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!

Winter greens for the greenhouse or early planting outside

I can’t wait anymore! I got this newly completed greenhouse and am antsy to try it out. I’ve done a lot of research on which plants might do well in the winter and am ready to rock n’ roll! So I am planting cold hardy seeds this week inside the house. I will transplant them into my new greenhouse when they are bigger. I’m also going to try some direct seeding in the greenhouse in the raised beds like arugula, spinach, kale, baby bok choi and mache in mid-February-all of which can handle some pretty cold weather. How cold? We will see soon although you wouldn’t know it by this week. I will also plant other greens like some winter hardy lettuces, peas, and a winter hardy variety of chard called Argentata at the end of February-beginning of March. Everything planted in the greenhouse will have to have row cover over it even in the greenhouse at this early date because of our cold nights. For those of you who do not have a hoophouse, or cold frame, the seeds in the list below will do well outside only you have to wait a little longer.

Here is my list of cold hardy crops to try in the greenhouse. You can also plant these outside in March once the soil is not frozen and cover them with row cover:

From Johnny’s Seeds:
‘5-star greenhouse’ lettuce mix
‘Space’ Spinach

From Southern Exposure Seed Exchange:
‘Even’ Star’ Winter Arugula
‘Winter Bloomsdale’ spinach

From Kitazawa Seed Co:
‘Mei Qing Choi’ (dwarf pak choi)-recommended in ‘Four Season Harvest’ by Eliot Coleman
‘Tatsoi’ (pak choi)-recommended in ‘Four Season Harvest’ by Eliot Coleman
‘Golden Yellow’ pak choi
‘Astro’ arugula

From The Cooks’ Garden:
‘Red Grenoble’ lettuce
‘Forellenschluss'(speckled trout) lettuce
‘Rouge D’Hiver’ lettuce-recommended in ‘Four Season Harvest’ by Eliot Coleman

From John scheepers Kitchen Garden:
‘Argentata’ Chard-recommended in ‘Four Season Harvest’ by Eliot Coleman

From Agua Fria Nursery: transplants ready to plant
mache (corn salad)-recommended in ‘Four Season Harvest’ by Eliot Coleman
endive-recommended in ‘Four Season Harvest’ by Eliot Coleman
‘Winter Wonder’ lettuce
‘Marshall Red’ romaine lettuce

USDA Plant Hardiness Zones and ‘average first frost free dates’ explained

NMSo what are USDA Plant Hardiness Zones? And what is this ‘first frost free date’ we hear about as gardeners so often?

The Plant Hardiness Zone is a standard set by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) and is calculated by accumulating many years of data. Zones are used by gardeners to help determine which plants will most likely thrive in their area. “The maps are based on the average annual minimum winter temperature, divided into 10 degree-F Zones”. There are 13 Zones, the coldest being Zone 1 and the warmest is Zone 13.

In Santa Fe, we used to be in USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 5 but now Santa Fe is in Zone 6b (-5 to 0°F). The reason our Zone has been changed according to the USDA is because it has better models to follow with more information gathered throughout the years- not necessarily because it’s getting warmer (although I do believe that too). Some areas in our county could be Zone 6a (-10 to -5°F) if they are closer to the mountainous areas. If you are not sure what zone you live in (where ever you live) go to the USDA plant hardiness site and type in your zip code and it will tell you what zone you are in-it’s as simple as that. So when you go to a nursery and the plant tag says zone 7-forget about it—it won’t survive our winters but any tag with Zone 6 or lower number should survive.

The average first frost free date is the date that we can safely put plants outside in our gardens. Notice I said average because some years we are colder and some years warmer. You’ll just have to watch the weather closely in spring for deciding if you want to try to sneak them out earlier in your area if spring appears to be a warm one. In Santa Fe our first average frost free date is May 15. So plant away outside after May 15, unless you hear we are getting a hard freeze! Of course if you are starting them in a hoophouse or greenhouse, you can start seedlings much earlier.

Now, once you know your planting zone and first frost free date, you can use the many tools available on the web for calculating all kinds of things from seed starting to succession planting to harvest times. Many seed companies have web tools to help you calculate the dates. In my next post I will show one such tool I use.