4 Season Salad Gardening, What to Expect

Most of you know by now that here at Everlongardener, salad greens make the world go round. About ten years ago I was introduced to growing salad greens year round in an unheated greenhouse. Well, as they say, the rest is history. Some of you may be hesitant to try 4 season salad gardening. In this weeks blog, I will tell you exactly what to expect if you give these techniques a try.

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Although I call myself the Self Proclaimed Salad Green Queen, I’m not growing this fabulous stuff to feed the masses, I just happen to have salad greens growing throughout the whole year. For some of you in southern climates this may seem hard to believe. Gardening on the colder side of the calendar goes back a few hundred years so it’s not a new concept.

What To Do

By planting cold tolerant lettuce, kale, arugula and spinach seeds in late summer and early fall, plants can become established enough to survive even a harsh winter. This past year, I didn’t get most of my seeds in the ground until nearly October. They grew, but it was slow going. To ensure success, seeds should be planted when it’s still somewhat warm out.

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‘Ruby Streaks’ mustard.

Protection from the elements is key for salad green success. If you have access to a greenhouse or hoophouse, you are in business. But what if that is totally out of reach for you? Are there any alternatives? A cold frame or basic hoop will do. For a cold frame, simply sow seeds in the existing soil. If you plan to construct your own small hoop, plant your seeds directly into the garden.

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Lettuce picking in spring!

Your Structure

To make your own mini hoop, you will need some 6 mil plastic, something to make theĀ  hoops from and a few heavy objects like rocks, bricks or small bags of sand. There are many videos out there on constructing a quick hoop. Just search using the phrase ‘quick hoop videos’for many different ideas. We use our 12×20 greenhouse but also utilize one outdoor raised bed. Since lettuce bolts quicker in spring in the permanent greenhouse, we supplement with the outdoor bed. The past few years we have used a structure made from scrap lumber and plastic. Next year, we hope to make a cover that can be easily moved from bed to bed. A design is in the works!

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Homemade greenhouse over a raised bed.

Of course, this homemade greenhouse isn’t very attractive but it works really well. As cooler weather approaches, a second layer of insulation is needed. The insulation must be suspended over the salad greens. Use thin metal hoops or even half of a hula hoop will work. Just push each end into the soil and you are ready for the covering. The best product is floating row cover. This fabric is breathable and allows moisture in. It is also self-venting, which is handy.

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Floating row cover suspended over greens.

This is a photo of my raised bed garden under the plastic. It’s amazing how well protected the greens really are through the winter. This system creates a zone within a zone. Very simple but highly effective. Mice and other rodents can be a problem. They will search for food anywhere they can find it in the winter. I keep traps set under the row covers. They especially seem to like spinach! Good taste I guess.

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Salad harvest in the snow!

What Happens Under the Hoop

Moisture is another factor. Sometimes, even with a cover, a bed can become too dry or too moist. For dry conditions, you can water on a warm day or as with my greenhouse, I shovel some snow onto the stone floor. As it evaporates, the snow adds to the overall moisture level of the greenhouse. When conditions are too moist, simply vent the structure on a day where temps are above freezing.

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Row covers over greens in the greenhouse.

There are times during the winter that I just let things go. I usually take a break from harvesting greens in January and start again in late February. If I had enough planted, I could harvest through those colder months but I just let things rest. The sun is so low at that time, greens will cease to grow. If you pick it all, it will not start growing until the sun gets higher in the sky. This past winter, my young plants were quite small so I let them be.

So, what happens when the days start to get longer? Growth starts to slowly happen. In late February, I can pick a small bowl and by mid March twice as much. By April, we are back in full swing and I can pick one or two large bowls a week. These wintered greens have such delicious flavors that I have become a salad snob of sorts. There is something about the weather that makes the greens so tasty and sweet!

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‘Black Seeded Simpson’ lettuce.

