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 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.
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
Well here it is in early December and not surprisingly, most of the outside crops in the main garden, ‘bit the dust’ as they say—died. A few are still alive. It is warmer now—here are the results of those cold snaps we had.
The Toscana (aka Lacinato or dinosaur) kale got severely damaged. It is cold sensitive and although it’s not completely dead, it is unharvestable. Here it is with the leaves burned from the cold.
The Russian Red and Curly Leaf kale are still going and have some damage as well but the new growth is doing well. I haven’t watered them at all-nature has with a little snow and a nice rain the other day- almost an inch. I do have them covered with 2 layers of winter weight row cover.
The gourds are still drying in the field. Some are starting to get lighter in weight so I will put those in the garden shed to finish drying. The rest will stay outside until they dry more.
The green house is button up fairly tight now with just a little venting at the top panels. I’ve put the bubble wrap on all the windows (bubbles faced to the window) for extra insulation. I’ve also put the 4 barrels with water in them on the north wall for them to absorb heat in the daytime (I took them out during the summer), releasing the heat at night (the theory is that the sun which is lower and further to the south will hit them on the north wall and warm up in the daytime). I’m not sure I have enough barrels to do much good but even one degree will be helpful once it gets cold again.
I’ve planted 2 winter lettuce varieties in the green house as transplants back in early November. The cold hard varieties are a green variety-Winter Wunder and a red variety-Marshall Red Romaine. They both have made it so far through those cold snaps although they have slowed down in growth because of the shorter daylight hours. They will stop growing until sometime in January when the daylight hours start to get longer. Winter Wunder is my favorite lettuce but only grows well during the cold months. When it starts to get even a little warm, it will bolt. The lettuces have 2 layers of row cover over them at night and have some protection from the unheated greenhouse (at least from the winds). I’ve also noticed that the lettuces don’t need a lot of water now (about once every 2 weeks). It will be interesting to see if they make it Dec-February. Don’t they look wonderful in the winter!
There has been about a 4-7°F difference between the greenhouse temperature and the outside temperature at 7 am in the morning when I check everything. When I add the row cover at night I get about 4-6 degrees more protection. I’m not sure what to expect this winter since this is my first December-January in the greenhouse. Last year when we finished up the greenhouse I start planting on February 17th so now I will see if these established greens can survive Dec-Jan.
Three important factors should be considered before planting seeds in early spring:
Amount of daylight hours-In the winter the sun is weaker in the northern hemisphere and we have less daylight hours. If you plant seeds too early either outside or in a greenhouse, the seedlings will be spindling when they germinate. Once we have 10 hours of daylight (we currently have over 10 hrs), we can start planting our cold hardy seeds. So in Santa Fe, we now have enough daylight hours. But wait, there are several more factors we need to consider before we plant seeds.
Soil temperature-If you are thinking of planting OUTSIDE, forget about it, your soil is probably frozen so of course you can’t plant anything! Even if it’s not frozen, it’s probably still too cold to plant outside. However it will warm up soon. How can you tell what temperature your soil is? You’ll need a soil thermometer. I prefer a compost thermometer that is about 18″ long so you can check both the soil and a compost pile. A soil thermometer is invaluable, as different veggies like to germinate at different soil temperatures. Insert it about the depth of the root zone of the plants, about 4”-6″ in the soil to see how warm it is. Notice the chart above gives an optimum range for each veggie. If you have a cold frame, hoophouse or greenhouse your soil is probably much warmer already. So are you ready to plant? Not quite. There is one more factor to consider.
Air Temperature-The air temperature is also important and is the main thing people think of in considering when to plant seeds. It’s too cold at night to plant most veggie seeds outside or even in a greenhouse without extra protection BUT there are some wintergreens that are very cold hardy, some even hardy below 32°F at night. Even in an unheated cold frame or greenhouse, the temperature dips below freezing at nights so if you have a one, I suggest you put some row cover (winter weight-.9-1.0 mm.) over your beds. If you don’t have a greenhouse and will be planting outside in early spring, definitely put row cover over it at night but don’t forget to check your soil temperatures too.
I’ve compiled a list of these very cold hardy crops that can be started in a greenhouse now if the soil temperature and daylight hours are good. Many of these cold hardy crops can be planted outside as soon as the soil warms ups in March. For the list go to my blog at: http://giantveggiegardener.com.
