Cool season crops have begun

transplants-2-weeks-old

When I was looking through what I plant each year, I realized I actually grow many varieties of cools season crops (like greens/lettuce). I started some seeds of cool season crops inside under lights but no heat on Jan 17!  I never put the heat mats on for cool season crop seeds, only for warm season crops and it is way too early for them just yet.

I started:
Asian greens: bok choy, pak choy, Wasabi arugula

Lettuces: 4 Season Lettuce butterhead, Yugoslavian Red butterhead, and Santoro butterhead lettuce. Can you tell I like butterheads?!

Leeks: Solaise, King Richard and American Flag

Onions: Candy (it is an intermediate or neutral variety) which is they type of onion we have to grow here.

Spinach: Carmel-Just planted the seeds today. Still have some spinach plants that have overwinter nicely outside in a raised bed with only winter weight row cover on it. By planting a crop of spinach last fall, I’m hoping I get a bumper crop of spinach in March! The variety of spinach I like the most is called Carmel which overwinter last year and looks to do the same this year. You can get seeds from Johnny’s or plants from Agua Fria Nursery.

4-season-lettuce

four season lettuce is looking good

Today I transplanted up lettuces and Asian greens to pony pots from seed trays. The plants are looking good but need to grow more before I put them out in my green house or cold frame. You can plant outside in sunny raised beds in March but all-greenhouse, cold frames or just plain old beds will need winter weight row cover on the little starts to protect them from our cold nights.  I’m hoping to put them out by beginning of March. The varieties I grow at this time of year are very cold hardy. I’m trying to get a head start as our cool season crop season is pretty short here before it gets too hot and everything bolts. And there is nothing better than spring spinach or lettuce!

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.

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.

Harvest lettuce/spinach now

coldframe+04-2016

With summer here, the daytime temperatures will get hotter and hotter in June which is our hottest month of the year. It usually peaks between the last week of June and the first week of July (I know because it’s always hottest around my birthday then, and I try to leave town!)

So if you have any greens like lettuce, mesclun and spinach, you should consider harvesting what’s left of them now unless you are growing them in a shady place.  The pic above is my coldframe which should now be called the hotframe. I think I have one more harvest of all of those greens above before they BOLT. Bolting is when they put up their flower head. Once they do that, they will be bitter and only good for chickens or the compost pile.

This spinner can handle lots of lettuce compared to my regular spinner!

This spinner can handle lots of lettuce compared to my regular spinner!

Here is a great salad spinner I got for a gift last year. It’s a big salad spinner. It’s a 3 gallon spinner and believe it or not, they have bigger spinners for commercial growers. I grow big lettuce (Santoro-17″ across!) and it can spin the whole head at one time. Look at it compared to my other spinner! It’s HUUUUGE and such a timer saver. I also got some BIG bags to put the lettuce in.

 

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!

 

Seeds already germinating!

seed startingseegermination 02-16

I planted some lettuce and greens seeds on Feb 8 and by Feb 11 some are already germinating! That’s only 3 days. Wow. Unbelievable! Here’s the lineup again and how they’re doing so far:

#1 Yugoslavia Red lettuce just peaking up

#2 Santoro barely peaking up

#3 Slow-Bolt Cilantro not up

#4 Carmel spinach just starting to come up

#5 Baby Pak Choi way up

#6 Forellenschuss lettuce way up

Not surprising, the two larger seeds #3, the Slow-Bolt Cilantro and the #4 Carmel Spinach are slower to germinate. I imagine the bigger the seed, the longer it takes to germinate. But to my surprise, the spinach is starting to come up already and the little seeds like lettuce just exploded through the soil. Amazing. I’m totally surprised how fast some of them have germinated.

Now I just got to make sure to mist them heavily 2x-3x a day to keep the soil moist while they all germinate. I will spray diluted Chamomile tea on the baby seedlings tomorrow to keep Damping Off disease from coming. It works great.

Transplanting winter lettuce and chard

 

chard crowded

I went down to Agua Fria Nursery and got some lettuce and chard starts back in mid-November intending to plant them right away. I waited too long to transplant them and they got stunted and crowded in each cell as shown above.

chard just transplanted

Chard transplanted on Dec 1

When I did transplant them I teased them apart and planted them in small pots. Here they are right after I transplanted them on December 1. ‘BT’, the man of the house, inspects them.

chard_2 weeks old

Chard transplants on Dec 14

Here are the Chard transplants on Dec 14-only 14 days later! Look at the difference between the two pictures. I’ve grown all the lettuce and chard transplants under my lights in the house as it is too frigid to put them in the greenhouse now. I figured I could wait till after the Persephone period was over and by then they would be just big enough to transplant in the GH. The Persephone period will be over on January 15th here in Santa Fe when the daylight hours get longer again. The plants will be ready to transplant way before that time period. The chards are coming along nicely. I’m growing ‘Argentata’ chard and ‘Ruby Red’ chard.

BATCH 64_MOONSHINE

I planted them in a new potting soil called Batch 64-‘Moonshine’ which is available at Agua Fria Nursery in town. It’s fantastic with everything growing very fast. When I went back to Agua Fria Nursery and talked to Bob, he said he had the same experience last year, especially with the tomatoes.

Here are the ingredients in it: coconut coir, perlite, pumice, rice hulls, expanded shale, humus, worm castings, biochar, feather meal, fishbone meal, blood meal, alfalfa meal, oyster shell, metamorphosed evaporite, flaxseed meal, cotton seed meal, dried molasses, kelp meal, azomite, potassium sulfate, limestone, yucca extract, and mycorrhizae. Phew-quite a list!

The lettuces planted on Dec 1 are ready to transplant now! They have absolutely gone crazy growing super fast in this potting soil. The varieties I’m growing are North Pole, Winter Wunder and Marshall Red Romaine.