Simple Season Extension Ideas

Did you ever wish that the garden harvest could keep on going? Ever wonder how to incorporate season extension into your yearly garden routine? If you’ve been reading Everlongardener for any amount of time, you know that I’m crazy about wintering over salad greens. We are still harvesting kale that I sowed last year at this time. Seeds have germinated for this winters greens. It’s the rhythm of the seasons around here for us. I know that many are just ready to pack it in, especially after such a dry season. Let’s get organized and rethink how we can extend that garden harvest.

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I often find myself not wanting my readers to be overwhelmed by me constantly talking about winter gardening. Recently, I was listening to an interview with Monty Don, British gardening expert, about this subject. The journalist who was interviewing him was a Swedish gardener named Sara Backmo, who personally grows much of her family’s food, including greens through the winter. She wanted to find out how important season extension was to Monty. I think she was satisfied with the impressive information he relayed to her. As I listened, I felt really good about my efforts with greens but not so great with the other winter hearty veggies. I do realize that I can’t take it all on and local growers do have a lot to offer when it comes to seasonal produce.

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‘Ruby Streaks’ mustard loves winter weather.

I’ve published countless articles on the topic by now but many readers are still learning the ropes of four season gardening. In my post Plant Now For An Extended Harvest, I outline what to plant right now to ensure a continuous harvest. All it takes is a few types of leftover seeds to make a winter salad garden happen.

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You can’t fight the winter from coming!

Get Planting

Pick a space in your garden that is currently not in use. Maybe where your garlic was growing or where you’ve ripped out your green beans. Select some cold hardy greens such as spinach, kale or cold loving lettuces. This is the perfect time to get your greens established before the snow flies. Think about all of the warm autumn day for growing we have ahead of us.

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Planting cold hardy seeds.

Plan Your Covering

Whether you plan on purchasing a greenhouse kit or coming up with your own structure, now is the time to figure out what you will do to extend your garden season. We use a 12×20 gambrel style greenhouse with raised beds and we build a mini greenhouse over an outside garden bed each fall. Both have their advantages and both work really well. There are countless plans out there so just look around online for one that suits you.

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Our greenhouse last winter.

The smaller greenhouse that we construct has a wooden frame and is covered with plastic for the winter. Access to it is not always easy but it protects the greens very well. As long as you have the plastic secured at the base everything will be fine.

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Our quick greenhouse is very effective.

A simple cold frame can be a small start in season extension for the beginner. Usually built from wood with an old window or glass door on top. This method gives the garden  protection while allowing sunlight in. If the glass is setup with a hinge, it’s so easy to vent the box on hot fall days. You can even make a temporary cold frame with 4 bales of hay. Just make a box out of the hay around the garden and lay the window on top. Instant season extension protection! Here is an example of a basic cold frame made from wood.

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An example of a cold frame. Greens are protected from critters with netting.

The second layer is also the key to extending the harvest. Eliot Coleman started out by building cold frames inside a big greenhouse. He found this to be costly so he started working with floating row cover under a simple plastic covered hoop. The results were more than unbelievable. Just using the row cover for fall and spring frost protection can be a real benefit. There are many ideas out there so just find a few that will work for your garden!

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Harvesting spinach in the greenhouse.

Preserve What You Have

Do you have root vegetables like carrots and parsnips in the ground? Why not leave some under a protective layer of insulation? Construct a make-shift cold frame over the garden bed. Or cover the crops with a thick layer of hay. It can be as easy as that.  The crops will be cold but probably not freezing. This will allow you to harvest the vegetables throughout the winter months if it’s accessible.

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Homegrown carrots are the best!

Four season growing need not be elaborate or complicated. If you have one successful season of it you may be hooked. Feel free to browse other articles under the category of ‘season extension’ in my archives. During these warm late summer days I have been out planting when I get a few minutes here and there. Planting those seeds makes me think of the salads we will enjoy during the coming fall, winter and spring!

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Winter salad is the best!

Our tomatoes are really starting to ripen over the last week or so. Pretty soon, I’ll have to decide how I will be using them. For the moment, the smaller cherry and grape varieties have been in every salad or they just get popped into my mouth as I walk by. Larger tomatoes get stuffed into grilled cheese sandwiches or just sliced with salt and pepper. Yum! I’m glad I grew out of my childhood hate of tomatoes. I can’t tell you how many years that I just ate bacon and lettuce sandwiches, not even with mayonnaise! On that note, get planning what you can harvest through the winter with season extension! Thanks for sticking around and don’t forget to subscribe for more seasonal info!

