Greens in the Green House!

So my greens made it through the worst of winter (I hope) and have really started to kick in growing. They went on hold (stopped growing) from around Thanksgiving to mid-January when we had less than 10 hours of daylight. But since then the daylight hours keep increasing daily which is a signal for the plants to grow again in earnest. In case you are wondering when I planted all this, I planted the carrots, arugula and spinach last September inside the greenhouse, and the red and green lettuces I started from seed under grow lights inside my house on January 2nd and then were put out in the greenhouse in early February.

To keep the greens from freezing in the dead of winter in the greenhouse which is unheated, I’ve cover them with one layer of winter weight row cover every night and on some really cold nights (when temperatures got down to 14-17° F), I put two rows of row cover over them. One night the lettuce actually froze. But I read in Elliot Coleman’s Winter Harvest Handbook that if you don’t harvest it when it’s frozen, it may be fine by the afternoon when it warms up and sure enuf, it thawed out and is still growing great. You just can’t harvest it when it’s in a frozen state.

My Greenhouse a few summers ago

In the greenhouse are some carrots which aren’t very big yet (about the size of a pencil in circumference) some green and red lettuces, arugula and spinach, all of which will be harvested before the Green House (a play on the word greenhouse since my greenhouse was painted green) gets too hot. In fact when the day temperatures reach the 50’s, I put fans on to blow the heat out of the greenhouse.

 

Pray for heat, girls!

You see, I don’t worry about it being too cold but worry about it getting too HOT which will cause the lettuces and spinach to bolt (make flowers) which will cause it all to go bitter and then it is only good for our chickens who don’t seem to mind the bitterness at all. In fact I think they pray for the heat!

Looks like some of the lettuce and spinach are now big enough to pick the outer leaves while leaving the inner leaves to continue to grow. And a big bonus for me is to see so much green now already at the start of March! I love going into the greenhouse right now. Refreshing when the outdoor plants are still sleeping…

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.

Santoro lettuce-a great butterhead variety

IMG_5764

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.

IMG_5763

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.

santoro lettuce_17 inches

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.

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

Cold Damage on Winter Crops

garden dec 9 2014

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 Toscano Kale with freeze burn. It is more sensitive to cold temperatures  than other kales

Toscano Kale

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.

 

Russian Red kale is still alive

Russian Red kale

 

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.

gourds in field

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.

bubble wrap down on windowsThe 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.

winter lettuces

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.

Artisan Farm Tour-2014

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…

Spring has Sprung! Boing!

lettuce

Chard (left), WinterWunderland lettuce (center) and Mashal lRed Romaine (right) have doubled in size since planting in February in the greenhouse

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. 😦

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.

Heating the Greenhouse using passive solar methods?

wide angle view of GH interior

I like this wide angle view of the inside of the greenhouse

I want to heat the greenhouse in the winter using passive solar methods. There is nothing growing in it so far this winter but I’m doing some experimenting to see how warm I can get it (my goal is around 32°F or warmer) at night. To this end I’m experimenting using compost to help heat it, putting some barrels with water in them to act as a heat sinks and I’m insulating the structure inside a little better so as not to lose so much heat at night. If the sun shines, it gets between 70-80° in the day right now (which is delightful) and I’d like to keep some of that heat in at night and not lose it. Of course I had the opposite problem last summer when it got too hot but that’s another problem I’ll address this summer!

GH inside winter

The center bench has compost underneath it in a raised bed

The compost pile is only 1/2 a yard so is probably not enough to keep it significantly warmer  inside the greenhouse but what if it adds a degree or two? I’ll take it. Everything helps. The compost pile got up to 112°F  while the surrounding soil in the two raised beds is 40°F. Not that I’m planting in the compost but it shows it is significantly warmer. Now it has cooled down to 60°. The night temperatures are still below freezing inside.

Since I didn’t have a chance make shutters for the screen windows before winter set in, my friend, Jody, thought of putting plastic on both sides of the open screen ‘windows’ to trap warm air and slow the heat loss. I’ve done that now.

bubble wrap down on windows

The vents are covered with plastic and bubble wrap is on all the windows

I just put bubble wrap on the windows to hopefully act as insulation to slow the loss of heat at night as well. Plus I added bubble wrap on the ceiling between the rafters. Elodie said probably a lot of heat is loss up there through the uninsulated fiberglass roof. Now the green house looks like a  bubble wrap house on the inside! The night temperatures are still below freezing inside.

I painted the rain barrels black and filled them with  water to act as heat sinks

I painted the rain barrels black and filled them with water to act as heat sinks

I also have 4 rain barrels that I painted black and filled with water and installed hose bibs on the bottom so I can empty the water out at the end of winter. I put them under the growing tables and the night temperatures are still below freezing inside. And lastly I plugged up a lot of leaks where the roof meets the rafters.

Did it work? Are my nighttime temperatures above freezing? NOPE. I’ve only been able to keep it about 5 degrees warmer than the outside temperature which make me go to plan B.