Cost

It would be hard to really break down the exact cost of winter salad growing. Seeds will cost $1-4 per packet. Multiply that by how many types and varieties you want to grow. Plastic can be free or cost around $10. Check with your local hardware store or greenhouse for scraps. Real greenhouse plastic is very durable but costly. The floating row cover fabric is about $12 per package. After cutting, you can cover many beds from one package. As for your structure, you can make one for free, like the one pictured above or you could purchase a greenhouse kit. Just make sure that whatever you make can withstand a snow load. My large greenhouse was given to me so all I needed to purchase was the plastic. I’ve had the same plastic on the greenhouse since 2009. Not too bad. If you consider store bought salad greens are priced from $3 for conventional greens to $5 or more for organically grown, you will quickly recoup your supply costs.

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This weeks harvest! Probably a half of a pound of high quality greens!

For the last month or so, we have been harvesting two bowls of salad greens per week. It happens to be some of the best salad I have ever eaten. Even though things are booming in the salad garden right now, I know that summer heat is on it’s way and it will soon squelch my delicious greens. I’m usually able to pick until July from the winter greens. The summer, heat tolerant varieties have been sown in between the rows of winter lettuce now. With Succession Planting, we can ensure continual harvests for the whole summer.

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Baby lettuce coming up between the rows of winter lettuce.

I’m so glad that I’ve been able to share the ins and outs of 4 season salad gardening this week. Winter salad production is at the core of my gardening life. If you are interested in more in-depth reading on 4 season growing, check out my inspiration Eliot Coleman and his book The Winter Harvest Handbook. My latest favorite book is called Year-Round Vegetable Gardener by Niki Jabbour. If you truly want to immerse yourself into winter salad production, check out these fine publications. Feeding your family from your own garden is one of the most satisfying things! Thanks for stopping by this week!

Hilary|Everlongardener

5 Early Spring Blooming Perennials

The month of May brings a flurry of color to the garden. The first snowdrops, the patches of blue scilla, then the daffodils and tulips start to open. Thrilling and fleeting, spring bursts with color. On the heels of the spring bulbs comes the earliest of the spring blooming perennials. Here are 5 easy spring perennials perfect for any garden!

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Perennial plants are a cost effective way to achieve flowers year after year. Many plants can be obtained once and carry on for years. One aspect of a great perennial garden is continuous blooms. If your garden is bare in early spring, try a few of the these plants. Some you will know, some may be new to you.

Hellebores

Probably little known to some home gardeners, hellebores can be the earliest to bloom. This blooming perennial is hardy in zones 5-8 and can bloom in winter in milder climates. Where the ground freezes, such as in Maine, hellebores bloom in early spring. Foliage is leathery and dark green. It’s long lasting blooms come in shades of green, white, pink and more.

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The green-mauve hue of this hellebores blossom.

This perennial is among the most unique of blooming plants. Blossoms last for a long time, remaining seemingly unchanged over a period of weeks. If you have a shady wooded site, this may be the plant for you. Clusters along a woodsy path would be perfect.

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The light green brings a refreshing change to the garden.

Common names include ‘Christmas Rose’, ‘winter rose’ and ‘Lenten rose’ because of it’s capability to bloom in winter in some areas. Even though the word rose is used, it is not related to the rose family. Not always among the more common greenhouse perennials, hellebores are becoming more widely available. They happen to be very photogenic and a gardener could easily get suckered into obtaining one in every color!

Brunnera

If you love Forget-me-nots, you’ll really go head over heels for brunnera (Siberian Bugloss)! A perfect addition to a shady border, this plant comes with solid green or variegated foliage. I prefer the variegated because it adds so much contrast. It’s frosted appearance really pops in darker settings. Mix a few in with a stand of hosta plants for an amazing display.

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Brunnera looks like forget-me-nots.

Hardy for zones 3-8, this plant can fit a wide variety of applications. With it’s heart shaped leaves, it looks so different than many common garden plants. This shade loving perennial starts blooming in May and carries on through June. After blooming, the foliage remains for the rest of the summer. The height only reaches 12″, so it won’t block any of your later plants.

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The gorgeous contrasting leaves.

Because of their low growing habit, brunnera makes a great ground hugging plant. They can also be grown in a container and used for cut flower arrangements.