Hilary|Everlongardener

Beau the gardening sidekick!

Plant Now For An Extended Harvest

With the summer gardening season marching right along, it’s easy to think about packing it in soon. Did you know that it’s actually no time to hang up your gardening hat? By planting certain seeds now, you have a chance to extend your garden harvest through the fall and right on into the winter. Join me for the amazingly simple way to harvest more food, even during the colder months!

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Timing Is Everything

As cooler fall weather creeps in, it’s time to sow seeds for cool weather crops. By planting now, you have a good chance of extending your harvest window. As spent plants get pulled out of the garden, plant fall and winter crops in their place. They will have time to become established before the really cold weather sets in, providing a potential harvest right through the winter. I live in US gardening zone 5b. Those of you in colder climates will want to plant earlier in the season, while gardeners in the lower states can plant even later. Around here in Maine, the middle of August through the beginning of September are excellent times for planting.

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Luscious fall and winter salads await!

Where to Plant

So, you don’t think you have room to plant more? How about using the area where you harvested your garlic? Do you have space where a crop failed? Amend the soil and get planting! How about a vacant cold frame? Do you have access to an unused greenhouse or hoop house? These are some of the options. Just make sure that whatever you pick, the space can be easily covered in a few months.

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A cold frame can be an excellent place to winter over veggies!

What to Plant

Within different types of cool season vegetables are varieties that do well in cool and even freezing temperatures. You may think that a carrot is a carrot but read some of the descriptions in your favorite seed catalogs. You may see the terms ‘cold-tolerant ‘ or ‘for overwintering’. Many varieties are conducive to cold weather. These cold-tolerant veggies don’t even mind the freeze and thaw of winter conditions. Check with your local greenhouse to see what they have for leftover seeds.

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Turnip greens love fall weather.

We are not talking about beans, corn and tomatoes here. Think about the first things that you are able to plant out in spring. Carrots, beets, kale, brassicas, radishes, spinach and all sorts of salad greens. Some garden centers even sell fresh fall seedlings these days. If you have time you could start your own. Since that first winter that I successfully protected salad greens right through to the spring, I’ve been working on improving my growing situation.

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Radish harvest.
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Lovely salad greens thrive through the winter.

Extra Protection 

I will say that some years are better than others. Sometimes my setup isn’t quite right. Some years I lose the battle with mice. But, I will say that for the most part wintering over greens is pretty simple and once you get the hang of it becomes second nature. If you are an avid gardener, you will relish the challenge. If you are a beginner, you will find that trying season extension doesn’t have to be hard.

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Winter garden harvest.

By giving the plants an outer layer of protection and then when temps go down providing a second layer, you can have season extension success. The first layer can be as elaborate as a greenhouse or as simple as a quick hoop constructed of re-bar or wood. Just make sure it can take a snow load. 6 mil. plastic or real greenhouse plastic will do the trick. The second layer consists of a product called ‘floating row cover’. This is a breathable, self-venting, spun poly fabric that can be found at most garden centers. When this fabric is suspended above the plants, it creates a snug environment for overwintering. In the photo below, I actually used hula hoop halves to suspend the row cover. Greens can be harvested in spring and will continue producing until hot weather hits.

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Floating row cover suspended over greens.

For in depth information about this subject look for the books The Winter Harvest Handbook by Eliot Coleman and The Year Round Vegetable Gardener by Niki Jabbour. Both are excellent guides to extending the garden harvest. Over the past few years, Everlongardener (also known as The Salad Green Queen) has had extensive posts such as How To Harvest Salad All Winter, Project Greenhouse and 4 Season Gardening, What to Expect. Subscribe and stay tuned throughout the next few months for more season extension tips.

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Row covers over greens in the greenhouse.

If you missed my post last week it was because I took a break. A few days spent by a roaring stream was just what our family needed. A place to leave all troubles behind, reflect and rest. I was pleased that upon my return I hadn’t missed the ‘Casa blanca’ lilies. A pure white oriental lily with a strong fragrance that drifts onto the porch in the morning and wafts through windows on warm summer nights. The beans needed picking and things needed watering but everything did pretty well. Thanks for checking out my post on season extension this week. I think a few of you will want to try your hand at 4-season growing this year! I’ve included a few garden photos and a picture of our adorable new gardening companion, Beau! Have a great week!

Hilary|Everlongardener

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My new ‘helper’! Photo cred. D. Gifford.
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The last of the day lilies.
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Cutie!
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‘Casa blanca’ lily.

