Plant growth has come screeching (almost) to a halt. Lettuces just sit, hardly growing. No wonder, you are no doubt thinking. It’s getting colder and colder outside. I know that, but I’m writing about lettuces in my greenhouse. The issue isn’t lack of heat. It’s lack of light.
For more evidence that light is the issue, look to good vegetable gardens in southern Europe. In that mild climate, harvest from a well-planned vegetable garden continues year ‘round. But year ‘round harvest there takes planning — lack of light also makes for very slow growth over there in these darkest months. Unprotected plants survive because the winter weather never gets that cold over there. (And cool-season vegetables, such as spinach, radish, and turnips, that we plan for sprig or fall, are what do well in Mediterranean winters.)
My garden here in the Hudson Valley, at about the 42nd parallel, experiences winter day …
I missed my deadline by four days, sowing onion seeds on February 5th rather than the planned February 1st. That date isn’t fixed in stone but the important thing is to plant onions early. Onions are photoperiod sensitive, that is, they respond to daylength (actually, night length, but researchers originally thought the response was to light rather than darkness, so the phrase “daylength sensitive” stuck). Once days get long enough, sometime in June, leaf formation comes screeching to a halt and the plants put their energies into making bulbs. The more leaves before that begins, the bigger the bulbs. Plants from seeds sown outdoors — towards the end of March — won’t have as many leaves as plants given a jump start indoors. I like big bulbs; hence the early February sowing.
Beds Ready for Spring Planting, Figs and Lettuces Readied for Cold
Much colder weather has been sneaking in and out of the garden but leaving traces of its presence with some blackened leaves on frost-sensitive plants and threatening to brazenly show itself in full force sometime soon. This fall I vow to put all in order before that event rather than, on some very cold night, running around, flashlight in hand, gathering and protecting plants.
Before even getting to the plants, drip irrigation must be readied for winter. Main lines and drip lines can remain outdoors but right near the spigot, the timer, the filter, and pressure reducer must be brought indoors where they won’t freeze. I plug the inlet for the drip’s main line to keep out curious insects. At the far end of the line is a cap that I loosen enough to let water drain out. Opening all other …
Gentlemen (and ladies, and kids), start your engines. The 2014 gardening season has begun, here on the farmden, at least.
The day began with my lugging the big pail of potting soil from the cold garage to a warm spot near the woodstove. My home-made potting soil — equal parts peat, compost, garden soil, and perlite, with some soybean meal thrown in — is moist when I make it, so was frozen solid. Not usable or suitable for germinating seeds.
Once the potting soil defrosts and warms, I scoop it into a seed flat and a small plastic tub into which I’ve drilled drainage holes. Firming the soil in place with my Furrow Maker, a small board with spaced out,
The Furrow Maker in action
1/4-inch dowels glued to its underbelly, creates a miniature farm field. Into the tub’s “field” go rows …
Brrrr! The mercury plummeted to nine degrees Fahrenheit in my garden a couple of weeks ago. Yet I was still harvesting fresh salad greens. And I don’t mean kale and Brussels sprouts; they’re tasty and still available in my “back forty,” but tender and succulent they are not. Likewise, I don’t mean turnips, carrots, or other root crops that can nestle in the relative warmth of the earth. (My root crops anyway were pulled and packed away into a box for winter storage.)
What I am talking about is lettuce, endive, and Chinese cabbage. These vegetables, which ARE tender and succulent, must have antifreeze in their cells to be able to remain so in the face of such cold temperatures. Actually, that’s not far off: With gradual exposure to increasingly colder temperatures, cold-hardy plants are able to move water out of their cells into the spaces between the cells, …
Some people consider owning a Porsche Boxer to be a luxury; I consider crunching through winter snow to the greenhouse and picking a fresh head of lettuce to be a luxury. This lettuce-y luxury must be earned at a price that is more than monetary. It was a couple of weeks ago that I started paying for part of this year and next.
The goal is to harvest a head of lettuce every day from now through winter and on into next spring. That takes planning.
So at the end of August I filled a 4 by 6 inch seed flat with potting soil and sprinkled a different variety of lettuce into each of four mini-furrows. Covered with a pane of glass and watered, the seeds soon sprouted, Read the complete post…
Lest anyone believe that everything is always rosy here on the farmden, it ain’t so. True, right now, vegetable beds are brimming over with crisp, tender heads of delicious lettuce, broccoli, endive, and cabbage, and upright stalks of aromatic celery and leek. And, yes, the floor of the greenhouse is verdant with developing, young lettuce, large, leafy kale and Swiss chard plants, and 10 foot tall fig trees bearing fruits
But let’s start with those figs, three different varieties of which live with their roots right in the ground in the greenhouse. Green Ischia has been bearing large, copper-colored, firm, sweet fruits for weeks and weeks. No problem here.
About 8 feet from the Green Ischia grows a Brown Turkey fig. It kicked off the season as usual, loaded with fruit that started ripening in early September. Then scale insects …
One of the things I like least about gardening is its deferred gratification. I planted a Beurée d’Amanlis pear tree a couple of years ago and don’t expect to sink my teeth into one of its fruits until next year. I planted Indian Summer rudbeckia seeds a couple of weeks ago so that I can enjoy swaths of orange-tinged, yellow blossoms this time next year. Yesterday I transplanted endive seedlings, from seeds sown back in early July, into a garden bed to provide succulent, green leaves for salads, soups, and stews beginning this October.
My mini forest, 15 years old: sugar maple, river birch, buartnut
Not that deferred gratification is all that bad. After …