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.
This year, one of the lettuces I grew is called Santoro, a type of butterhead lettuce that is heat-resistant, cold resistant, has a wonderful taste and grows really big if given the chance. I got the seeds from Cooks Garden seed catalog. I started them inside the house on Jan 29, transplanted them into 2″ pots on Feb 14 and transplanted them again into the greenhouse in mid April. I read somewhere Santoro lettuce can produce 12″ heads if you give them the room. So I spaced them really far apart to see if they could get that big. They say if you crowd big varieties they will never reach their maximum size. In the picture above I’ve picked the outer leaves to eat and wanted to see if they would grow back. The heads on the right haven’t been touched yet. As you can see I picked pretty hard. They grew back almost to the same size as the ones that weren’t picked.
A couple of weeks later-Check out the size of these heads-a full 12 inches across. They are still growing in the greenhouse but now I’m picking the whole head (instead of just the outer leaves) as I had to make way for the tomatoes that will grow in there. In fact I already have all 18 tomato plants (in wall of waters) inside the greenhouse as of May 13. I know it will get too hot for lettuces inside the greenhouse this summer so I’m starting to pull them to eat.
May 31-I just picked this last head of Santoro lettuce yesterday (shown above between the tomatoes in the wall of waters) and it hadn’t bolted yet even though the temperatures in the greenhouse have gotten over 80 degrees. It’s handled 19 degrees to over 80 degrees! It reached 17 inches across! Hasn’t gotten bitter and is still soft and wonderful to eat. I’ve never had such great lettuce as this year, not only with this lettuce but with all of them in the greenhouse. Seems I’ve figured out how to be successful with them. I’ve done a lot of research on them from Nov-Dec to find some great varieties that were cold tolerant and now I’ve researched out what varieties of lettuce are heat tolerant, hoping to grow them in the shade this summer here in Santa Fe without bolting. Most of us don’t even try to grow lettuce in the summer as it is pretty warm here. I will list the heat tolerant varieties of lettuce in the next post and do an experiment with some of them outside in the garden.
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.
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.
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:
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
beets-Red Ace, Merlin, Touchstone Gold
beet leaves-Bull’s Blood, Red Ace
carrot-Napoli, Mokum, Nelson
chard-Fordhook Giant, Ruby Red, Argentata
lettuce-Red Saladbowl, Tango, Rex, Rouge d’hiver
mustard green-Toyoko Beau
radishes-Tinto, D’Avignon, Cherriette
Well here it is in early December and not surprisingly, most of the outside crops in the main garden, ‘bit the dust’ as they say—died. A few are still alive. It is warmer now—here are the results of those cold snaps we had.
The Toscana (aka Lacinato or dinosaur) kale got severely damaged. It is cold sensitive and although it’s not completely dead, it is unharvestable. Here it is with the leaves burned from the cold.
The Russian Red and Curly Leaf kale are still going and have some damage as well but the new growth is doing well. I haven’t watered them at all-nature has with a little snow and a nice rain the other day- almost an inch. I do have them covered with 2 layers of winter weight row cover.
The gourds are still drying in the field. Some are starting to get lighter in weight so I will put those in the garden shed to finish drying. The rest will stay outside until they dry more.
The green house is button up fairly tight now with just a little venting at the top panels. I’ve put the bubble wrap on all the windows (bubbles faced to the window) for extra insulation. I’ve also put the 4 barrels with water in them on the north wall for them to absorb heat in the daytime (I took them out during the summer), releasing the heat at night (the theory is that the sun which is lower and further to the south will hit them on the north wall and warm up in the daytime). I’m not sure I have enough barrels to do much good but even one degree will be helpful once it gets cold again.
I’ve planted 2 winter lettuce varieties in the green house as transplants back in early November. The cold hard varieties are a green variety-Winter Wunder and a red variety-Marshall Red Romaine. They both have made it so far through those cold snaps although they have slowed down in growth because of the shorter daylight hours. They will stop growing until sometime in January when the daylight hours start to get longer. Winter Wunder is my favorite lettuce but only grows well during the cold months. When it starts to get even a little warm, it will bolt. The lettuces have 2 layers of row cover over them at night and have some protection from the unheated greenhouse (at least from the winds). I’ve also noticed that the lettuces don’t need a lot of water now (about once every 2 weeks). It will be interesting to see if they make it Dec-February. Don’t they look wonderful in the winter!
There has been about a 4-7°F difference between the greenhouse temperature and the outside temperature at 7 am in the morning when I check everything. When I add the row cover at night I get about 4-6 degrees more protection. I’m not sure what to expect this winter since this is my first December-January in the greenhouse. Last year when we finished up the greenhouse I start planting on February 17th so now I will see if these established greens can survive Dec-Jan.
It’s been a very busy summer for me. I’ve been preparing for my tour here on the property since spring. Nothing like having people over to get things done. I’ve had a punch list that I’ve chipped away at and finally got almost all of them done before last weekend when I had an educational tour for the Santa Fe Master Gardeners of my little Artisan Farm here in Santa Fe. Between the Home Grown Kitchen Garden & Coop Tour (different tour the week before) and my tour last weekend, I’ve pretty much been headless all summer. Now it’s all over and I can get back to a more normal pace. But wait, I’m getting ready to go to the SF Farmer’s Market! Always something. I guess I can rest in the winter! Here are some pictures of my Artisan Farm tour last weekend. The garden looks the best ever…
Well, now that spring has sprung it’s time to get busy-really busy! We vegetable gardeners will generally be headless from now on from pre-starting seeds to planting in the garden all those vegetables you’ve been dreaming of trying since January. And some of us are still cleaning up our gardens including me. Now is the time in our area, to continue seed planting or start seeds inside under lights or in a cold frame or a hoophouse. Just about any cold hardy veggies like Asian greens, lettuce, spinach, mesclun and many others can be started inside and some of those can also be started outside right now like arugula, bok choy, spinach and peas. Also if your space is warm enough, you can plant beets inside but DON’T plant beet and carrot seeds outside till April (right around the corner). The reason is the soil is still pretty cold outside in our gardens and they will just sit and sulk until the soil warms up. 😦