Grow a Reliable Crop of Mizuna Mustard Greens

One thing about being a gardener is the opportunity of trying new veggies and interesting varieties. It’s fun, delicious and colorful to plant different things every year. From the Brassica family of Asian greens or mustard greens, comes mizuna. If you want to add color and mustard flavor to your table, add mizuna to your planting list!

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I’ve grown many types of mustard greens over the years and I really do love them all. One drawback to growing them is that they do suffer from insect damage. After a while I realized that the mizuna, particularly in shades of red, are unharmed by flea beetles or aphids. Sometimes referred to Japanese mustard greens or spider mustard, these greens are great in salads or sandwiches and you can use the more mature leaves in cooking if you like. Just treat it like spinach.

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‘Ruby Streaks’ mizuna.

My favorite variety of red Mizuna is ‘Ruby Streaks’. It’s lacey leaves have greenish undersides with burgundy red streaks stretching across the top. Mizuna is as beautiful to look at as it is to eat. This type is widely available from most seed suppliers. Other types that may appeal to you include ‘Red Splendor’, ‘Early Mizuna’ or ‘Scarlet Frills’. One review from Baker Creek Seeds describes it as being the “easiest green to grow for my tough soil/weather conditions, including shameful neglect. Grows all seasons for me (and holds in most winters) without any problems.” Sounds like a winner! I’m sure we can all relate to that part about neglect.

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‘Ruby Streaks’ mustard.

What can you expect for flavor? Well, as the name mustard greens denotes, these greens have a very mustard essence about them. ‘Ruby Streaks’ has a surprisingly sweet, hot flavor. The hotness is not overpowering though and you can still taste the flavor of the greens. Each nutrient packed variety of mustard greens that you choose to grow will have it’s own unique flavors and qualities.

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Mizuna leaves add so much to a salad!

Mizuna can easily be used for microgreens. In the garden, plant in spring through fall for a summer full of mustard flavor. Mizuna only takes 21 days for baby greens to mature and 40 days for adult leaves. Even if warm temperatures cause mizuna to bolt, continue to harvest it’s leaves as long as you like the flavor. Their pretty yellow flowers are edible too. With small sprigs of mizuna sprinkled through a salad, the mustard taste will add quite a zesty pop! Because of it’s long growing season, mizuna could quickly become one of your 4 season favorites! Mizuna is a hardy addition to a fall planted garden and will readily self-seed if allowed.

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The small flowers of mizuna.

What are some of the unique crops that you love to grow? Speckled beans, purple podded peas? Of course, most of us can’t grow everything but it keeps things fresh when we try new colors and flavors. With these hot days this week the garden has really shot up. Beans are continuing to poke through the ground, the peas are reaching for the sky and the irises are blooming like crazy! Along with the warmth, the evening mosquitoes are attempting to carry us away! I’m leaving you with a few garden pics of what’s going on here. Have a great week out there!

Hilary|Everlongardener

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Peonies in bud!
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The bees are crazy for the rhododendrons.
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Iris in the evening light.

How to Create the Perfect Salad Garden

If you have just a small space for a garden, why not try growing a salad garden. It is one of the best ways to utilize a tiny space. Short on time this summer? A salad garden can be the perfect solution to a busy schedule! Downsizing your garden? Just starting out? Low maintenance and with very little commitment, a salad garden may be all that you need!

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First of all, what is a salad garden? Growing salad greens? No, not just salad greens. A true salad garden uses a small space to grow all of the components of a salad. Each salad garden can be tailored to individual tastes and needs. This will give you the most crop variety using a very limited size garden. Many of these veggies take up very little space compared to beans or squash for instance.

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Several types of tomatoes!

What to Grow

The foundation of any salad would of course be the greens. Do you like spinach? Adore arugula? Head lettuce or loose leaf? Lettuce mixes may be a great place to start. A variety of colors and flavors to brighten your plate. Baby chard or beet greens can add color and flavor. Kale is another great green to put in a salad garden. Try growing 2-3 rows of various greens. Look for some heat tolerant greens for mid-summer harvests. I use ‘Summer Lettuce Mix’ from Fedco.

Kale is a delicious green for the salad mix!

A few cherry or grape tomato plants will provide your table with a continuous harvest once they start producing. Plant a few slicing tomatoes if you have space. You will probably end up with more than enough tomatoes. These fruits are known for their intensely sweet flavor from ripening in the sun. Sometimes they don’t even make it back to the house! For a smaller garden, choose 2 plants and for a larger space try 4 plants.

A bountiful harvest.

