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!

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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.

img_3998_1024

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.

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.

Winter greens for the greenhouse or early planting outside

I can’t wait anymore! I got this newly completed greenhouse and am antsy to try it out. I’ve done a lot of research on which plants might do well in the winter and am ready to rock n’ roll! So I am planting cold hardy seeds this week inside the house. I will transplant them into my new greenhouse when they are bigger. I’m also going to try some direct seeding in the greenhouse in the raised beds like arugula, spinach, kale, baby bok choi and mache in mid-February-all of which can handle some pretty cold weather. How cold? We will see soon although you wouldn’t know it by this week. I will also plant other greens like some winter hardy lettuces, peas, and a winter hardy variety of chard called Argentata at the end of February-beginning of March. Everything planted in the greenhouse will have to have row cover over it even in the greenhouse at this early date because of our cold nights. For those of you who do not have a hoophouse, or cold frame, the seeds in the list below will do well outside only you have to wait a little longer.

Here is my list of cold hardy crops to try in the greenhouse. You can also plant these outside in March once the soil is not frozen and cover them with row cover:

From Johnny’s Seeds:
‘5-star greenhouse’ lettuce mix
‘Space’ Spinach

From Southern Exposure Seed Exchange:
‘Even’ Star’ Winter Arugula
‘Winter Bloomsdale’ spinach

From Kitazawa Seed Co:
‘Mei Qing Choi’ (dwarf pak choi)-recommended in ‘Four Season Harvest’ by Eliot Coleman
‘Tatsoi’ (pak choi)-recommended in ‘Four Season Harvest’ by Eliot Coleman
‘Golden Yellow’ pak choi
‘Astro’ arugula

From The Cooks’ Garden:
‘Red Grenoble’ lettuce
‘Forellenschluss'(speckled trout) lettuce
‘Rouge D’Hiver’ lettuce-recommended in ‘Four Season Harvest’ by Eliot Coleman

From John scheepers Kitchen Garden:
‘Argentata’ Chard-recommended in ‘Four Season Harvest’ by Eliot Coleman

From Agua Fria Nursery: transplants ready to plant
mache (corn salad)-recommended in ‘Four Season Harvest’ by Eliot Coleman
endive-recommended in ‘Four Season Harvest’ by Eliot Coleman
‘Winter Wonder’ lettuce
‘Marshall Red’ romaine lettuce

Fall Vegetable Planting Schedule

Fall harvest. We only wish our gardens were this GREEN! Photo courtesy of http://gardening.ktsa.com

Ok, so now since it is time to plant my fall veggie garden, here is my planting schedule

FIRST-WHAT TO PLANT AND WHEN

Depends a lot on what you like to eat. Below is MY list of what I want to plant for a fall garden. Some of these are already growing in the summer garden and will be ready to harvest soon like the carrots and beets so I must decide if I want more in the fall.  All of these planting dates are estimates depending on the variety you grow and are based on planting outside, not in a greenhouse. Look on your package of seeds or on the plant label for seedlings for accurate harvest times and go backwards from Oct 3 for Santa F+ add 14 days.

JUNE

Fennel (Finnochio-bulb type)-Sow seeds mid June. OPPS! Missed this. The short cool days of fall are even better for fennel than spring. You can still plant this (IN JULY) as it likes cool nights although the bulbs may be smaller since we missed it’s prime planting date.

JULY-AUGUST


Asian Greens/Bok Choi- Sow seeds mid July. Can handle light frosts. Harvest days depends on variety. Look on seed package.

Beets- Sow seeds in mid July-early August. Can handle freezes but must mulch with thick straw or row cover. 45-65 days to harvest.

Broccoli- Sow seeds early July-mid July. Can handle light frosts. 55 days to harvest.

Broccoli raab- Sow seeds in early July-mid July. Can handle light frosts. 45 days to harvest.

Carrots- Sow seeds in early July-mid August. Can handle freezes but must mulch with thick straw or row cover. 70-80 days to harvest.

Chard- Sow seeds late July-. Can handle some light frosts. Cover with row cover when it gets cold to extend season. 50-60 days to harvest

.

Kale- Sow seeds early July. The short cool days of fall are even better for kale than spring. Kale that is established will last well into winter and can survive below freezing temperatures down into the 20s.

Lettuces- Lettuce baby- Sow seeds in early-August. Seedlings will need consistent moisture and shade from the afternoon sun on hot days. Cover when it gets cold to extend season but it will not survive freezing temps. 45 days to harvest depending on type and variety.



Peas- Sow seeds in early-July-mid-July. Likes cool but not freezing weather. 60-75 days

.

Radish- Sow seeds late July. 30 days to harvest.

AUGUST


Spinach- Sow seeds early-August. The short cool days of fall are even better for spinach than spring. Spinach that is established will last well into winter and can survive below freezing temperatures down into the 20s although it will stop growing. Why doesn’t it freeze? It produces an alcohol inside-alcohol won’t freeze! 45 days to maturity.

Endive, Escarole-Sow seeds early August. The short cool days of fall are even better for these than spring.



Lettuces- Lettuce head – Sow seeds in anytime August. Seedlings will need consistent moisture and shade from the afternoon sun on hot days. Cover when it gets cold to extend season but it will not survive freezing temps. 45 to 60 days to harvest depending on type and variety.



