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!

 

Winter Spinach Recovered from Rabbit Damage

Spinach eaten by rabbit (funny it didn't eat the stems)-March 13

Remember the severely eaten spinach I showed last month (March 13)? Now that the cold frame is repaired I can keep the rabbits out again.  No more feasting on my spinach! While the cold frame was damaged and open to rabbits, I kept some row cover over the damaged spinach and I held it down with rocks. The rabbits couldn’t get to it and the spinach made a glorious recovery! Had spinach and cheddar omelet yesterday with it! I should be able to get more meals out of the spinach as it is doing great and we have lots of time before the heat comes and it bolts.

Spinach recovers in less than a month

 

Red Orach-More info and pictures

A gardening buddy of mine is growing Red Orach and I thought it would be good to see pictures of it as it is coming up. Mine just reseeded itself so it grows everywhere. It will get quite tall  (3-5 feet) if left unattended and that is how it has reseeded it self everywhere at my place. I let a few go to seed 2 years ago. That’s ok with me. I can always pull it if it grows somewhere I don’t want it to be. But don’t wait till it gets tall to pick the leaves. Pick them while they are quite young and they will be tender.

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How to Make a Coldframe

My coldframe

A dear friend of mine, Kim, asked me if I would explain how to build a coldframe while there is still time before planting time in early Spring. There are many designs available online to make a coldframe or hot bed. Here is the coldframe plan (as a pdf) that I basically used when building my coldframe with a few small exceptions. Now mine isn’t super refined as you can see in the photo but seems to be working! (Be sure you look at the pdf because there is a lot more information in it). As you look at the plan, it’s pretty self explanatory but here is what I did for the sides and the bottom inside.

one page of the coldframe plan

I used 2 inch x 10 inch lumber for the bottom section all around and another 2″x10″ section for the top side slanted pieces. Cutting the diagonal piece is easy, I drew a line from one corner across diagonally to the other corner and cut on the line then I used one piece for each side on top of the bottom piece. The only thing I did differently is I put one more 1 x 2 inch piece vertically in the middle on each side  (screwed in-see photo not diagram) and in the back to join the top and bottom piece together. I added a 2 x 4  (long) piece on the lid that I screwed in (not tightly) so I can raise and lower the lid and prop it up vertically (see the piece holding up the lid on the right side). In the photo you notice I taped BIG bubble wrap (not small bubbles) with duct tape on on the inside of the plexiglass lid to add extra insulation in the dead of winter. I also divided mine into two sections.This isn’t in the plan but in the left section I started with hardwire cloth on the bottom to keep out gophers. Then I added dirt and compost on top of the hardwire so I could plant in it but the soil isn’t heated. The right side has a garden heating cable. I attached the cable with twist ties to the hardwire cloth that is cut out to fit the bottom. Then I turned over the hardwire cloth so now it is on top and place it on the bottom. I did this so I can’t put a spade through the cables while digging around in the dirt when planting. Then I put dirt on top like the other side. So the right side is a contemporary hot house when I plug in the heating cable (which I haven’t done yet). I will use it to heat the soil to a temperature so the seeds will sprout. A traditional hot house has a dug out area where ‘hot’ green manure is placed into. Then on top of that is the dirt that you would put your plants or seeds in. The manure gives off heat as it composts, heating the soil just like the heating cable. Now I love the idea of the manure and doing it naturally but I don’t want to have to replace it every year so I chose the heating cable. I will use an extension cord to bring power from the house. I’m experimenting with the non-heated and heated side to see if it really makes a difference in early Spring. If it does, I’ll heat the left side too next year.

Last time I reported, the right side which I planted with transplants in November, is still doing well while the left side where I planted transplants in January all died in the -20°F we had one night (except the parsley which survived) which is interesting cause I don’t even like parsley! I think the left side all died while the right side didn’t because they did not have any time to grow roots while the right side planted in November did. Remember I haven’t heated the right side yet so I know that wasn’t a factor. Anyways I’m sure the plans will help you more than my description!