Creeping Phlox

This ground cover perennial may seem pretty common but what a beautiful flower show in spring. Also known as ‘Moss pink’ or Phlox Subulata. Creeping phlox is easy to care for and once established can provide years of spring blooms. Winter hardy in zones 3-9, it comes in an array of colors from white to pink and purple. Perfect for naturalizing on a banking or in a rock garden. Plants thrive on a rock wall or in poor soil.

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The cheerful pink flowers of creeping phlox.

When flowers emerge, they turn into masses of bright blooms. As flowers fade, the garden is left with handsome evergreen foliage. When the plant matures, simply trim older stems that stop putting out flowers. If left unattended, weeds can be a problem so pull any grass that appears under the plants. Bloom time is around Memoral day here in Maine. Plant along the front of Forget-me-nots, ‘Basket of Gold’ alyssum or ‘Snow in Summer’.

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Pink is the most commonly seen color of creeping phlox.

Some may be hesitant to use creeping phlox because it’s so commonly seen in cemetaries. I have to say that it fits perfectly into the home garden as well. Growing creeping phlox can be a solution to problem areas and can be a low maintenance choice.

Bleeding Heart

One of the old-time favorites of the cottage flower garden. Often seen by the foundation of farmhouses, this blooming perennial is the glory of the spring garden. Bleeding heart or (dicentra spectabilis) can be a large, fountain of color, making quite a splash. Then, as the summer heat rises, the plant actually dies back. This makes way for the next round of garden color. Bleeding hearts self seed readily and love shade or dappled light. Bloom time varies but usually happens in May.

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Stunning white bleeding heart plant!

Old fashioned bleeding hearts come in pink and white. Both add so much to early spring beds with their long arching stems. These flowering plants are extremely hardy and fit well into spring bouquets. If you don’t have a bleeding heart in your shady garden, maybe it’s time to borrow a bloomer from your grandmothers garden of old! There are later dicentra varieties that flower in the summer and have a lower, more compact habit. I think the early bleeding heart is my favorite though. It’s a classic!

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Bleeding heart with Solomon seal.

Solomon’s Seal

When it comes to blooming shade perennials, this early bloomer really stands out. This sweet white flower can be used as pretty vase filler. As the stems of Solomon’s seal rise up from the ground, they grow straight up them arch gracefully. Even as the flowers fade, the plant adds structural interest to the garden for the rest of the season. Notice how well it goes with the bleeding heart pictured above.

Solomon’s seal is an elegant addition to any shady garden.

Solomon’s seal or polygonatum, is a must-have for the shade garden. Once established, this plant spreads slowly but is easy to propagate by division. This is a quiet participant in the garden but stands up under poor conditions. White dangling blossoms turn into black seed pods for further garden interest. If you’ve never seen Solomon’s seal, give it a try!

These are just a taste of the perennials that offer early spring blooms. These 5 can be found at most large garden centers. If you have gaps in your bloom times, why not plant a few of these colorful flowering perennials? This way you will see continuous color in your garden from early spring right through to fall! Here at Everlongardener we have been dodging the black flies while planting much of the vegetable garden. The weather has been a bit of a roller coaster of temperatures. It may hit 90 today! Enjoy your week and happy planting!

Hilary|Everlongardener

Attract Pollinators In 3 Easy Steps

Some of the hardest work in the garden is done by our pollinators. With all of the challenges we face as gardeners, attracting pollinators to our gardens can be something we may overlook. Why not make your little patch of earth a haven for these garden helpers. Let’s see how you can attract more pollinators to your garden this season with just 3 easy steps!

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Many critters contribute to pollinating. These include bees, wasps, moths, butterflies, bats and birds. In this post we will learn 3 ways to keep these important workers around.

Butterfly weed is a pollinator magnet!

