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…

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.

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.

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.

 

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.

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