Extending the Season-Making a Low Tunnel


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.


winterbor_russian red kale

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!

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

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



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:


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


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.





Garden Harvest Early October

oct 8 harvest

I love this time of year. It’s like the garden’s gone wild, everything ready for harvest all at once and a sense of urgency is felt by me and the vegetables to get it done. Get it picked, get it harvested and get it preserved. It is a crazy intense time as fall is here for real and soon we will have the first 32°F night (historically the middle of October). Right now nights are in the mid 40’s but that will change soon. The mornings require a sweatshirt in the garden now.

The sunflowers have come and gone, my cucumbers are done. I spent hours picking and pickling them as I love pickles. The zucchini are gone too. The green and purple beans are mostly finished. The shishitos and poblano peppers and eggplants are done as of this week. The 25 lbs of pears and 30 lbs of apples Michelle gave me are already dried into chips. The corn tassels are drying and soon I will see if my experiment of planting all pink kernels of Glass Gem corn will turn out pink ears or still be multi-colored. Either way is fine. The tomatoes are definitely fading, preferring much warmer nights and their size and harvest is getting smaller. I’m making tomato soup, tomato tapenade and tomato sauce like crazy-so far 18 gallon freezer bags of raw sauce in each that I will later make pasta sauces with (once the garden is done). Today was my last day at the Farmer’s Market as the Tomato Lady for this year as I will not get enough tomatoes again.

But the potatoes still need digging, the herbs need trimming and drying, Jimmy Nardello peppers are still kicking and need picking, the beets and carrots I planted in early spring are ready for harvest and the chard and different kales I planted in late July are loving the cooler weather now and will endure until we have really cold weather. Crazy busy around here.

Make tomato sauce the easy way!

2tomato sauce-making sauce

By now you’ve probably finished harvesting and making your tomato sauce but I have to share how I do it.

I grow many tomatoes each year and make LOTS of tomato sauce as a result. But canning it doesn’t happen until late fall after harvest season is done.

I use to make it the old fashion way of putting the tomatoes in boiling water until the skin splits, then putting it in ice water to stop cooking, then peel off the skin and squeeze the tomatoes and juice in bowls to freeze. Tiring—very tiring and it takes lots of time.

Now I make tomato sauce the easy way. I finally got a food strainer (sometimes called a food mill) that separates the skins and stems from the pulp, juice and seeds making an uncooked tomato sauce in record time.  My food strainer is from Victorio. It comes with one screen that is fine mesh. I also got the salsa screen because I want my sauce thicker. I can process about 20 lbs of tomatoes in 10-15 minutes. But let’s start from the beginning.

1tomato sauce-tomatoes ready

First you’ll need some tomatoes. Good and imperfect blemished tomatoes are perfect for making sauce. These had hail damage but tasted good.

4tomato sauce-tools

Here are the tools-a plunger to push to tomatoes through (comes with the food strainer), a ladle, and a serrated knife to cut the tomatoes in chunks to fit in funnel. This process is messy so cover your table!

3tomato sauce-putting tom in mill

Cut up and put the tomatoes in the food strainer funnel. No need to take off skins, the strainer will do it for you.

5tomato sauce-partially done

Here is some sauce partially done. The food strainer has separated the sauce out into this green bowl. You crank the handle and push the tomatoes into the funnel using the red plunger. The strainer reminds me of a meat grinder except it grinds up tomatoes instead. It also can be used to make grape juice from grapes and applesauce or apricot sauce.

6tomato sauce-skins out

The other side of the food mill spits out the skins. I also cut off the stems shown in bowl. The chickens will love getting this bowl!

7tomato sauce-finished in bowl

Here is the bowl full of rich raw tomato sauce ready to bag with more tomatoes in the background ready to make sauce.

8tomato sauce-in bag

I put about 12 cups of raw tomato sauce in a gallon size freezer bag. I don’t like to overfill them. I also squeeze out the air while I ‘zipper’ them up. Be sure you zipper it well or it could leak out when you lay it flat.

9tomato sauce-finished in bags

Here is the raw tomato sauce—bagged and ready to freeze. Notice I have different colors of sauce coming from different colors of tomatoes. Later I either cook the bags of raw sauce up for a recipe or I end up canning them when my freezer is too full and I’ve recovered from harvest season!

Final Harvest 2013

final harvest 2013

Now that the harvest season is over, I have so much to catch up on with you all from this season. Seems when I am in the middle of the gardening season, I’m just too tired to write about all the things I want to share as I’m either in the glass shop or out in the garden during the day and come in at the end of the day ‘dirt tired’ as I say. So now I can catch up on maybe a particular vegetable I wanted to try, or how much honey I was able to harvest this year or a particular dish I cooked and enjoyed or something else I observed. I did take pictures all along waiting till I had the time to share.

Here is a photo of the last harvest of the season on Oct 21, 2013. I picked the Tarabais beans after they dried in the shell. They are in the baskets (on the left) waiting to be shelled, 3 heirloom Banana squash (on the right) which I left out in the first few frosty nights as they get sweeter if left out in the cold (but do bring them in when we get really cold), French Fingerling potatoes were dug out and put in the black box to cure and the very last of the tomatoes that I finished ripening inside that later became sauce and in the white bucket behind all of that was the honey we harvested just before putting the bees ‘to bed for the winter’. You always leave enough honey for the bees before harvesting any for yourself and some years you don’t get to harvest any. Here it is waiting to be put into jars after being strained in the white bucket. More on these individually later.

