Extending the Season-Making a Low Tunnel

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These broccoli transplants were put in on Aug 24, 2106

I taught a class in late August on Planting for a Fall Harvest where I showed the students you don’t have to have a Greenhouse to extend the season. You can also have a cold frame or even simpler is what I call a low tunnel. Now with the cold nights, you definitely need something over your new fall transplants.

low-tunnel-before-row-cover

Here is the frame of the low tunnel before row cover-just fencing material curled into a u-shape ready for plants underneath it

I like to make my low tunnels out of 2″ x 4″ fencing or even concrete reinforcement wire.  I just open up the fence roll, cut off enough so it will be curved above my plants and turn it upside down on the soil.

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row cover over the low tunnel protects crops at night

Cover it with winter weight row cover (1.0 ml).  I put rocks on mine to keep it from blowing away. Now you have a secure low tunnel that will protect your plants during the shoulder season that is closing in on us quickly. What is a shoulder season? It is the time of year when the temperatures can drop quickly at night near freezing and then heat up in the day. The temperature shifts can swing wildly during the shoulder season. We have a shoulder season in spring and fall. By making a low tunnel, you can extend the season and grow vegetables like spinach, arugula, kale, lettuce, bok choy, mustard, mesclun, radicchio and other cool season crops much later. Fall is a great time to plant cool season crops and it’s not too late if you get transplants now. It might be too late if you start from seed unless it’s lettuce. Try to pick varieties that are cold tolerant.

What’s up in the garden!

I’ve been busy in the garden. Which is why I haven’t written lately. Hard to write when so many things need to get done. Here’s the latest update.

WEATHER: How about this crazy weather? Hot, cold, hot. Go figure! That’s how it is this time of year. It actually hailed 6 inches last Saturday between Harry’s Roadhouse restaurant and Seton Village Drive on Old Las Vegas Highway-a very small section of land. Drove through it right after it happened-would not have want to been in that one. Luckily we didn’t get much hail at the farm-thank you universe! Just missed us. One friend of mine was not so lucky and all her veggies got wiped out. Now it is getting warm again.

HARVESTING: Still harvesting lettuces and spinach. In fact I picked almost all the spinach as it will bolt soon with the warmer weather and the lettuce will also bolt soon, so much of that is picked too. The old kale is done now. The new kale ready to go in. The rhubarb is fantastic with many stalks ready to pick. I feel a strawberry-rhubarb gallette coming soon!

PLANTING: The main garden is about half weeded-Ugh! But the beds are all cleaned up and ready for all the tomatoes that will be planted next Wednesday. Now I just have to finish weeding the pathways.

DRIP SYSTEMS: The drip systems are now up and running. I hate it when they act up. Sometimes it takes 2-3 days to get everything going and not leaking. Feels great when it’s done. I can’t believe it went as smoothly as it did this year.

GIANT PUMPKINS: My first giant pumpkin was planted today at my friend, Deborah’s house. Hope it does well out there! Still have 3 more to plant next week here in my garden plus I have some giant long gourds and 2 giant zucchini (marrows) to put in. I’ve had trouble the last 3 years with getting any of my giant pumpkins successfully grown. Hopefully one of the pumpkins will do well this year. I have a plan!

DEER!: We had some deer come and eat all the Orach (which is ok) and half of one of my grape plants (which is NOT ok). Ate the leaves and the flowers of what woulda been future grapes. I covered the rest up with row cover. Hopefully they will not explore and find the plants. There is not much in the main garden to eat so hopefully they will move on. Luckily they did not eat the garlic plants!

MORE PLANTING: The peppers and eggplants starts will be planted the first week of June and the seeds of other warm season crops will go in next week too.

Busy time of year! Phew!

 

Gardening this spring

trini

But first one last memorial-I couldn’t resist because I found this photo. I haven’t written much lately because I’ve been sadden by the death of my favorite kittie-kat, Trini. Above is a photo taken by Genevieve Russel several years ago when Trini was younger that I just found and wanted to share. Wasn’t she beautiful? She had a heart of gold too. She would let you do anything to her-toss her around, make her dance or dress her up in doll clothes and put her in a high chair (Flynnie did that years ago). I even made her play the drums with me once! And whenever you answered the phone, there would be Trini, meowing loudly in the background so as not to be ignored. Absolutely had no boundaries (which is unusual for a cat). We have two other kitties (with boundaries) who would never let us do any of those things (probably claw our eyes out), who are wonderful too, but Trini was a very special being.

