Batten Down The Hatches!

I believe that this phrase, ‘batten down the hatches’ must be a nautical term. A few weeks ago, we prepped for the rain storm that would come that night. Checking this and that. Making sure that all of our garden stuff would not blow away. My mind has been pondering garden structures and if they are strong enough for that old North wind. Of course, there are the usual end-of-season gardening chores. How can we really be ready for extreme winter weather? It sounds like the NOAA weather predictoons could go either way. It could be milder than usual or wilder than usual. We will have to wait and see.

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Greenhouses

Depending on the greenhouse that you have will determine how much you will need to do. It is advisable to keep doors and windows secured during windy weather. End windows can even be boarded over. Make sure the structure is secure so the greenhouse will not blow away. Removing the snowload is also wise. We place posts under the center ridge of our gambrel greenhouse to hold it up during storms. Doing just a few precautionary things can ensure that your greenhouse structure stands for years to come.

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Inside our greenhouse.

Temporary greenhouse structures need to be secured too. Make sure the plastic that you use is long enough for tie down. Plastic needs to be attached with wood and screws or with heavy objects. These can be hefty boards, logs or sand bags. Any openings will allow the wind inside and create a possible parachute effect, so do what you can to keep it tight.

Salad greens From the hoop!

Protecting Tender Plants

Most of the plants in a Maine garden have no trouble making it through a New England winter. Some plants on the other hand need special care to survive. Basil can be rooted for winter use by cutting and placing in water. Tender herbs such as rosemary need to be brought in. Potted geraniums can be brought inside and used the following year. Bulbs or tubers such as glads dahlias and begonias can be stored for future use.

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Bring in your rosemary!

Some plants are known as tender perennials. Butterfly bushes or buddleia can get through a few winters. Here in Maine zone 5, they can make it or not depending on the weather. One way to help such plants along is to mound the base with mulch or compost. This gives extra insulation to the base of the plant. Roses do well with this treatment too. In the spring, simply spread the compost around the base of the plant. I’m going to try this with a hardy hibiscus that I planted this summer. Burlaping tender shrubs can also be beneficial for new planting. Especially if they are near roadways or will be exposed to a heavy snow load. These are just a few ways to get your garden through harsh winter conditions.

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Current views in our area.

Storm cleanup has been a huge task in our area. Many lost power for as much as a week after the storm took so many trees. Thankfully, the trees that we lost were not near our house. Downed wires and trees were a common site on most side roads. Things are slowly getting cleaned up and back on track now.

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Beau’s latest adventure!

Working in the garden with Beau is always interesting. Last week he got stuck inside a tomato cage. Don’t ask me how he even got in it!  At least he let me help him out.

Thanks for checking in this week. Make sure you ‘batten down the hatches’ in your own yard! Now I’m leaving you with some words about the season. The part of fall before the snow flies!

A Change In The Weather 

The crisp morning brought a hard frost to the dry ground. A chilly shock to the system after so many warm days.

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Every blade of grass, every frozen flower and each evergreen branch was coated with sparkling frost. A dazzling kaleidoscope in the early morning sun.

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Bittersweet winds it’s way up the trees in the woods. The orange berries are bright against the grey bark.

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Frosty!

The lake was like a mirror with only a ripple from the loons gliding through the water. They call out as if to speak me. They are only talking to each other. The doves and chickadees work with renewed urgency now. I must hurry too…if I am to finish my work!

Hilary|Everlongardener

Fall Tasks For A Better Spring

Don’t hang up your clippers and gardening gloves just yet! By doing some of your fall tasks now, your garden can be all ready for next spring. Yes, spring seems a long way off now but with a few extra fall chores, you may just be getting ready for your best garden yet! After all, the greatest gardens often start in the fall. Let’s look into a few ways to make this happen!

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Save Seeds

Now is the perfect time to collect mature seeds from your favorite garden varieties. The weather has been perfect for keeping those seeds dry. Some seeds to start out with could include beans, kale and nasturtiums. If you have seeds forming from open-pollinated plants, why not give seed saving a try? It’s a great way to save money and keep those special varieties for next year. You will also have some garden seeds to swap with your friends.

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Saving bean seeds.

I’ve got the seed saving basics outlined right here. Get the kids involved. They will love getting the big seeds out of the bean pods once dry. You can make a game out of hunting for the nasturtium seeds that are ready for drying.

Garden Cleanup 

Much of spring garden work can be eliminated by cleaning up as much as possible in the fall. A garden left in tact can be pretty when covered with snow or frost but it’s a huge mess come spring. Why not leave some plants for winter interest and photo ops while cutting down the rest? If you have dealt with disease or pest problems, cleanup is an excellent way to ensure that you get rid of the problem. We deal with tomato blight in our area so my plants need to be bagged up or totally destroyed.

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It’s a messy job!

