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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
Yesterday I hunkered down in the house after receiving 10″ of snow the night before-truly a winter wonderland! The trees and bushes got watered so I’m off the hook for a while! Plus we are due to get another storm tonight. Welcome El Nino!
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.
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:
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
beets-Red Ace, Merlin, Touchstone Gold
beet leaves-Bull’s Blood, Red Ace
carrot-Napoli, Mokum, Nelson
chard-Fordhook Giant, Ruby Red, Argentata
lettuce-Red Saladbowl, Tango, Rex, Rouge d’hiver
mustard green-Toyoko Beau
radishes-Tinto, D’Avignon, Cherriette