Radishes are among the quickest crops to grow in the salad garden. Spring and fall are the best times to grow radishes. They prefer cool temperatures. Their tiny seeds can be sown in between rows of carrots or lettuce. Choose radishes that are mild or spicy hot! Radish varieties like ‘French Breakfast’ and ‘Cherry Belle’ mature in as few as 25 days. That’s less that a month away from garden goodness! If you plant a few seeds every 2 weeks, you will have a continuous harvest instead of them ripening all at once.

 

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Radishes are great addition to the salad garden.

Growing a few rows of short season carrots can make a big splash in your salad bowl. Homegrown carrots have a flavor that can’t be beat. Use smaller carrots as you thin them. A quick growing type like ‘Mokum’ takes a mere 48 days to reach 5-6″ long. Grow purple, white or yellow carrots for a color show that your won’t believe.

Colorful carrots in a salad!

Get it on Paper

Measure out the area that you can use for your salad garden. Do you have room for a 3×6, a 6×6, 5×8 or maybe a more ambitious 12×5 plot? Even the smallest choice will provide a weekly harvest from the garden. Draw your space on paper to see how you will arrange it. Taller plants such as tomatoes should be in the back of the garden. A larger garden could include small amounts of chard, broccoli, peas, peppers and beet greens. Try mixing in herbs such as basil, dill or parsley for adding to salad or for cooking. Scallions or chives can be great for flavoring too! What would your perfect salad garden include?

A variety of seeds!

When you’ve decided where and what you want to plant in your salad garden, prepare the ground. If the soil needs amendments, add a few inches of compost. Plant directly into the soil. Some organic granular fertilizer can also give the salad patch a boost. For some tips on how to start from scratch, check out the article How To Start A New Garden.

Succession Planting

By leaving some space at planting time, you will be able to sow more seed for carrots, greens or radishes every few weeks. This means that you will save some of your seeds for later. As some crops go by, the new ones will be maturing. Succession Planting ensures continual salad garden success throughout the gardening season.

Tender fresh greens!

A wonderful salad garden could easily be modified for container or deck planting. If you have very little land or are an apartment dweller, salad gardening may be for you! If a large vegetable garden seems totally out of reach, why not grow a salad garden this year? It’s not too late to put the perfect salad garden in!

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Gorgeous bowl of salad greens.

I’ve been itching to get back in the garden! June is upon us! Hopefully this dreary, damp weather moves along for good! It was so good to feel the warm sun on my back yesterday! Most of the veggies are up in my garden. I still have a few things to plant. More carrots, maybe more salad greens, the rest of the onions and scallions. This weather has been great for growing weeds. Some of my wilder garden spots need attention. What’s up in your garden so far? I would love to hear from you! I very much appreciate you stopping by to read Everlongardener this week. With some warm, sunny days coming, try to get out and soak up some sun!

Hilary|Everlongardener

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 the  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

What To Plant Right Now!

It may be too early to set out your peppers and tomatoes, but are there any seeds to plant now? If you have the right conditions, many cool season crops can be planted very soon! Get your garden ready and plant these vegetables right now!

Some veggie seeds can be planted well before your local date of last frost. In seed packet directions it’s not uncommon to see the expression ‘as soon as the ground can be worked’. This means that the frost must be out of the ground and the garden has warmed up. Moisture level is another factor. If the soil is too wet, seeds will surely rot in the dirt.

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Good soil is the key to a successful garden!

Working your soil too early can also destroy the delicate soil structure. Digging or tilling will compact the garden, making it less able to dry out. Try the old squeeze test. Grab a handful of soil and squeeze it in your fist. The garden soil should be fluffy and light, not forming a ball in your palm. The type of garden you have may also determine when you are able to plant. Traditional gardens may take more time to fully dry out, while raised beds tend to dry out more quickly. If a garden is in a low area, soil may take longer to get to the proper moisture level.

What to Plant Now

If you want to plant early, think of cool season crops. Root crops such as carrots, radishes, parsnips and turnips can be planted.

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Radish harvest.

Many salad greens seeds can be pushed into the soil with great growing success.

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Chard is a wonderful addition to the edible landscape.

Beets and chard thrive in cooler temps and it’s a great time to think about getting members of the onion family in the ground as well.

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‘Ruby Streaks’ mizuna.

Different varieties of mustard greens excel with the absence of pests in early spring.

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Peas climbing on wire.

Planting peas is one of the first things we do. My neighbor is an avid gardener and we are always watching for him to plant his peas. The age old goal is to have fresh peas by the 4th of  July and usually we make it. I soak my pea seeds the night before planting. This gives them a little head start when they get into the ground. If the forecast is calling for a week of rain, hold off on direct seeding. Wait until it’s a bit drier and your seeds will thank you.