But I haven’t been sitting around either. I’ve been sooo busy finishing planting cool season veggies outside in the greenhouse and coldframe, and doing succession planting of more lettuces as I use them up. Here’s what’s been up around the farm:

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Wrapping up all cool season crops-lettuces, bok choys, kale and chard are going outside either in the greenhouse, cold frame or in the main garden. Many have already been growing (and eaten). Pictured above, my coldframe shows lettuces, cilantro and bok choy ready to harvest. As we eat them, new ones go in any empty place. This cool spring has been great for the cool season crops this year. Absolutely no bolting yet-wonderful! Notice the bamboo shade screening on the outside of the top of the coldframe. It was cut to size and screwed on and provides wonderful shade to help keep the plants cooler and keep them from bolting. I won’t be planting any more lettuce greens for a while, but when I do, it will be with HEAT TOLERANT lettuces for summer outside in the shade. Besides I have enough to eat for at least a month…

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Here are some other lettuces inside the greenhouse we’ve been munching on since winter. This variety is ‘winter wonder’. I’ve already harvested a bunch and will soon finish it as this variety likes cooler weather. In case you’re wondering, that hardware cloth in the pic above the lettuce, is a lid covering all those beautiful lettuces. I propped it up to show the lettuces. I built it to keep the mice from eating them first. Last year was terrible for me and great for the mice-they ate anything young or tender. The lid is working-no lettuce has been eaten in the greenhouse by mice, only me! Haaa!

BT in GH

But maybe the presence of one of our cats, BT (broken tail-hey we didn’t do it, we got him that way!) the great mouse hunter, also has been an influence on no mice in the greenhouse! Here he is checking out my building skills.

Bt in lid

And here he is trapped in one of the lids!

 

spinach spring

 

spinach bed with shade clothWonderful spinach-this variety, Carmel, shown above has some radishes growing with them. You can still buy starts from Aqua Fria Nursery but soon the spinach season will be over so don’t plant by seed now. To extend the season at this time of year, I put a shade cloth over the bed (right) so they will last a little longer and not bolt. Meanwhile the spinach has been wonderful with this extended cool weather we’ve had. Better enjoy it now as it’s gonna get warm soon.

 

kale floweringLast year’s kale is toast. Finito. The pic on left shows them bolting (flowering) and putting all their energy into making seeds and fighting off the aphids. Kale is a biennial plant, meaning they will live two years, putting most of their energy into making leaves the first year and making seeds the second year. Since I don’t want to keep the seeds this year (I have plenty), I will pull them and give the plants to my chickens after they finish flowering (the bees like the flowers). The chickens will enjoy the kale and get extra protein with the aphids-perfect. Otherwise if I had no chickens, I would be composting them. There would be no problems with the aphids as they need living plants to feast on. In the compost pile, as it heats up, they will become toast anyways (I like that word)! But don’t worry, I have another crop of kale going in this week!

red orach reseeded

In the left pic is Red Orach. Plant it once and you’ll have for a lifetime. It readily reseeds itself. It is very tasty—kinda like spinach (in the same family) so you can cook it or put it into salads. Here it is growing willy-nilly everywhere.

 

garlic and shallotsIn the right pic is garlic growing nicely. Planted it last fall and mulched it with straw to help keep moisture in the soil. It’s not a cool season crop but does come up with the other cool season crops. I bet you wonder why I have a ladder across the bed-well it is to keep the neighbor’s dogs off of it and it works! They use to come over and lay or wrestle on top of the garlic and straw and now they don’t bother it at all.

rhubarb spring

And let’s not forget rhubarb this year! Mine is up and I’ve already cut off the flowers so all of their energy will go to the leaves and stalks. Only eat the stalks as the leaves are toxic. They have concentrated levels of oxalic acid in them.  How toxic? I don’t know how toxic for humans but I once saw a dead mouse who ate part of a leaf and died under it! Soon there will be rhubarb-strawberry pie-yum!

 

potato bags in herb garden

Finally I planted some of the potatoes in ‘potato gro bags’ in the herb garden. Can’t wait to see how they do! These are “purple’ potatoes whose variety name I can’t remember, but they are a fingerling type. The herbs are doing well too. This is the second year for these perennial herbs. There is marjoram, oregano, kitchen sage, winter savory, thyme, chives, tarragon, lemon thyme and garlic chives. We beefed up some of the drip system so they should get plenty of water this year. Lavender is in another part of the garden and lots of basil will go down in the main garden later when it warms up!

