy crops to grow, go here.

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

Final Clean Up in the Garden

Nick unloading manure

I’ve now cleaned out most of the beds except where the gourds are, the kale bed and the 2 perennials in the garden.

gourds in wheelbarrow

The gourds are drying nicely and I picked some of them this week. These are African Bushel Gourds.

rhubarb in dec

The 2 perennial plants in the garden have gone to sleep-the rhubarb and the strawberries. I will cover the rhubarb crowns shown above with straw (they look dead but they are not).

strawberrys in Dec

I will put row cover over these strawberry plants as I don’t like raking out straw from the strawberries in the spring-too much work. It is much easier to just uncover them. Look how the leaves turned red.

Since the kale is still alive, it is covered with row cover for now. I expect it to die too once we get really cold at night again.

nick closeup

My friend Nick and myself put 2 huge trailer loads of horse manure on all the beds after we cleaned them out of the dead plants  in November.

beds finished

Then we lightly turned the manure over in the soil to add more organic matter to the soil as shown above. This will break down over the winter and be ready to plant by spring. Yea! Because of him I actually got all the fall clean up done! Finally the garden can go to sleep and maybe me!