TONITE: BIG FREEZE WARNING for Santa Fe!!!

One day it’s 78° for a high this week-warm and windy and tonite it will be very cold and windy with the temperature dropping to 24°. Of course this will wipe out the fruit tree blossoms (for me the apple blossoms are just starting) and there goes another fruit crop for this year. This will be the second year in a row that we may not get apples. Waaa! And forget about the apricot trees. I haven’t seen a crop in 7 years. You know what you call an apricot tree? A nice shade tree-as we usually get a freeze that wipes out their blossoms.

So cover up any plants that you may have put out early with winter weight row cover or 2 of the mid-weight row covers for the next two nights even if they are cold hardy crops. The plants are actually affected by the wind chill, just like us. Then it warms up in the 40’s on Sunday and Monday except for next Tuesday when the night-time temp will drop again to 30° and then warms up again at nite to above freezing temperatures. And so it goes with the ‘shoulder season’ where the weather doesn’t know if it’s still winter or spring and the winds are ferocious. But what we need most is precipitation. I’ll take it in any form.

Watering in early spring- how much in a greenhouse, hoop tunnel, or cold frame?

Just got a great question from the earlier post. How much do I water in winter-early spring in my greenhouse? Not very much. Since I don’t have the drip systems on and I don’t want to empty hoses that might freeze, I fill up 5 gal buckets, leave them inside the GH and then fill up my watering can from them and water the plants. Five gal buckets are kinda heavy for me (40 lbs) so I prefer to transfer the water to a watering can. Or just fill up a watering can from your house and refill as needed. The only problem is my greenhouse is too far from my house to keep refilling a watering can from the house. Notice the white row cover on the side, ready to go back on the greens tonight when it gets cold.

This time of year is called the ‘shoulder season’—not quite winter and not quite spring-with extreme temperature swings from day to night. There is no set formula for watering because one day the temperature can be 60°F and the next day in the 40’s°F or even 30’s°F. Same with nighttime temperatures.  Or you structure might really heat up in the day if you forget to open the doors or plastic on the ends or open the cold frame. So there are lots of variables that will affect how much to water. I really watch the plants and the soil in regards to watering when I have to do it by hand. Does the soil appear damp after your last watering even though its been maybe 4-5 days? Don’t water. Do the plants look like they need water? Are they looking stressed? Wilted? Water! The cooler it is, the less you have to water. I don’t water till the soil FEELS dry when I put my finger in it around a plant. But I can tell you this, you will be watering much less than in the heat of summer.

 

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…

Extending the Season-Making a Low Tunnel

low-tunnel-2016

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:

coldframe+04-2016

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…

GH_04-2016

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.

 

seed starting tray with journal entry.jpg

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.

 

BATCH 64_MOONSHINE

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!