Garden cleanup can be a hot topic but as a gardener, I love getting the garden put to bed every autumn. It helps with the following spring when things get really busy. I have put together some tips right here for fall cleanup!

Start A Compost Pile

Have you been dreaming about making your own compost? It may be the time to get started. With all of the garden debris from your garden cleanup, you could be on your way to a big start in composting! Most perennial plant matter and spent annuals can go right into the pile. Veggie garden vines and such can go in there too. Add in some fallen leaves and kitchen vegetable scraps for a balanced mix.

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A nice mixture of greens and browns for the compost.

Whether you purchase a contained composting drum or just build a square frame with wire, composting is one of the best ways to deal with garden plant matter. There are endless ideas out there for making your own bin. You can even keep adding stuff over the winter if you have access to it. Maybe this is the time to start that worm composting bin you’ve always wanted.

Season Extension 

How could I not mention season extension? If you planted a fall garden or have greens that are still doing well, give them some protection from the cold. Construct a cold frame or make a mini greenhouse over the plants. Kale, spinach, hardy lettuce or parsley. Many things can be overwinter and even harvested through the winter months. Yes, even in Maine!

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Floating row cover suspended over greens.

To learn all about 4 season growing click here. For some simple season extension tips, check this out. We have been growing in this way for many years and are thrilled with the results!

Plant Some Garlic

Growing your own garlic is fun and rewarding. Fall planted garlic is easy to grow and is super exciting to harvest the following summer. From mild to spicy hot, there’s a garlic variety for every palette. Even if you have a small garden space, a 3×3 area can yield a decent amount of garlic. Many of us use a ton of garlic in the kitchen. Why not try your hand at growing some for yourself?

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Red Russian seed garlic.

Did you grow garlic this past year? Then select some of your larger cloves to replant! You can find out the simple steps to growing garlic here!

Plant Spring Bulbs

What would spring be without the snowdrops, crocus and tulips popping up? Ever wish that you had more color in your spring garden? The stores are full of plump bulbs right now. The bulb catalogs are coming in the mail. You could plant some bright blooms near your doorway. Grab a bushel of sturdy daffodils for an amazing natural display on the edge of the forest.

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Bulbs ready for planting!

The possibilities are endless and only limited by your budget or ambition! Try growing some of the more unusual bulbs such as allium, fritillaria or some bizarre tulips. Frilly tulips, double daffodils or fall blooming crocus. If you do, your garden will be bursting with spring color! You can find more suggestions here.

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Last show before frost!

These are just a few fall tasks that will get you well on your way to garden success in 2018! Get out and enjoy that fabulous fall air. There is still so much beauty to behold! The air is cooler and the ticks are out. Be careful out there as you take in all that fall has to offer. I’ve been taking the greenhouse plants down with a little assistance from my little garden helper. Let’s just say that there is never a dull moment! Until next week…happy gardening!

Hilary|Everlongardener

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Beau is always in a tangle!

 

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.

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

 

 

 

Plant Your Fall Garden Now!

Do you ever get to the end of the gardening season and wish that the harvest would keep going?  Enter the fall planted garden!  I have recently been getting emails from seed companies that have my name on their mailing list, singing the praises of the fall garden.  If you’ve never done it before, maybe now is the time to consider planting a fall garden.

Fall gardens can provide an abundance for the table!
Fall gardens can provide an abundance for the table!

We recently harvested the potato bed and now have a large empty space.  I always winter over salad greens that I plant in fall as outlined in my post Self-proclaimed Salad Green Queen.  So this year, I made a plan, got my seeds together and planted that potato bed with fall crops.

Kale in the fall garden!
Kale in the fall garden!

Why Plant A Fall Garden?

You may be wondering why it’s even practical to waste all of those seeds in the fall.  After all, how much time do we really have?  Actually, since it’s only mid August, we have several good months of fairly warm weather.  Cooler temps mean better germination and mild weather vegetables thrive on those warm fall days.  Fall varieties also don’t mind the cool nights that we will be having.

This is how we prepare soil around here!
This is how we prepare soil around here!

Plan Your Garden Space

If you have recently cleared an area of a summer crop, this may be the place for your fall garden.  Draw up a plan on paper.  Map it out to see how much room you have.  Sorting through left over seed can help determine what you plant.  Local garden centers may even have seeds on sale at this time.  We usually have plenty of seeds left from our spring planting.  The woes of being a seed addict!

Planting some lettuce seeds.
Planting some lettuce seeds.

What To Plant In Your Fall Garden

Of course, you will not be planting everything in your fall garden.  No tomatoes or melons here!  Think about the plants that you usually sow early in the year.  Plant varieties that can take cooler temperatures and that can be planted as soon as the ground can be worked.  It may be perfect time to grow a quick cover crop to enrich your garden soil.  Some veggies to try in northern areas:

  • broccoli
  • bok choy
  • beets
  • salad greens
  • mustard greens
  • kale
  • radishes
  • carrots
  • peas or shoots
  • scallions
  • chard
  • spinach
  • turnips or turnip greens
Selecting the appropriate seeds.
Selecting the appropriate seeds.