Under Cover Crops

If you are concerned about night time temps, a secured floating row cover could be placed over newly emerging seeds. Some growers plant and then place a milk jug over the plant to act as a mini greenhouse.

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Floating row cover suspended over greens.

The brassica family includes broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and Brussel sprouts. Seed packets will tell you to plant seed directly in the garden maybe 3-4 weeks before date of last frost. I don’t know anyone who directs seeds around here. Let me know if you do. Your best bet is to start seeds indoors 8-10 weeks before last frost or purchase healthy seedlings at your local greenhouse. Then, 2-4 weeks before last frost, set out seedlings into the garden. Watch the weather and night temperatures. You could also erect a temporary greenhouse to get a jump on the season. If you can successfully grow brassicas, you will love the flavors!

Choose the Right Varieties

When choosing garden seed for cool season crops, read seed packets carefully. Choose varieties that do well in cooler temps. Some lettuce types love cold weather, where summer varieties keep going through the heat of summer. Certain carrot varieties can withstand cool or very cold weather. I explain figuring out seed lingo in Decoding The Seed Packet, a post designed to help gardeners understand seed packet information.

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Pea seeds soon will go in the ground!

Better to Wait

Warm season veggies should be set out after all danger of frost. It’s just so much better to wait for things like tomato and pepper seedlings. I usually direct seed cucumbers, beans and squash in late May here in zone 5b Maine. Early planting of these vegetables may lead to killing the plants and making you a very discouraged gardener! So, be patient and you will enjoy a more successful garden.

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Early season seeds!

If you plant soon, you will be thinning those first beet greens out of the garden before you know it. Within the next few weeks I will be sowing some of these cool season seeds in my gardens. I plan on getting my heat tolerant salad greens and radishes in the ground soon too. i usually put the seeds that I want to plant first into a small basket. Every time I have a few minutes, I go out and plant one or two things. Check out your garden. Planting time may be sooner than you think !

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Garden harvest.

“April hath put a spirit of youth in everything.”-William Shakespeare. I saw this quote the other day and it made me think of many that I know who want to be in the garden but cannot because of poor health or circumstances. That is a harsh reality but I do hope that this post has made you feel like getting out in your garden. Spring chores can seem overwhelming. Just pick away at them a little at a time and you will get there! Thank you!

If any if you are going to be in the Rockland, Maine area this Saturday at 1pm, I will be teaching a mason be class at ArtLoft Rockland. We will be learning how to attract our native bees to our gardens and making bee houses from natural and recycled materials. Go to ArtLoft Rockland to register!

Hilary|Everlongardener

How To Harvest Salad All Winter

“What is more delicious than a crisp salad on a summer day, especially if you have raised all the ingredients yourself, and pick them fresh and dewy at dusk or in the early morning!” -Jean Hersey from her book Carefree Gardening.  Although this statement is absolutely true, imagine this salad, harvested in midwinter, on a cold, frosty morning.  With a little planning and proper protection, you too can harvest salad all winter long!

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In summer, we can start to take our garden harvest for granted.  Bowls of lettuce, endless tomatoes, gobs of green beans!  But in winter, how we long for something fresh from the earth.  When I started this blog, I set out to help others learn the basics of winter salad production.  I don’t consider myself to be a scientific person, so I try to relay information in simple terms.  No matter how big or small your garden is, it is possible to harvest salad all winter long!

'Winter Lettuce Mix' woks really well!
‘Winter Lettuce Mix’ works really well!

When To Plant

If you want to grow lettuce and other salad greens through the winter, some advanced planning needs to happen.  As you clear your garden in September, look for a space that you could plant some greens.  This spot would need to be easily covered and accessible during the winter months. As soon as you have picked your salad greens plot, add some compost to refresh the soil for the new lettuce crop.  Planting can happen immediately.

Under the protective cover inside the greenhouse.
Under the protective cover inside the greenhouse.

What To Plant

One important thing about winter gardening are the varieties that you choose.  The obvious plant choices here are lettuce, kale, arugula, mustard greens, spinach and beet greens.  The key is to pick cold hardy varieties that actually improve with the freeze/thaw effect of a typical winter day.  I order most of my garden seeds from a Fedco Seeds in Waterville, Maine.  It seems like almost all of the seed companies are offering varieties suited for winter culture these days.  As you go down the lists, there should be notations for these types of seeds.  Fedco uses a little snowflake at the bottom of their descriptions.  I recommend their ‘Winter Lettuce Mix’, ‘Cardinale’ a Batavian variety, ‘Rouge d’Hiver’, ‘Lollo Rossa’ and a Bibb/romaine called ‘Winter Density’.  Of course, any given winter I may grow all kinds of combinations.  As you gain some experience, you will discover what works for you in your area.