I can’t wait anymore! I got this newly completed greenhouse and am antsy to try it out. I’ve done a lot of research on which plants might do well in the winter and am ready to rock n’ roll! So I am planting cold hardy seeds this week inside the house. I will transplant them into my new greenhouse when they are bigger. I’m also going to try some direct seeding in the greenhouse in the raised beds like arugula, spinach, kale, baby bok choi and mache in mid-February-all of which can handle some pretty cold weather. How cold? We will see soon although you wouldn’t know it by this week. I will also plant other greens like some winter hardy lettuces, peas, and a winter hardy variety of chard called Argentata at the end of February-beginning of March. Everything planted in the greenhouse will have to have row cover over it even in the greenhouse at this early date because of our cold nights. For those of you who do not have a hoophouse, or cold frame, the seeds in the list below will do well outside only you have to wait a little longer.
Here is my list of cold hardy crops to try in the greenhouse. You can also plant these outside in March once the soil is not frozen and cover them with row cover:
From Johnny’s Seeds:
‘5-star greenhouse’ lettuce mix
From Southern Exposure Seed Exchange:
‘Even’ Star’ Winter Arugula
‘Winter Bloomsdale’ spinach
From Kitazawa Seed Co:
‘Mei Qing Choi’ (dwarf pak choi)-recommended in ‘Four Season Harvest’ by Eliot Coleman
‘Tatsoi’ (pak choi)-recommended in ‘Four Season Harvest’ by Eliot Coleman
‘Golden Yellow’ pak choi
From The Cooks’ Garden:
‘Red Grenoble’ lettuce
‘Forellenschluss'(speckled trout) lettuce
‘Rouge D’Hiver’ lettuce-recommended in ‘Four Season Harvest’ by Eliot Coleman
From John scheepers Kitchen Garden:
‘Argentata’ Chard-recommended in ‘Four Season Harvest’ by Eliot Coleman
From Agua Fria Nursery: transplants ready to plant
mache (corn salad)-recommended in ‘Four Season Harvest’ by Eliot Coleman
endive-recommended in ‘Four Season Harvest’ by Eliot Coleman
‘Winter Wonder’ lettuce
‘Marshall Red’ romaine lettuce
I want to heat the greenhouse in the winter using passive solar methods. There is nothing growing in it so far this winter but I’m doing some experimenting to see how warm I can get it (my goal is around 32°F or warmer) at night. To this end I’m experimenting using compost to help heat it, putting some barrels with water in them to act as a heat sinks and I’m insulating the structure inside a little better so as not to lose so much heat at night. If the sun shines, it gets between 70-80° in the day right now (which is delightful) and I’d like to keep some of that heat in at night and not lose it. Of course I had the opposite problem last summer when it got too hot but that’s another problem I’ll address this summer!
The compost pile is only 1/2 a yard so is probably not enough to keep it significantly warmer inside the greenhouse but what if it adds a degree or two? I’ll take it. Everything helps. The compost pile got up to 112°F while the surrounding soil in the two raised beds is 40°F. Not that I’m planting in the compost but it shows it is significantly warmer. Now it has cooled down to 60°. The night temperatures are still below freezing inside.
Since I didn’t have a chance make shutters for the screen windows before winter set in, my friend, Jody, thought of putting plastic on both sides of the open screen ‘windows’ to trap warm air and slow the heat loss. I’ve done that now.
I just put bubble wrap on the windows to hopefully act as insulation to slow the loss of heat at night as well. Plus I added bubble wrap on the ceiling between the rafters. Elodie said probably a lot of heat is loss up there through the uninsulated fiberglass roof. Now the green house looks like a bubble wrap house on the inside! The night temperatures are still below freezing inside.
I also have 4 rain barrels that I painted black and filled with water and installed hose bibs on the bottom so I can empty the water out at the end of winter. I put them under the growing tables and the night temperatures are still below freezing inside. And lastly I plugged up a lot of leaks where the roof meets the rafters.
Did it work? Are my nighttime temperatures above freezing? NOPE. I’ve only been able to keep it about 5 degrees warmer than the outside temperature which make me go to plan B.
What is plan B? Try planting only super cold hardy winter greens and see what happens. Stayed tuned…