There is a difference between overwintering and winter harvesting.  With overwintering, there may be things you  want to plant simply to get a head-start next spring.  Many greens and even some onions can be covered and preserved right through winter.  When the sun gets higher, these established plants just start growing and are way ahead of everything else.

Winter harvesting means that the plants you have sown in the fall are harvested throughout the winter.  Both methods work well together and with greens can work interchangeably.

Planting The Fall Garden

Your garden bed probably needs little more than a bit of compost or organic fertilizer added.  Smooth the surface of the the garden.  I use my trowel to draw a few lines to allow enough room for each variety.

I rounded up the helpers!
I rounded up the helpers!

Plant seeds according to directions outlined on seed packets.  We have been experiencing some extremely dry weather here.  Be sure to thoroughly water and often.

Early morning watering.
Early morning watering.

As the fall season progresses, keep an eye on the small plants.  When night temperatures fall, you might want to construct a basic hoop and cover with floating row cover fabric.  If you are overwintering your crops, make sure to build your hoop strong enough to withstand winter snow and wind.  This could be made from wood or metal re-bar.  Secure some clear plastic and you have a mini greenhouse!  There’s increasing information out there on season extension.  Eliot Coleman’s book The Winter Harvest Handbook has helped me more than anything.

Row cover is ready when cooler weather hits!
Row cover is ready when cooler weather hits!

In as little as a few weeks, you may be harvesting your first salad greens.  They will be small at first, just give them time.  As you can see, after only three days we have some seedlings pushing up through the warm soil!

Three days later, we have spinach seedlings!
Three days later, we have spinach seedlings!

If you are interested in extending the garden harvest with a fall garden, make sure to comment with any questions that you have.  I would love to hear from you!  Make sure to subscribe in side bar for more season extension updates!  We have had some much needed rain here in Maine along with some warm weather.  Perfect for my fall garden!  A good friend also helped us have our first geocaching adventure!  Have a splendid week!

Hilary|Everlongardener

Gardening In February

So the other day I was outside walking around the house and I noticed my poor old cold frame.  Long neglected, broken down, rotten wood, maybe hit by the plow a few times.  It was the first bit of season extension that I ever tried.  I used it to winter over parsley.  That was about the extent of it.

The old cold frame.
The old cold frame.

One year I planted some Claytonia seeds and they reseeded for years after that.  I always considered it to be my survival food, always there waiting for me.  But then came that time I let the oregano go to seed.  Guess where it decided to live?  My cold frame!  Instead of complaining about the lack of snow and how I couldn’t go snowshoeing, I decided to clean out the cold frame.  The oregano had completely taken over.  I dug each plant out but I’m afraid the seeds scattered.  It may not be the last of the oregano!

Before the clean out.
Before the clean out.

After cleaning out all of the leaves, I found one little Claytonia plant.  If you haven’t heard of Claytonia perfoliata, also called Miners Lettuce or Winter Purslane, it’s a fantastic edible to winter over in a cold frame.  Self seeding, delicious, vitamin rich.  It gets it’s common name from the days of the California Goldrush.  The leaves don’t seem to last too long so I usually pick what I want and eat them.  Cut the leaves and it grows right back.

One little Claytonia.
One little Claytonia.

When the job was finished we found rich soil full of worms.  Perhaps I will sow something in there in the coming week.

Cold frame cleanup finished!
Cold frame cleanup finished!

After checking the whole property, I decided to tackle my tiny raspberry patch.  It was obvious which canes had to go.  I grabbed my lopers and started hacking away.  After removing a whole pile of leaves and canes, things were looking pretty good.  It may be early but I top dressed the bed.  I got so fired up about the raspberries I was thinking of planting more!  This February gardening thing is great!

Aged rabbit manure for my raspberries.
Aged rabbit manure for my raspberries.

Up the road there is an ancient row of maple trees and I noticed on Sunday that they had been tapped.  I scrounged around and found our taps.  I had a bit of resistance on this project.  Oh, the drill isn’t charged.  Then it was, we don’t have any gallon jugs.  So out the old fashioned hand crank drill came and we washed the jugs that we had.  Sap poured out immediately and by the next morning, two were overflowing!  We worked out more of the details as the week went on.  At least we started collecting sap!

The old hand crank drill.
The old hand crank drill.
Tree tapping time!
Tree tapping time!

It’s been lovely outside, even if my snowshoeing goals have dissapeared.  I feel like I’ve got a great head start on the outdoor chores.  Feels like spring is here but we still have to get through March!  Thanks for reading Everlongardener!  What are you working on this week?  Leave a comment, follow me on Instagram @everlongardener, on Pinterest, subscribe via email or on Bloglovin’.