Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Beginning of Spring

I took a quick trip to Durham, N.C., a week ago Friday and by the time I had returned nine days later Spring had come. I had been waiting impatiently for spring and it was a surprise to me to learn that in my absence the official first day of spring arrived. I spent it driving.

Today we ate this year's first produce from the garden. While Janet went to the store to buy some lettuce I went out and cut a very small amount of mache and claytonia to add to the salad she would make. It wasn't enough to bother to weigh. We were happy with the taste and texture.

I removed the glass covers from the cold frames the day I left (March 19th) and they have been off ever since. The temperature remained above freezing and some days were really pleasant. The only covering that was used was row cover material over one of the frames to keep bird droppings from the pear tree above it from reaching the plants.

Surprisingly, when the snow finally disappeared Janet found that many of the small Red Russian kale plants that I started last year looked like they survived and were beginning to grow. That would be surprising since that variety is not recommended for keeping during the winter under protection. We will see.

As soon as the rain stops I will be out in the garden to clean up, dig under the few areas of winter rye, check out the compost pile, set up the rain barrels, and get the pond going (but that has nothing to do with the vegetable garden). Inside, it is time to start seeds and prepare that last cold frame.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Extending the Season

It should be obvious that one of my main projects this winter has been preparing to grow vegetables for a longer part of the year. That is the reason for the various cold frames that I have been making.
It is becoming clear to me that these frames should have been in place last fall and that the way to extend the season for greens (and carrots and whatever other vegetables we can nurse through the winter) is to have them set out and planted before the cold weather begins. I have read that mache will continue to grow through the winter. But most other vegetables would either need to be fully grown before the winter comes full force and picked as needed through the cold weather or at least established and allowed to just sit in the cold frame under the snow ready to start growing as soon as the weathe
r warms.
One thing I did was to sow some spinach seeds in November and
I believe they have germinated and are waiting to begin growing. They were in the "lettuce frame" from which I just cleared off the snow today. (There is the photo of the beginning of the process.) In a day or two I will see if they are growing or not.

There are two upcoming presentations about extending the season. On Saturday, April 24th, the Edible Gardening CNY group will hear Jennifer Cleary talk about that subject at the Liverpool Library (Liverpool, NY) at 2:00 P.M. That is free and open to the public. If you need more information contact me at john.allen1@verizon.net. Then, on April 27th the Finger Lakes Permaculture group will present their Community Food Growing Series: Season Extension from 4:30 to 6:00 P.M. at the Ithaca Children's Garden at Cass Park, Route 89, Ithaca, NY. Pre-registration is required. Contact Josh Dolan at sapsquatch7@gmail.com or call 607-272-2292. Cost $5.

If you are interested in extending the vegetable growing season I would be very pleased to hear from you.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Out In the Snow

Spring is not coming fast enough. I have more seedlings in my cellar than I have places to plant them.
Right now the garden has four glass covered frames in it. The oldest is what I call the "lettuce frame" and I have used it for a number of years to overwinter lettuce seedlings so that they are ready to take off as soon as the weather warms enough to melt off any snow and then provide light fo
r the lettuce plants to start growing again. With the recent 18-24 inches of snow that hasn't happened yet. I did brush the snow off before that downfall and found that the soil was still frozen.
Then there is the green cold frame that was the subject of an earlier post. That one is filled with mostly mache and claytonia. The plants have survived and I expect will soon start growing visibly. I have begun removing the insulation cover from 8 A.M. until 6 P.M. so that the plants get at least ten hours of light. The air temperature inside the frame yesterday afternoon was about 76 degrees an
d the soil temperature about 56 degrees. Today I propped the glass open a little so that it wouldn't get too hot.

The third frame, pictured here, is a clay colored cold frame that is much larger than the green one. It is currently filled with spinach, lettuce, mache and zen (a mild green).
In this photo it is propped open so that it doesn't overheat on this 42 degree sunny day.

The fourth frame is my simplest one. I made it from cedar fence slats from the 20 year old fencing around the yard that was replaced several years ago. [I kept a lot of them.] Although the surface of the boards look as if they are rotting, when I cut them I found a lot of solid wood inside. Because this was made from cedar I didn't have to prime or paint. I also did not insulate this one at all and do not plan to make an insulated cover for the glass. So this will be used somewhat differently than the other two. It does have the advantage that I have two screens from the same window that the glass came from and I will be able to remove the glass and use the screens in early spring to protect seedlings from insects such as flea beetles. This frame was set down on about a foot of heavy snow two days ago. Today I took off the glass covers and removed as much snow as I could and pushed the frame down onto the garden surface. The forecast is for sun during the next five days and by the end of that time the snow will be gone and the soil warm enough for planting. Or so I hope because I have those seedlings to plant out. I think I have far more than will fit into that frame. It may be time to start the next cold frame. I do have a lot of fence slats that I have been saving for something.
This photo was taken a couple days after writing this. I am digging as much of the soil in the frame as is diggable. Around the edges the soil is still frozen and comes up in cold lumps, if at all.