Hula hoop that holds the row cover over the greens.
Hula hoop that holds the row cover over the greens.

Most spinach, kale and arugula varieties are perfect for winter growing. When you make your seeds order this coming season, be sure to plan for a later planting of winter greens.

Baby kale.
Baby kale.

Protecting Your Salad Crop

As cooler weather approaches, it is time to start protecting your baby plants.  Enter floating row cover, a spun polyester fabric found at most garden centers or you can order some online.  This self-venting fabric allows sunlight and moisture in while giving the plants a protective layer against the elements.  Here in Maine, by late October, a second layer is needed.  I have beds planted in our unheated greenhouse and a single raised bed outside.  If you need to cover an outside bed with a second layer, consider bending some re-bar and pushing them into the ground for a quick greenhouse.  Add a layer of 6 mil. plastic or greenhouse plastic anchored to the ground with some rocks and you have your very own winter growing environment!

Our permanent greenhouse is easy.  All I have to do is set up my floating row cover.  This is most effective suspended above the greens. The two layers add an extra amount of cold protection.  Anything with an arch to it will work to keep the fabric up.  Small hoops can be purchased from gardening supply companies.  I’ve tried using small tree branches but they will rip your fabric.  I recently picked up a few hula hoops at the dollar store and cut them in half as you can see pictured above.  I think this is working well!

Floating row cover suspended over greens.
Floating row cover suspended over greens.

If you look closely you can see all of the greens growing happily under the row cover.

Row covers over greens in the greenhouse.
Row covers over greens in the greenhouse.

These are a few of the beds inside what Eliot Coleman calls the “cold house”.  At night the temps are the same as outside.  During the day though, especially after mid February, temperatures soar to around 80 degrees Fahrenheit.  This promotes growth of the greens.  It seems like before this time, the plants just merely exist, just waiting for that sun to get higher.  I learned most everything about season extension from the book The Winter Harvest Handbook.

Life inside.
Life inside.

The greenhouse is also a great place to winter over parsley, scallions or any other cold hardy plants.  Just move them from the garden before things get too cold out there.

Parsley is wintering in the greenhouse.
Parsley is wintering in the greenhouse.

On our outside raised bed, we built a temporary greenhouse with a wooden frame.  It stands up to a heavy snow load and you don’t have to worry about it.  If there is a lot of snow cover, it can be very hard to get into. With the greenhouse, as long as you can shovel to it, it can be accessed. One of the main reasons we do an additional bed outside of the greenhouse is that we can harvest the outside bed until sometime in July.  The greenhouse heats up in late spring and the greens tend to bolt.  The outside bed is uncovered in May which prolongs the greens.

Homemade greenhouse over a raised bed.
Homemade greenhouse over a raised bed.

Both setups are perfect for successive planting of radishes.  These were planted in October.

Radish harvest from under the row cover.
Radish harvest from under the row cover.

Salad Harvest

The salad harvest can be small during our darker months, like December and January.  As that February sun gets higher and the days get a bit longer, the tiny leaves start to grow.  The conditions make them even sweeter.  Harvest after 10:oo a.m. for best results.  Cut individual leaves with scissors or a knife.  Wash greens in very cold water, spin dry and place in a bag with a paper towel.  They will keep for a week or two depending on the conditions.

Cutting the greens.
Cutting the greens.

To learn more about my season extension journey, you can go to my earlier posts Self-Proclaimed Salad Green Queen, Winter In The Hoophouse and Project Greenhouse.  It is amazing to see first hand what can be done with these unheated structures.  Thanks for stopping by Everlongardener!  I think that you may have some ideas for next year by now!  If you are anything like me, you will be wanting to try something new!

Hilary|Everlongardener

Fall Garden Harvest

A have shared my post, Plant Your Fall Garden Now, a call to action that would extend your garden harvest.  Taking advantage of great fall weather and several months of cooler growing.  This week at Everlongardener, I’m reviewing what I got from my fall garden harvest.  Did any of you try planting a few seeds to make a fall planted garden? Here’s what happened with mine!

