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.

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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

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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:

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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!

 

Seeds already germinating!

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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.

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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.

Kale

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Russian Red Kale on left and Winterbor Curly Kale on right doing well with the cold nights

This year I grew 3 different varieties of kale-above is the Russian Red and Winterbor Curly kale growing together

lacinto kale

Lacinto kale (also known as Dino kale) It is the dark green in front of grape vine

Here is the Lacinto being shaded by the grape vine with carrots growing in front

Of the 3 varieties, Winterbor Curly Kale is my favorite and it is the most cold hardy. I started growing them the last week of July just before the Home Grown New Mexico Tour I was on. I had some holes in the garden so I ended putting some kale there. The Lacinto was partly shaded by a grape vine so it did not receive full sun. The Lacinto got heavily attacked by aphids. I sprayed all of them with water to help keep the aphid numbers down. But the Russian Red and Winterbor were planted elsewhere in the garden. I put them next to some tall tomato plants on one side and some tall sunflowers on the other side so they never got full sun either. They do well in our hot summers with some partial shade. They were not attacked by aphids. All three are still doing well. I’m not a great fan of kale so I’ve been looking for recipes that make me want to eat it. Here’s one wonderful way to eat it.

Kale Chips– you can use any variety of Kale to make this. This is now my favorite way to eat kale-dried! Kind of like potato chips but way more nutritional. Here’s a great simple recipe.

Kale Chips recipe courtesy of http://www.somastudio.net/2013/02/crispy-kale-chips/

Crispy Kale Chips
This kale chip recipe is easy to make and is so tasty you’ll want to make a double batch!

Ingredients:
2 big bunches of kale
1/2 cup raw tahini
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup wheat free tamari
1/4 cup raw apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 tpsp maple syrup
optional 1 tsp of chilli flakes

Instructions:
Rinse, de-rib, and rough tear the kale into a giant bowl.
Put all the other ingredients into a food processor or blender and mix until smooth or use a hand blender
Pour the mixture over the kale, and use your hands to toss it all together. Squish Squish! Get it good and covered.

Oven method:
Spread the kale out evenly on lined or oiled cookie sheets. You want them to be as ‘dehydrated’ as possible, instead of baked.  250º for 4 hours (ish). Every oven is different so you’ll need keep an eye on it and be your own judge. Just remember that too much heat will change the flavor.  Don’t overcook them!

Here is the recipe in PDF format for printing:
Kale Chips recipe

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MORE METHODS

Dehydrator method by http://www.giantveggiegardener.com :
Spread the kale out evenly on the dehydrator trays. Set temperature 115°F° or lower for about 4 hrs or more. Chips should be dry and crunchy when done. Every dehydrator is different so drying time may vary. This is still considered raw food done this way.

Raw food is food that is dehydrated at 115° F or lower to be the most nutritious and not lose vitamins. Above that and you start losing the nutritional value.

Here is some visuals of the process:

kale_squishing

Put cleaned, dry kale in bowl with the recipe ingredients below and squish with your hands so kale is well coated.

kale_putting on trays

Put on dehydrator trays

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Dried Kale chips

kale_dried in jars

Store in jars or zip-loc baggies-I like storing in jars as the pieces don’t break up so much.

 

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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.