Plant for PollinatorsĀ 

Those of us who are flower gardeners tend to plant what we love. The list of flowers that I like is pretty long. Annuals, perennial, bulbs…I really love ’em all. I so often pick the colors and shapes that appeal to me. Although I feel strongly about certain plants, I’m gradually learning what the pollinators prefer. Planting in masses gives pollinators an easy place to forage pollen. Like a giant landing strip to bounce from flower to flower on. Bees love native wildflowers such as wild asters, goldenrod and purple coneflower. Herbs include basil, lavender and oregano. Even trees and shrubs are great, like blackberries, roses and willows offer food for pollinators. Some plants recommended for pasture planting are alfalfa, buckwheat and clover. I’ve been reading a new book called 100 Plants to Feed the Bees. This book is packed with plant info for anyone looking for ideas for a pollinator garden.

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Herb flowers make great bee food!

One place to start is by noticing when food is available for our pollinators. With the very beginning of spring, the insect world quickly comes alive. By mid April, bugs are out and about. What will they find for food? The question really is, what does your landscape have to offer? Spring bulbs and tiny wild flowers are the first to appear. If you hold still and look, you will see them coming to the flowers.

Some pollinators on the rambling rose.

By allowing some areas of your property to go wild, you allow more native plants to be available for the early and late pollinators. These days, more farmers are encouraged to leave bands of wild plants on part of their farms. This encourages diversity and more pollinators.

The tiniest of bees on the Gypsophilia.

A Hospitable HabitatĀ 

Many people put out bird houses and hummingbird feeders. Why not put out something for the pollinators. For centuries, gardeners have catered to pollinators by putting out bee skeps. People keep bee hives for honey and pollination. We have a bat house that houses some of our bat population.

Attract native bees to your garden for extra pollination.

Native bees or mason bees are terrific pollinators. They are solitary bees. These bees do not belong to a hive. In their short lives, they simply lay eggs, pollinate and then die. Since they do not need to bring pollen back to the bee hive, they aren’t as picky as honey bees. This is an example of a mason bee house elbow. The name ‘mason bee’ comes from how they lay eggs in a hole of some kind, then pack mud or clay in front of it. Look close at the holes and you will see that many of them are occupied.

The bees have been busy!

A mason bee house should be positioned toward the east so that the bees can benefit from morning sun. Also, place the house near a source of mud. There are many styles out there. Some can be made from recycled items and others can be purchased. Native bees look for hollow stems and crevices to lay eggs in, so keep some plants standing for them in the fall.

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This is a bee house that was made from recycled and found materials.

This mason bee house was easy to make and can be a great project to do with kids. Learning about bees is fun and kids love them. Last year we even made a butterfly and bee watering station.

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A mason bee house purchased from a garden supply company.

Eliminate Toxins

You may think that you have a very natural environment around your property. You may also think that you have a great home for pollinators. Consider the products that you may be using. Many lawn care products are toxic for bees and other insects. By allowing dandelions and clover to reside in the lawn, you are providing much needed sustenance to our native pollinators. I know that a few of you will cringe over this thought but it’s something to consider. Most of us know that bees have been on the decline for many years and that pesticides are a huge factor. Try seeking alternative treatments or products. There is so much information out there today about how to tackle problems naturally. Your local extension website will cover just about any topic.

Dandelions are among the first flowers available in spring.

It is possible to grow a productive garden using organic techniques. Just because a product eliminates one problem, it may carry future unseen consequences. There is a wealth of knowledge out there and most experienced gardeners are happy to share it with others.

Even common flies pollinate!

Many pollinators play a role in our gardens. It doesn’t take much to make them a safer place to live.

 

A small wild bee looking to lay eggs in the garden.

The hummingbirds are already back in Maine. Time to get your feeders out. Other birds are all making nests in their usual places around our yard. We have been steeling away a little time here and there to work in the gardens but the weather has been very chilly. I hope that you get a chance to take notice of the pollinators in your yard soon. Diversity makes a better garden on so many levels. Thanks for taking the time to see what’s going on at Everlongardener this week. If you would like more gardening tips, subscribe in the sidebar. It’s free and you won’t miss a thing!

Hilary|Everlongardener

Growing Better Beets

Oh, the reasons to grow beets in your home garden this year!

Oh, the reasons to grow beets in your home garden this year! If you are anything like me, you may have tried growing beets for years, only to end up with a few beet greens and some pathetic gnarled beet roots. With a bit of care, you too can start growing better beets!