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When August hit, my potatoes where ready to be pulled leaving me with an entire garden bed ready for planting.  I’ve recently been exploring new gardening techniques in the book How To Create a new Vegetable Garden by Charles Dowding.  He is an expert in the field of no dig gardening.  That is exactly what we did.  No digging, tilling or turning of the soil.  Even though some in my household are dying to get that tiller out, you know who you are, we simply planted the seeds.  By August 19 the garden was in.  We had a warm dry autumn so the young plants flourished.

Greens under a carpet of oak leaves.
Greens under a carpet of oak leaves.

As you may remember, I focused my garden plan on cool weather crops such as carrots, radishes, beets and turnip greens.  Salad greens were a top priority so I sowed out hardy lettuces, kale, senposai, peas for shoots, mustard greens and spinach.

'Ruby Streaks' mizuna.
‘Ruby Streaks’ mizuna.

I was surprised that we had so many issues with pests in the fall garden.  These chewing insects are not usually such a problem.  Next year they will definitely need to be addressed.  The kale, senposai and mustard greens were all attacked but the lettuce was pest free.   You can see some of the leaf damage in the photo below.

The senposai has lots of insect damage.
The senposai has lots of insect damage.

This fall we have seen more acorns than we can remember.  About a month ago, they would actually be showering down like rain when the wind blew.  We have an old plow truck that my husband restored and it was sitting on the edge of the woods.  Every day the truck got pelted with acorns.  The hood is now full of dents.  I guess we should have been paying attention!  I was thinking that an over abundance of acorns means a tough winter.  We will have to wait and see!

Carrot tops!
Carrot tops!

The real goal that I had with planting carrots and beats was not necessarily to use them this fall, although the beet greens have been a huge part of my salad mix.  I really just wanted to winter them over for next spring.  This will give me a huge jump start on the season.

Beet greens.
Beet greens.
More beet greens!
More beet greens!

In October, I draped the garden with some floating row cover.  This keeps the garden bed protected from frosts.  It acts as an extra layer.  By adding a hoop and plastic, I will have a mini temporary hoop house.  Of course, you can purchase season extension items from Gardeners Supply or Johnny’s.  I prefer to use things that I have before buying stuff for the garden.  Sometimes you may find the wires from old abandoned political signs on the side of the road.  They work fantastically for suspending the floating row cover over fall garden crops.  Yet another great way to extend the fall garden harvest!

Morning in the fall garden.
Morning in the fall garden.

I plan on piling up the oak leaves (free mulch) around the beets and carrots.  Even though I have been wintering and harvesting greens for many winters, this has been my first real fall garden.

Harvest time!
Harvest time!

What Did I Get From The Fall Garden Harvest?

Since mid September, I have been able to harvest a bowl of salad greens once or twice a week depending on  the weather.  A few baby carrots and some radishes.  That’s about it.  But, I have to say that without the fall planted garden, I would have had a major gap in my homegrown salad.  The only time I had to purchase lettuce was when I was invited to a party and didn’t really have enough to make a salad to bring.  With my fall garden, I was able to add some gorgeous color to some store bought salad mix!

Baby carrots and little radishes!
Baby carrots and little radishes!

What Did I Learn?

No matter how long we have been gardening or how successful we may be at it, there is always something to learn.  Reading about new ideas and techniques keeps things challenging and you may find better ways to do things.  I realized that I have little experience with organic pest control and need to work on that.  I also learned that a fall planted garden needs to be part of my garden plan and rotation every year.  With just a handful of leftover garden seed, we were able to harvest many more pounds of food than we would have normally.  For more information on year round growing, The Winter Harvest Handbook is a must read.

I have to admit that growing the majority of of my own salad greens year round makes me a bit of a lettuce snob.  They don’t call me the ‘Salad Green Queen’ for nothing! If you start growing your own greens you will understand why.  The taste, colors, textures are all beyond compare!  Fresh is the best!

Lovely salad greens from the fall garden.
Lovely salad greens from the fall garden.

I’m excited to give you this feedback on the fall garden harvest this week.  Many of you are worried that I won’t have a thing to write about all winter.  Never fear, I plan on many blogs about microgreens, indoor lettuce culture, cooking, forcing bulbs, greenhouse updates and garden planning for next year!  I really appreciate you joining me here this week.  Scroll on over to the sidebar to subscribe for free.  No strings, just weekly gardening inspo!

Hilary|Everlongardener

 

 

 

Winter in the Hoophouse

If you are considering a hoophouse, you may be wondering what happens all winter in one of these structures.  Eliot Coleman calls these structures ‘cold houses’.  So often we think of a heated greenhouse or a ‘hothouse’.  A cold house uses nothing for heat. It only relies on the addition of the floating row cover suspended over the cold hardy plants.

