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.

Fall Vegetable Planting Schedule

Fall harvest. We only wish our gardens were this GREEN! Photo courtesy of http://gardening.ktsa.com

Ok, so now since it is time to plant my fall veggie garden, here is my planting schedule

FIRST-WHAT TO PLANT AND WHEN

Depends a lot on what you like to eat. Below is MY list of what I want to plant for a fall garden. Some of these are already growing in the summer garden and will be ready to harvest soon like the carrots and beets so I must decide if I want more in the fall.  All of these planting dates are estimates depending on the variety you grow and are based on planting outside, not in a greenhouse. Look on your package of seeds or on the plant label for seedlings for accurate harvest times and go backwards from Oct 3 for Santa F+ add 14 days.

JUNE

Fennel (Finnochio-bulb type)-Sow seeds mid June. OPPS! Missed this. The short cool days of fall are even better for fennel than spring. You can still plant this (IN JULY) as it likes cool nights although the bulbs may be smaller since we missed it’s prime planting date.

JULY-AUGUST


Asian Greens/Bok Choi- Sow seeds mid July. Can handle light frosts. Harvest days depends on variety. Look on seed package.

Beets- Sow seeds in mid July-early August. Can handle freezes but must mulch with thick straw or row cover. 45-65 days to harvest.

Broccoli- Sow seeds early July-mid July. Can handle light frosts. 55 days to harvest.

Broccoli raab- Sow seeds in early July-mid July. Can handle light frosts. 45 days to harvest.

Carrots- Sow seeds in early July-mid August. Can handle freezes but must mulch with thick straw or row cover. 70-80 days to harvest.

Chard- Sow seeds late July-. Can handle some light frosts. Cover with row cover when it gets cold to extend season. 50-60 days to harvest

.

Kale- Sow seeds early July. The short cool days of fall are even better for kale than spring. Kale that is established will last well into winter and can survive below freezing temperatures down into the 20s.

Lettuces- Lettuce baby- Sow seeds in early-August. Seedlings will need consistent moisture and shade from the afternoon sun on hot days. Cover when it gets cold to extend season but it will not survive freezing temps. 45 days to harvest depending on type and variety.



Peas- Sow seeds in early-July-mid-July. Likes cool but not freezing weather. 60-75 days

.

Radish- Sow seeds late July. 30 days to harvest.

AUGUST


Spinach- Sow seeds early-August. The short cool days of fall are even better for spinach than spring. Spinach that is established will last well into winter and can survive below freezing temperatures down into the 20s although it will stop growing. Why doesn’t it freeze? It produces an alcohol inside-alcohol won’t freeze! 45 days to maturity.

Endive, Escarole-Sow seeds early August. The short cool days of fall are even better for these than spring.



Lettuces- Lettuce head – Sow seeds in anytime August. Seedlings will need consistent moisture and shade from the afternoon sun on hot days. Cover when it gets cold to extend season but it will not survive freezing temps. 45 to 60 days to harvest depending on type and variety.



Mesclun mixes- Sow seeds in early-August. Seedlings will need consistent moisture and shade from the afternoon sun on hot days. Cover when it gets cold to extend season but it will not survive freezing temps. 45 to 60 days to harvest depending on type and variety.



Arugula- Sow seeds in mid-August-late August. Fast growing. Can handle some light frosts. 
30-40 days to harvest.



Kale- Sow more seeds mid August. The short cool days of fall are even better for kale than spring. Kale that is established will last well into winter and can survive below freezing temperatures down into the 20s

OCTOBER


Garlic-Sow largest cloves anytime in October after the first frost. Harvest in late-June-July

Shallots-Sow largest bulbs anytime in October after the first frost. Harvest in late-June-July.

I’m 

not a big fan of kale, endive, escarole and collards, but went ahead and listed them as I know many of you like them. Cabbage and cauliflower take too long to grow for me. Forgetaboutit!

SECOND-WHERE TO PLANT


Do you have garden space close to your house for easy watering and harvesting as it gets colder? This is important to consider if your main garden is far away from your home. I have two places to plant them now. My cold frame and my raised beds up by the house. If I ever get my greenhouse done, I’ll have another great place for veggies but for now I’ll plant in my two spaces.

Cold frame in previous year

My first space is my cold frame up by the house. Since it is too hot now, I think I will have to put some shade cloth over it to keep plants cooler inside. Also I want to get one of those automatic vent openers that will open the lid if the temps get too hot and close it when it gets too cold.

The shallots will soon be done in this raised bed and I will use it for fall planting

My second space is the raised beds also up by the house. Raised beds are great as they keep the soil warmer in the fall when it is getting cooler. Since I already pulled all the garlic in these raised beds, I will plant a few cold hardy vegetables in them and then plant garlic and shallots between them come October. The beauty of having some garden space close to the house is when it does get cold, I won’t have to walk down to the main garden to water and harvest. I can just get a watering can and go right outside the house. Also I can replace the light row cover that I keep my cool season crops under (keeps the critters and bugs away) with a heavy row cover on the beds if a sudden frost comes up. The cool season crops will be picked by the time winter hits and the garlic and shallots will sleep till spring!

Fall Garden Projects-First up-putting the pumpkin patch to rest

Horse manure on top of pumpkin patch

I’ve been really busy this fall around the garden since the Pumpkin Bash. It seems like I never have time to do any projects when the garden is going so I try and get some of the projects done in the fall before the dead of winter. Last week cleaned out the pumpkin patch and then I rented that Bobcat where I spread out about 4 yards of horse manure on top of it. I really needed to dig it in or it would blow away before spring.

giant rototiller-16 hp

So yesterday I rented a giant rototiller (16 hp) and plowed in the 4 yards of manure, 50 lbs dried molasses (it smells so sweet), 50 lbs mushroom compost (are we cooking here?), and 50 lbs of gypsum (for calcium-makes strong bones, I mean strong plants!) in the pumpkin patch.

final pumpkin patch done

Now it looks so beautiful and is ALMOST ready for next spring! I still have to dig in some leaves (in the holes where I will be planting the pumpkin plants next spring) and a little (I mean very little) composted chicken manure to start the decomposition process so they can decompose over the winter and become leaf mold or should I say leaf gold by spring. This will be the third year for this pumpkin patch and boy what a difference three years makes when you add amendments each year. It’s starting to look good and the rototiller just cut through it fluffing it up together. I don’t like to rototill very much because of how hard it is on the soil microbes but felt that I needed to do it for now since this dirt was so void of any organic material and hard as a rock. I think after this year I’ll won’t have to do it again. I will add more mychorrizial next spring to help replenish the soil microbes.

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!

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.

More on winter gardening

Winter gardening is very different than summer gardener. It’s almost not gardening at all. In fact Eliot Coleman, author of Four-Season Harvest which I’m still reading says it’s not winter gardening but winter harvesting which puts it in a whole different light.  The only thing I need to do once in awhile is add water. There are no bugs or disease. I put my whole winter garden in with starts. Makes it really easy that way. He also talks abut eating vegetables when they are in their season so for winter gardening that could include spinach, tatsoi, bok choy, endive, arugula, corn salad, miners lettuce, radicchio, escarole, mesclun, sorrel, mustard, beets and carrots. I always thought that salads were a summer thing but that’s not true because salad crops grow best in the cool seasons and are sweetest then. That’s why we always have trouble with salad crops bolting. We plant them too late in Spring. I’m re-evaluating this whole winter gardening thing.