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Beets are literally a vegetable for all seasons. Early beet tops can be added to salad greens for a colorful mix. Beet greens are the delicious thinnings from rows of beets. Tender baby beets are harvested after as little as 40 days to allow the others to grow bigger. Steam them and top with butter for a spring supper delight. Then comes the fall crop of plump, flavorful whole beets. A late summer sowing can give you a quick fall harvest of greens. It’s easy to see why beets are so versatile. Beets and greens are packed with nutrients as well as good for digestion.

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Beets seeds in all colors!

Kaleidoscope of Colors

Although red is the typical color for beets, one look at any seed catalog and you will find that they truly do come in a kaleidoscope of colors. Slice them open and you will see rings of beauty before your eyes. Beets come in round and cylindrical shapes. Varieties of red beets include ‘Bull’s Blood’, ‘Detroit’ and ‘Red Ace’. White beets such as ‘Albino’ or ‘Avalanche’ offer a very different look. Golden beets like ‘Touchstone Gold’ or ‘Bolder’ are extremely popular. Or try ‘Chioggia’, a peppermint striped Italian heirloom. I’m growing something totally different this season, ‘3 Root Grex’ from Fedco. An heirloom mix that includes ‘Yellow Intermediate’, ‘Crosby Purple Egyptian’ and ‘Lutz Saladleaf’. Sounds totally exotic and should be interesting to say the least.

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Colorful beets are a joy to look at!

Although all beet greens are good for eating, ‘Early Wonder Tall Top’ leads the way for spring beet greens. Often sold at farm stands early in the year, beet greens are a local old time spring pleasure.

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Beet greens ready for the cooking pot!

When To Plant Beets

Beets are one of those vegetables that can be seeded out very early. Some of our local markets plant under the cover of greenhouses for an extra early crop. Beet seeds can be planted as soon as the ground can be worked. If your garden is dry enough, go ahead and plant. Beet seeds are actually a cluster of seeds in one so you may get more than one plant sprouting from each seed. Give them a spot full of organic matter and they will grow like crazy! Last year my aged bunny manure was the ticket to getting lovely beets!

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Planting out beet seeds.

Bringing in the Beet Harvest

With so many stages of the beet season to enjoy, don’t miss out on any of them. After about 45 days, it may be time to harvest your first beet greens. Carefully harvest a few greens from the rows. Make sure to leave plenty for the baby beet stage. When beets reach 1-2″, pull some for a feast of tender, sweet baby beet roots.

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Gorgeous beet greens!

During the summer in our garden, beets and chard are planted in the same area for an edible ornamental color show. Beets have few if any pests so they make an easy crop for new gardeners.

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Beet leaves are among the prettiest plants in the garden!

Through the summer, allow some beets to grow to full maturity. Given the space, beets can grow to enormous sizes. I like about 3″ but they can grow much bigger.

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Solid, whole beets maturing in the garden.

As fall approaches, harvest beets for immediate use or prepare them for storage.

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Whole beets keep well for winter use.

Storage and Uses

Beets can be stored for most of the winter by removing tops, washing them and storing them in the refrigerator. Start using them up if they seem soft. They do need proper humidity for good storage. Keep an eye on them. For more storage info, go to Beets and Beet Greens. Canning and pickling are also tasty ways to preserve your beet harvest. Once you start growing better beets, you will want to enjoy them most of the year.

Add beets to your menu with borscht soup, beet salad or roasted beets. Beets are a regular feature of my roasted one-pan meals such as Simple Roasted Vegetables. Beets are great just peeled and boiled for a no-fuss addition to any meal. If the skin is tender, try eating the skin. Otherwise, skins peel off easily after cooking.

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Beets are a star player in my sausage vegetable bake!

For a colorful garden this year, choose beets! They may not be everyone’s favorite but they really pull their weight in the garden. I just got my beet seeds in the ground. Soon, those red and green leaves will be popping up through the soil. Thank you for looking into growing better beets this week. Don’t forget to subscribe in the sidebar and you won’t miss out on helpful weekly gardening posts.

Hilary|Everlongardener