 

Transplanting seedlings

Every year I get lots of questions on how to start seeds and transplant seedlings. To see how I start the seeds go here, but here’s how I transplant my baby seedlings up into larger pots.

transplanting seedlings_before transplanting

Here are the seedlings today from when I planted on February 8.  Notice the first true leaves are showing. They are now ready to transplant. Can’t let them get too big in these shallow seedling trays. With my marks, I can see what didn’t germinate.

 

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Here’s the line up of what each number represents again if you want to see how each seed variety grew.

 

transplanting seedlings_rinse packs

I use 4 and 6 pack pots for transplanting up. I disinfect them in a kitchen sink full of water with about 2 tablespoons of bleach. Just dunk the pots and any trays you may use and then rinse them off and they are ready to plant. You don’t have to scrub them, just dip them in quickly, like they use to do with the glasses in those old college bars (oops, giving away my past!) If they are brand new, never been used before, then skip the bleaching.

 

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I’m using ‘Moonshine’ planting soil. I talked about it here. Great stuff.

 

transplanting seedlings_moisten soil

Be sure to pre-moisten the planting soil. Here I’m using a shallow ‘Tub Trug’. I love those tubs—so handy-from this to harvesting crops later and they come in fun colors.

 

transplanting seedlings_make holes

Make some holes with your finger big enough to accommodate the root ball. You’ll be surprised how big the little rootballs are.

 

transplanting seedlings_using knife

I take a small knife (this one plastic) and gently pry up the seedling out of the tray and carefully put it into a hole I made in the soil.

 

transplanting seedlings_transfering to 4 pack

Pick up seedlings by the leaves NOT the stem. The stems can get easily damaged so always handle them from the leaves. Notice the roots! I usually like to put the stems a little deeper in the hole so they stand upright.

 

transplanting seedlings_tamp soil

Gently pack the soil around them so they are sitting up nicely and not leaning.

 

transplanting seedlings_use seaweed

Water them with a diluted solution of  seaweed fertilizer and Superthrive to help with any transplant shock. Do NOT give them any fish fertilizer as that may give them too much nitrogen when first transplanting and send them into shock. Wait a couple of weeks before giving them any fertilizer with nitrogen. The seaweed and thrive help reduce any transplant shock.

transplanting seedlings_flat of transplants

Here is one of the first flats transplanted. Ain’t they pretty?! Now they are ready to take off and really grow! The next replanting will be into the greenhouse raised beds when they are bigger!

Santoro lettuce-a great butterhead variety

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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.

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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.

May 21-ALL TOMATO PLANTS IN

growfood,not lawns

It’s time to get growing!

Now is the time to seriously get into your garden. This is the busiest time of the gardening season with everybody wanting to get everything in their gardens. The day temperatures are now in the mid-high 70’s and the evenings are in the mid-high 40’s. PERFECT PLANTING WEATHER! Here is what’s been going on at my place. I feel I’m ahead so I actually have time to post something.

May 21-I waited to plant till after that last snow right after the May 15 date. All 120 tomato plants were in the gardens by May 21 with the help of Elodie Holmes, Lava Ewersmeyer, Mernie Ellessner and Janet Hirons and of course me! Many thanks to all my friends for their help! Boy, was I tired by the end of last week. This is the most tomato plants I’ve ever planted-hopefully it will be a great year and I will have many tomatoes to sell at the Farmer’s Market later this summer! I have 31 varieties this year. My favorites plus many new varieties. They are all in Wall of Waters (WOW) and I wouldn’t attempt to plant them at this date at our 7000 ft high altitude without them. Later the WOWs will be removed once the tomato plants reach the tops of them which will be sometime in June.

May 24-Meanwhile I’ve already put SEEDS in for Atomic Red carrots, Cosmic Purple carrots, Cylindra beets and Craupadine beets, transplanted broccoli-raab, Lacinto kale, Ruby chard, Argentata chard, Burgundy Amaranth and Zino fennel bulbs as of this week. All got row cover over them to give the transplants time to adjust in their new environment.

May 25-The peppers and eggplants are still inside, the little finicky darlings, basking in the windows as the nights are still too cold to plant them yet. If it stays warm I will put them in by the end of the first week of June.

May 26-I will NOW plant bean, corn, cucumber seeds, many flower seeds AND my giant pumpkins. I will also put row cover over them till they come up about 4 inches to keep the birds from eating them.

HAPPY GARDENING!!