Tough year in the vegetable garden


Yesterday’s hail storm-October 11, 2013

This has been one of the most challenging years in the veggie garden that I can remember.

First the leafhoppers arrived in spring to infect the tomato plants with the curly top virus they carry, a fatal disease for tomato plants. They particularly get bad during drought years because they like it dry and hot. I pretty much thwarted them by covering all but 4 of my tomatoes with row cover (I ran out) which acts as a physical barrier until they left in July when the rains came. So my loss was minimal-maybe 10% compared to the 50% loss of tomato plants last year for me. Luckily I always grow more than I need. I will definitely will cover them again next year.


Biggest pumpkin ‘Honey Boo Boo’ only 176 lbs at end

A squirrel ate my best and fastest growing giant pumpkin plant which put me out of commission to be a contender for our state record, putting me 2 months behind when growing the back-up pumpkin. Here is a pic with my total pumpkins-biggest this year-named ‘Honey Boo Boo’ – 176 lbs-bummer…

We had one of the worst hail storms I can remember in early July but again since the tomato plants were still covered, they were protected. Everything else really got set back but did come back eventually. Many of my gardener friends got hit really hard and lost many crops in that one storm.


Hail damage-tomato on left, cracks (now healed) from too much water tomato on right

Then in August we finally started getting a lot rain which we desperately needed. Unfortunately we got 3 inches of rain in one week which the plants couldn’t handle all at once and many, including rock hard green ones split or cracked from too much water. (Ahh, whata ya going to do? First too little water, then too much water all at once!) The tomatoes were a little watery for about a week until they absorbed the extra water and healed their cracks. Now they are good again. Most of the uglies became sauce.

Then another devastating hailstorm this time with the row cover off so the tomato plants took it hard and many started to succumbed to fungal diseases because the hail damage weakens the plants and makes them susceptible. Kinda like us getting a severe beating opening up many wounds.


Hard freeze in late September finished off tomatoes

While I was on vacation, we got our first hard freeze in the last week of September which basically finished off the garden except for the chard and the grass growing under the tomato plants. Pretty unbelievable that we got such an early freeze in Sept when usually it doesn’t come till the second or third week of October. So the season has ended up very short. Usually I can go to the Farmers Market through the first week of November now I’m not sure I can get thru the 3rd week of October. I will go tomorrow to the market as I still have 8 boxes of good tomatoes but we will see after that. I just picked the green ones that were starting to ripen and see if they will still ripen.


Pumpkin patch almost cleaned up before hail hit.

And finally yesterday we had another hail storm-in October no less! Unheard of to have hail so late. Luckily I had finished picking any tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and a few squash that made it just yesterday morning before the hail hit. So that’s it-THE END. (although I think I may still have some chard left-gotta see how beat up it got…)

Which brings up a point as I am rather calm about all this. I use to get super upset but I learned 11 years ago when we had our 3 year bark beetle infestation due to a severe 4-year drought that basically wiped out 98% of our pinon trees (I lost 300) that we really can’t fight Mother Nature. We can only beat our heads against the wall for so long. We try to do our best and then at some point I learned that I just have to surrender to what is—’you can’t stop an avalanche’ as I was told once. Once I surrender, all stress leaves because I realize I can only do what I can do and that’s it. And surrendering is not so bad as now I can let go and start to plan the next season. Ahh, the life of a little farmer. Luckily my main income comes from glassblowing not farming so I am very lucky in that sense compared to the farmers whose main income is from their crops.

Besides I haven’t been able to write that much in the blog this season as I’ve been so busy in the garden but I did take pics and can catch up on some of the things that took place but didn’t have time to write about. Stay tuned…

Time to start your fall vegetable garden?! But wait it’s still summer!

Photo courtesy of aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu

OMG! I’ve received newsletters already talking about starting our fall vegetable gardens! What?! Already?! I’ve barely harvested my spring garden and haven’t harvested the summer garden yet!! No! No! No!

Yes folks, it is time for us to consider planting our fall vegetable gardens mid-month. The fall garden is very similar to the spring gardens in the varieties of veggies we can grow. If you want lettuce, chard, kale, spinach and many of the cool season crops later in the fall, you should consider putting them in this month. I would either plant seeds inside under lights to transplant later or buy seedlings at the nursery (that way you can plant a little later). Just make sure you buy heat-resistant varieties of lettuce and spinach and give them some shade for now. If you plant by seed, most lettuces take around 60 days till fully mature which would put us in September-October. Hard to believe isn’t it?

To figure out when to plant each variety, just look on your packet of seeds and count backwards from the time of the FIRST AVERAGE HARD FROST (Oct.3 in Santa Fe ) and add 14 days for shorter daylight hours (I add 15 days to make the math easier for my memory). So if I have some lettuce that will take 60 days till harvest and I add the extra 15 days, that would bring me 75 days (2 1/2 months) ahead to plant before a hard frost. So if I plant on July 15th, I would harvest right around Oct. 1. Unbelievable! Now with spinach and kale you can wait a little longer as they can handle some frost. And if you want some in Sept. you better plant now-like this weekend! Just when you thought you could cruise till summer harvest!