What is plan B? Try planting only super cold hardy winter greens and see what happens. Stayed tuned…

It took a village to build my greenhouse!

final greenhouse

I haven’t posted much about the greenhouse I’ve been building but now that it is basically done (I still have a few more things to do) I want to share the greenhouse raising from the ground up and give thanks to those who contributed with their time, labor and knowledge. It has truly taken a village to build it! It all started in January of 2010 and has taken 3 years to complete it. Many, many thanks to the following people:

First, thanks to Caleb for coming out in January 2010 and jackhammering the holes out to set the posts. I was hoping to get it done back them by spring of 2010 so I wanted to get an early start-what a dreamer I was… 3 years passed because of everyone being sooo busy with other things (including me) and then this year in 2013 the magic happened.

Thanks Lava for helping me make it gopher proof, mouse proof, putting down the weed cloth, unloading the gravel for the floor and much more I’m sure I forgot about. Thanks Jacob, (Lava’s son) who generously put in 2 days of work on it when he was here visiting his mom earlier this year.

Thanks Elodie for helping in various tasks including putting the headers up in the framing, window framing, gopher proofing the raised beds, putting the sink in and much more as well.

And a big thanks to Tom Rivers. Without him I still would be at the beginning stages. What can I say about Tom? He is a great friend who came over week after week every Friday on his day off this year and with his constructions skills actually made it happen. Together we were able to build it or I should say I helped him build it. Both him and I are a lot alike-we became obsessive about building it, like dogs with their bones and we wouldn’t let go of it till it was completed. Truly a labor of love. Thank you thank you Tom!

I am now putting on the finishing touches and buttoning it up for winter to see how warm I can get it inside at night using passive methods-more on that later…But for now here is a pictorial on building it.

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The Fair was a great success! Phew! Sigh! I’m exhausted!

The Santa Fe Master Gardener’s Spring Garden Fair is over. Phew! Sigh! Putting on the garden fair on is a lot of work for all us Master Gardeners + I was one of the speakers this year so double the work for me. Today the Journal North had a great article about the Garden Fair and my lecture on the front page. Really nice. The writer actually wrote down a lot of the tips I gave! Here is the article if you want to read it:   http://www.abqjournal.com/main/2013/04/28/north/sound-advice-from-the-tomato-lady.html

Now I just need to recover and the best way to do that is be in my garden! So today Tom came over and we worked on the greenhouse and got 9/10 of the roofing on. More progress! I will take some more pictures soon.

The Greenhouse is Coming Along!

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Two winters ago I started planning my future greenhouse. I wasn’t sure if I would build a hoop house or a traditional greenhouse but then a friend, Kate, donated 10 big windows from her sunroom when she replaced them. I got a great screen door from someone else and I got some large wood panels from another friend. SO I decided to build a more traditional style of greenhouse. Then when I rented a Bobcat to regrade my driveway, I leveled an area for the future greenhouse and ALSO leveled and scraped the ground for adding more garden space. My friend, Caleb and I put the posts in last January, jackhammering the frozen holes out and then he got a full-time job teaching and could not help anymore. So instead I concentrated on expanding the garden last spring. Which I did—to the tune of an additional 1000 square feet!

Meanwhile the greenhouse posts just sat there and some were twisting badly.  This spring, another friend of mine, Tom, offered to help me finish it and has carpentry experience. So Tom is helping me finish building my greenhouse (or should I say I’m helping him) every Friday morning from 8am-12pm. I’ve set a deadline for myself to try to finish it by May 15th. Hopefully we will make it by then. It is moving along nicely. So far we have replaced most of the twisted uprights, got the rafters and purlins done for the roof, the west side framing is almost done, the window frames are built on the south side but we won’t put the windows in until the end, the bottom sides of the future garden beds are done on both the south and north sides and are redwood. We will frame the windows on the north side this week. Still have to get the roofing material, the wall material that is not going to be windows and the side with the door done. I am so excited that it is finally moving along! PROGRESS!!

New Gardens-new bruises!

I love hearing about someone putting in a new garden or adding on to their existing one or adding another big feature in their gardens. Are any of you doing something new and exciting in your gardens this year? I would love to hear about your projects!

For me, I’ve bitten off a lot. Between putting in a new greenhouse and adding on a huge new section, I have my hands full. And I forget I’m not 30 yrs old anymore (tell that to my brain) and my body let’s me know it too after a hard day building, hauling, shoveling, digging-you get the picture. Today I dropped a 2 x 6 on my nose while 8 feet on a ladder while working on the greenhouse. Luckily, I didn’t break it! I should own stock in Advil…

Greenhouse progress

Finally progress on the greenhouse! I finished digging out 6 of the 8 holes over the last 2 weeks when we had some warm days and Caleb came by last Sunday (a week ago) and we finished digging the last 2 holes with his jack hammer. Yesterday (Friday), I set all 8 posts by myself. After consulting with a contractor friend to see if I could set the posts in cement, he told me yes but bury them in dirt afterwards to insulate them-brilliant! Boy was it a long day but nothing a warm Epsom Salt bath can’t help. I’m really happy as I can work on framing it when we have a nice day this winter-especially since I came down with a nasty cold today…