One day it’s 78° for a high this week-warm and windy and tonite it will be very cold and windy with the temperature dropping to 24°. Of course this will wipe out the fruit tree blossoms (for me the apple blossoms are just starting) and there goes another fruit crop for this year. This will be the second year in a row that we may not get apples. Waaa! And forget about the apricot trees. I haven’t seen a crop in 7 years. You know what you call an apricot tree? A nice shade tree-as we usually get a freeze that wipes out their blossoms.
So cover up any plants that you may have put out early with winter weight row cover or 2 of the mid-weight row covers for the next two nights even if they are cold hardy crops. The plants are actually affected by the wind chill, just like us. Then it warms up in the 40’s on Sunday and Monday except for next Tuesday when the night-time temp will drop again to 30° and then warms up again at nite to above freezing temperatures. And so it goes with the ‘shoulder season’ where the weather doesn’t know if it’s still winter or spring and the winds are ferocious. But what we need most is precipitation. I’ll take it in any form.
Just got a great question from the earlier post. How much do I water in winter-early spring in my greenhouse? Not very much. Since I don’t have the drip systems on and I don’t want to empty hoses that might freeze, I fill up 5 gal buckets, leave them inside the GH and then fill up my watering can from them and water the plants. Five gal buckets are kinda heavy for me (40 lbs) so I prefer to transfer the water to a watering can. Or just fill up a watering can from your house and refill as needed. The only problem is my greenhouse is too far from my house to keep refilling a watering can from the house. Notice the white row cover on the side, ready to go back on the greens tonight when it gets cold.
This time of year is called the ‘shoulder season’—not quite winter and not quite spring-with extreme temperature swings from day to night. There is no set formula for watering because one day the temperature can be 60°F and the next day in the 40’s°F or even 30’s°F. Same with nighttime temperatures. Or you structure might really heat up in the day if you forget to open the doors or plastic on the ends or open the cold frame. So there are lots of variables that will affect how much to water. I really watch the plants and the soil in regards to watering when I have to do it by hand. Does the soil appear damp after your last watering even though its been maybe 4-5 days? Don’t water. Do the plants look like they need water? Are they looking stressed? Wilted? Water! The cooler it is, the less you have to water. I don’t water till the soil FEELS dry when I put my finger in it around a plant. But I can tell you this, you will be watering much less than in the heat of summer.
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…
Atomic Red and Cosmic Purple carrots harvested last week
Here it is Friday, November 17 2017 and I was just remarking that except for the one cold night that killed off all the tomatoes in September, how warm it has been. If it wasn’t for that one freezing night, we’d still be harvesting tomatoes!
Well it changes tonight getting well below freezing and will continue to be cold with temperatures in the mid-20’s at night and low 50’s in the days for about the next 5-6 days.
All the warm season veggies have been done for a month but I still have a few cool season crops out in the garden like Lacinato kale, Voiletta bok choy, Florence bulb fennel, Atomic Red and Cosmic Purple carrots, Detroit Red beets and Argentata chard. Since I want to keep them going as long as possible, I will put winter weight row cover (.9-1.0+ mil weight) over the plants to protect them until the temperatures get above freezing at nights. Also I have lettuces and spinaches growing in the unheated greenhouse and will cover them as well. Of course an option is finish harvesting everything and call it a season!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Next time the snow is falling softly, go outside and listen. I love to go outside when the snow is falling-it is so quiet. It muffle all noises. I listen as I walk down to the barn each morning to take care of my barn friends. What do I hear? Nothing. Sometimes with all the sensory stimuli we are bombarded with each day, I like the sound of nothing. I call it quiet time.
Right now the garden is quiet, the trees are quiet, the earth is quiet, all sleeping soundly, waiting for spring to arrive. The sun wakes up late and goes to bed early every day. It is a quiet time for me too when I am home. I love cooking up hearty meals. I don’t do this in summer, I don’t have time- I’m too busy in the garden. But now I do have time for this luxury. I love having fires in the fireplace. I love the smell of piñon burning and the crackle of cedar wood. I love catching up on my reading.
I miss the green of the summer gardens but love the blue snow of the winter gardens, the stark shapes and silhouette of the trees and perennial plants. Suddenly I see their bone structure without all the greenery. They are beautiful, draped in the snow.
I collected all the gardening catalogs that came in the mail in December, but I do not look at them-not just yet. There is plenty of time for that in a few weeks. That’s why the universe made winter-to give us time to reflect and rejuvenate and be quiet. Be still thy busy mind…