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.

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!

 

Green House Lettuce, Bok Choy & Chard on 3-31-14

GH lettuce 03-31-14

Holy Schmole! My lettuce, in the picture above was planted as transplants back on February 17th and look at it at the end of March. Fantastic! So excited to not have to buy lettuce and greens for a while. I’ve been experimenting in the greenhouse planting some seeds and some as transplants. I got these transplants as little tiny plants in pony packs from Agua Fria Nursery in town in February. On the left is Marshall Red Romaine. In the middle is ‘Winter Wunderland’ leaf lettuce and on the right is Bright Lights Chard.  They are growing in the middle raised bed where I had horse manure composting in January to try to add heat to the greenhouse but in mid February I took out as it cooled down and took all but the top 6 inches and added soil and compost and waa lah! You can see how big they got since March 21 here.

mesclun

Here is a pic of the lettuce I planted by seeds. It is a mesclun mix from Johnny’s called, 5-star lettuce mix. It’s not quite tall enough to ‘cut and come again’ but will be soon-probably in the next week.

 

dwarf bok choi

Here is a variety of dwarf bok choy (choi) I planted from seed. I will transplant some of these to sell a little later and the rest will have room to really get bigger. They are doing really well.

yellow green bok choi

I love the color of this yellow-green bok choi – chartreuse! Such a great contrast to the other ‘greens’.

tatsoi

Here is a variety called tatsoi-the hardiest of the bok choi family. It grows in little clusters.

I planted all of them on the edge of the raised bed as I’m going to put in some tomatoes soon  in the middle of the bed as another experiment to see how they do. My thinking is by the time the tomatoes need more room, the cold hardy greens will be done (eaten)  🙂

Spring has sprung! (well almost)

lettuce_greenhouse germinating

This lettuce is from Johnny’s called All-Star Gourmet Lettuce mix coming in the greenhouse.

In celebration of my FIRST CROPS coming up in the greenhouse, I’ve changed the background color on my blog back to green from winter blue. In my mind, winter is over although not officially – that won’t take place till the first day of spring on Spring Equinox on March 20 and of course we can still (will) get snow. No matter. I’m ready! I’m moving on and planting stuff (in the greenhouse). What kind of stuff? Read on to find out!

bok choy_yellow green

These are a golden yellow pak choi (shakushina) from Kitazawa. They’re already a great yellow-green color and will make a wonderful contrast to the tatsoi.

These first crops took about 12 days to germinate-they actually came up on March 1 so they were planted on Feb 17th. They are all still tiny but coming up nicely. The top picture is a lettuce mix from Johnny’s called All Star Lettuce Mix that’s suppose to grow out evenly. The second picture is a golden-yellow pak choi (shakushina) from Kitazawa. Also from Kitazawa are Pak Choi rosette (tatsoi) and white stem dwarf pak choi (both not shown). These were all recommended in Elliot Coleman’s book, Four Season Harvest (except the golden-yellow pak choi which I couldn’t resist because of the color). According to Elliot Coleman they all do well in cold greenhouses.   I have winter weight row cover over them now to protect them at night. I also planted Winter Bloomsdale spinach from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange at the same time and it’s coming up way slower but the first 2 seedlings broke ground yesterday, on March 3.

Ah, spring has sprung-and we got rain this week! What could be better?! I’m also going to plant transplants this week to see how they do in comparison to the seedlings. I’ll get pics later on that one.

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

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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?!

Lettuce bowl ready for first thinning

Here is the lettuce bowl I planted on Mar 7, only 13 days ago. Remember how it was barely coming up where it hung off the seed heat mat-well no more!  It is coming up beautifully. It’s so nice to see a ‘sea of green’ in the house. I will thin the baby seedlings (eating them) to give the rest of the seedlings some room to grow bigger. This is a mesclun lettuce I got from the Homegrown New Mexico seed swap event.  It is about 2 weeks ahead of the the lettuce I just planted outside. All part of trying to keep a continuous supply of lettuce for awhile. A couple more weeks and I think I’ll have a salad!