Mesclun mixes- Sow seeds in early-August. Seedlings will need consistent moisture and shade from the afternoon sun on hot days. Cover when it gets cold to extend season but it will not survive freezing temps. 45 to 60 days to harvest depending on type and variety.



Arugula- Sow seeds in mid-August-late August. Fast growing. Can handle some light frosts. 
30-40 days to harvest.



Kale- Sow more seeds mid August. The short cool days of fall are even better for kale than spring. Kale that is established will last well into winter and can survive below freezing temperatures down into the 20s

OCTOBER


Garlic-Sow largest cloves anytime in October after the first frost. Harvest in late-June-July

Shallots-Sow largest bulbs anytime in October after the first frost. Harvest in late-June-July.

I’m 

not a big fan of kale, endive, escarole and collards, but went ahead and listed them as I know many of you like them. Cabbage and cauliflower take too long to grow for me. Forgetaboutit!

SECOND-WHERE TO PLANT


Do you have garden space close to your house for easy watering and harvesting as it gets colder? This is important to consider if your main garden is far away from your home. I have two places to plant them now. My cold frame and my raised beds up by the house. If I ever get my greenhouse done, I’ll have another great place for veggies but for now I’ll plant in my two spaces.

Cold frame in previous year

My first space is my cold frame up by the house. Since it is too hot now, I think I will have to put some shade cloth over it to keep plants cooler inside. Also I want to get one of those automatic vent openers that will open the lid if the temps get too hot and close it when it gets too cold.

The shallots will soon be done in this raised bed and I will use it for fall planting

My second space is the raised beds also up by the house. Raised beds are great as they keep the soil warmer in the fall when it is getting cooler. Since I already pulled all the garlic in these raised beds, I will plant a few cold hardy vegetables in them and then plant garlic and shallots between them come October. The beauty of having some garden space close to the house is when it does get cold, I won’t have to walk down to the main garden to water and harvest. I can just get a watering can and go right outside the house. Also I can replace the light row cover that I keep my cool season crops under (keeps the critters and bugs away) with a heavy row cover on the beds if a sudden frost comes up. The cool season crops will be picked by the time winter hits and the garlic and shallots will sleep till spring!

Thinning and preparing mesclun/greens-keeping your homegrown greens fresh!

Here are my steps to thinning and preparing mesclun so it doesn’t WILT in your refrigerator. In fact you can use this method after you clean any greens in ANY STAGE from microgreens to full grown lettuce and greens from the garden or store bought.

The MOST IMPORTANT THING if you are growing any greens is to PICK THEM FIRST THING IN THE MORNING when they are fresh-not the heat of the day, OTHERWISE THEY WILL BE WILTED NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO (are you listening Lava?). During this first stage of mesclun, it is a little more labor intensive. (After the leaves grow more, you will just cut off the tops above the crowns so they can grow back and there will not be much dirt since you are not pulling these out by the roots.)

Here is the mesclun in my salad bowl I made. Notice they are very cramped with not much dirt showing. I need to thin these out so the leaves can get bigger without overcrowding.

Thin out the mesclun. The goal here is to have some dirt showing to give the remaining leaves some room to grow.

Now the mesclun (first thinnings) are like microgreens and are ready to clean. Notice the roots are still on them. You can cut them off or eat them if you rinse well. Here I’m leaving them on. Of course you could just feed them to the chickens or throw them out but I don’t like to waste them plus they are yummy! You would pay big bucks for just a tiny bit of microgreens in the stores.

Here is the mesclun at the first rinse. I first clean my sinks out with bleach so I know they are clean. I suppose you could use big bowls to rinse instead. I filled my sink with COLD WATER from the faucet. Notice the leaves float on top while the dirt mostly sinks to the bottom. From here I gently scoop out the leaves trying to leave the dirt on the bottom of the sink or bowl and transfer them to the other side of the sink full of water for the second rinsing. By the way, rinsing this way is way easier than using a colander.  It works really well for spinach too. This way removes the dirt that can stay in a colander.

Second rinse-Notice most of the dirt is gone at the bottom of the sink after I  have removed the leaves.

At this stage I do one hand rinse in case their is more dirt trapped on the roots. Then I put them into…

The last rinse- notice the dirt is gone. Rinse more if you still have dirt.

Since I grow the lettuce bowl inside, I use seed starting mix and you need to look out for the perlite that is in it as it can float in the water instead of sinking like the dirt-so be on the lookout for it. Just scoop them off the surface of the water before you do each rinse. It would be a little too crunchy in my salad!

Now the leaves are ready for the spinner. Just don’t pack it too full as the leaves are very delicate. Spin it in small batches and..

gently place it in a loose plastic bag (not ziploc) lined with a dry paper towel. Then this next trick is very important. I learned it from reading Dorie Greenspan’s book,  Around My French Table where you…

squeeze the bag so there is only a small opening and blow into the bag with your breath. This will fill the bag with carbon dioxide (which we expel) and then blow it up till it is full and..

tie off with a twistie tie so the air doesn’t escape and put into your refrigerator. YOUR GREENS WILL STAY FRESH FOR ABOUT A WEEK. Be sure you blow into it each time you get some greens out before putting it back into the refrigerator again. This takes up a little more room in your refrigerator but is worth it. No more homegrown wilted greens! Pretty cool trick, huh?!