Rewards of your hard work!
Rewards of your hard work!

Depending on how severe the winter, things can be pretty frozen. The small plants that I have growing just freeze and thaw with the temperatures.  If we have a few nice warm days, I cut some greens.  In the beginning I used to fret over the temps night and day.  I had a thermometer with a min/max feature and I would be checking it constantly.  Then I gradually began to learn that with this system of growing, things usually survive.

My snow covered cold house!
My snow covered cold house!

I have one garden that I covered in some plastic tubing and covered with plastic. It gets crushed under a snow load but it has worked fine.  This setup has done better than my hoophouse this year.  This winter has been pretty mild so between snowstorms the snow has melted away a few times. When I can, I take the cover off and check on my babies.  In the photo below you can see my disheveled mini hoop. In the background sits last years slapped together structure that my husband put up.

The makeshift hoop.
The makeshift hoop.

So what is involved in winter maintenance?  The hoophouse can take quite a lot of weight but I like to get as much snow off as possible.  For this task I use a foam scraper meant to clean off a car.  Your can pick one up at your local auto parts store.  I really recommend this especially if you have a gamble style. Using this tool prevents unnecessary damage to the costly greenhouse plastic.  I think I’m on my seventh winter with this plastic.  I get a lot of the snow off, then when the sun comes out the rest will usually fall off.  I then shovel a path along each side, scooping away from the plastic with a shovel so as not to rip the plastic.  It only takes a few minutes and keeps the weight off of the house.  We also took notched 2×4’s and put them inside under the center pole.  We have found this helps with the snow load too.

Clearing away the snow load with a foam car scraper.
Clearing away the snow load with a foam car scraper.

It’s a good idea to check on things every few days. The other day my mousetrap went missing and I only found it a few days later under the row cover. I wonder who did that?  Yes, in winter, mice, moles and voles can eat up all of your precious plants if you aren’t on top of it.

I also noticed how dry the soil was.  Since it was quite warm out I decided to water the salad greens. Now if it had been freezing out I would have waited but it seemed to need it.  I sometimes shovel some snow onto the rocks just to add a little moisture. This winter I have two empty beds so I added some snow to the top of those beds.  The snow just melts into the dirt.  It may sound like a crazy idea but it doesn’t harm anything.

Rodents can decimate your crop overnight.
Rodents can decimate your crop overnight.

Winter maintenance tasks are minimal but these are the things that I try to do. Are you thinking about getting a hoophouse?  Do you already have one?  I’d love to hear about how it’s going and any of your winter tips!  Also, visit my other blog posts on season extension below.  Thanks for checking out my blog!  You can follow me by subscribing in sidebar and please leave a comment.  For more on season extension please visit the posts Project Greenhouse and Self-proclaimed Salad Green Queen.

Winter reading and reference: The Winter Harvest Handbook by Eliot Coleman.

Hilary|Everlongardener

Why I Love Fedco Seeds

“The day has come!”  What day?  What could possibly be so exciting?  The day when the Fedco seed catalog gets put in my mailbox that’s what!  Without even taking off my coat and hat I had to take a picture of it in my hand and text it to my gardening bestie with the above statement.  She was of course wildly jealous because hers had not shown up yet.

So what makes this in my mind the seed catalog of all seed catalogs?  How do I begin?  Content!  No glossy pictures.  Just lots of valuable seed info and vintage clip art.  Quotes from happy customers interspersed.  You are essentially picking out seeds based on the facts.  What a novel idea.  They have many heirloom varieties, organic options, books, supplies, cold hardy selections (hint, hint) and it’s a really entertaining read.  Sure, there are lots of other catalogs that I receive, but no other brings so much joy to my heart.  It makes us downright giddy!

Good winter reading!
Good winter reading!

Just to let you know how much of a seed freak I am, when I didn’t get to order last year, I still had plenty of seeds to plant.  I’m a bit of a seed hoarder you might say.  I still remember the day that my mother stumbled upon my seed collection.  With a look of horror on her face she implied that I had a real problem.  We won’t get into her problem of endlessly buying up pieces of copper and chunks of marble at yard sales, that’s a whole other story.  I can’t help it.  I need lots of seeds!  When you grow salad greens all year, you need multiple varieties to fill all your needs.  Cold tolerance, heat tolerance, color, texture and flavor.  Some of my favorites include ‘Summer lettuce mix’, ‘Deluxe lettuce mix’ and ‘Winter lettuce mix’.   Continue reading “Why I Love Fedco Seeds”