More winter greens go in the cold frame

Well I got some more winter greens to plant from ‘The Veggie Man’ from the Santa Fe Farmers Market on Saturday. My good friend Lava, told me she saw him there selling veggie starts and found out where he has his greenhouse and we went over there and picked some up. I got Argula, Endive, Blue Kale, and Baby Bok Choy and Parsley. I will plant them on Wednesday in my Cold Frame (where I already have Swiss Chard, Oakleaf Lettuce and Spinach growing), weather permitting. We are suppose to get cold again on Wednesday so we will see if I or the plants can stand it.

More on winter gardening

Winter gardening is very different than summer gardener. It’s almost not gardening at all. In fact Eliot Coleman, author of Four-Season Harvest which I’m still reading says it’s not winter gardening but winter harvesting which puts it in a whole different light.  The only thing I need to do once in awhile is add water. There are no bugs or disease. I put my whole winter garden in with starts. Makes it really easy that way. He also talks abut eating vegetables when they are in their season so for winter gardening that could include spinach, tatsoi, bok choy, endive, arugula, corn salad, miners lettuce, radicchio, escarole, mesclun, sorrel, mustard, beets and carrots. I always thought that salads were a summer thing but that’s not true because salad crops grow best in the cool seasons and are sweetest then. That’s why we always have trouble with salad crops bolting. We plant them too late in Spring. I’m re-evaluating this whole winter gardening thing.

Winter Purslane (Miners Lettuce) and Mache (Corn Salad)

I was doing some research on Winter Purslane and Mache for including them in my cold frame for next fall/winter gardening and found a seed company in (of all places) New Mexico.  It is called www.gourmetseed.com and hails out of Tatum, NM and you can purchase these items and more from them.  Mache is pretty common but I haven’t heard about Purslane (except the wild kind that grows here). So let me talk a little about these two winter crops that have been grown in Europe for centuries.

Mache (French Corn Salad)-picture from gourmetseed.com

Mache-(Valerianella locusta)

This gourmet green is also known as corn salad and lamb’s lettuce. It has been cultivated from France since the 17th century. Mache was named because it’s leaf resembles the shape and size of a lamb’s tongue!  It is one of the few greens that can handle our winters (like spinach). It grows in a rosette if you plant individually but most just broadcast the seeds (like you would for mesclun) in an area to make a carpet of leaves as they are very small. Growing low to the ground, it is harder to harvest but it has a nutty, sweet flavor worth the effort. To harvest it, just take a knife and cut it off below the leaf level being careful not to injure the delicate leaves and wash well. You can eat it alone or put it in with other salad greens but use a light vinaigrette or even lemon juice and a little oil-it is too delicate for heavy dressings. They say you can steam it like spinach but it is too small for me to do that. I grew this many years ago under row cover in raised boxes and it did well but grew very slow in our winter but when Spring came it was ready and I went out one day only to find the chickens had escaped and raided the garden and they ate all but a few leaves of my Mache! The few leaves left tasted wonderful so I hope they enjoyed it! It like colder weather so I may try again this early spring as it takes 6-12 weeks till harvest but much longer if it goes into winter. Mache doesn’t like to be warm. Maybe I’ll try it when I plant more spinach in early March and again next fall.

Winter Purslane (Miner's Lettuce)--picture from gourmetseed.com

Winter-Purslane-(Montia perfoliata)

This is not to be confused with the purslane weed that grows wild in New Mexico and throughout the U.S. I will write the next post on that one (Portulaca oleracea) because it is interesting too but for now I want to focus on this variety. This winter green is also known as Miner’s Lettuce or Indian Lettuce and is rich in Vitamin C. It was eaten by early miners to avoid Scurvy. This wonderful wild green is used in Germany and other European countries for it’s tender young leaves. It is used as an addition to mesclun and other salads or steamed like spinach. You pick the leaves when they are young and tender. Most people plant this in fall because it handles the winter so well. I think I will try this in my cold frame next fall. I haven’t done a cold frame in years until this year, but am enjoying seeing the spinach, oakleaf lettuce and chard in it. It’s nice seeing something green in the dead of winter and hopefully if they survive this winter, I will get an early crop of some wonderful greens and now that I’m excited again about fall/winter gardening, I will definitely plant some Mache and Purslane next year. You might consider it too.