The Step by Step of Bed Prep

Ready to getting digging, to break a sweat and work out those winter kinks.  Well I know I am, and bed prep is a great way to get spring started.  Once you read this you may think– ‘Well that it a lot of WORK, do I really need to do all that!!’

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The answer is of course no, you can do whatever you and your garden deem fit…There is no-till, there is lasagna gardening, there is digging in cover crop, there are raised beds, and of course rototillers & tractors could to the hard tilling work for you… oh I could go on, but if you do have in-ground beds, and want to get digging….. it goes like this….

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First I raked off all the straw that was placed there to mulch the tomatoes that grew here last year.  I removed the tomatoes and left the straw covering the beds all winter– though this is in the hoop house I like to keep my beds covered– Reduces erosion, keeps the soil warmer so it can be worked earlier and keeps in the moisture.

*Before prepping a bed, checking the moisture level is really important– If it is too hard you will be digging rocks, if too wet you will be slopping in the mud, lifting HEAVY wet soil, working you back twice as hard and of course compacting the soil where ever you walk….So always check the moisture level before you start. It should feel cool to the touch, leaving dampness on your skin, but not water…It should crumble in your hand into chunks rather than into dust….If your moisture level is too high, dry it out of course, if too low water it well and plan on digging a couple of days later, even the worst looking soil can be transformed with a little water.

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Once the moisture level is just right and the is bed clear, you can get digging.  I began with my Spade to edge the beds, that is cut a line along the bed edge to make sure my bed is nice and straight by just sticking the spade in as far as it will go all the way down each side of the bed.  This gives you a nice border to work within.  Then I use my beloved digging fork, starting at one end and working backwards down the bed, flipping up the soil ad I go.  That way I dig where I step, not vis versa, so the bed is nice a fluffy when I am done.

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Next, I add my compost.  This was harvested from my backyard pile that had been resting since last summer.  I was delighted that I got 3 wheel burrows of compost from what looked like a pretty small pile.  It may not be enough for my whole garden, but it was good to note that with our food scraps, leaves and garden waste we can produce about 3 wheel burrows worth of compost per season.  I took my spade and sprinkled it on the bed, about 3/4 inch thick.  I used 1/2 the wheel burrow for a bed measuring 3X20 ft.Image

Once it was spread I went back with my spade in the same way I passed with my fork and dug and flipped and smacked, incorporating the compost and continuing to break up the chucks.  A big part of what I did that day was in fact break up chunks, but I have to say it felt good!!  I worked up quite a sweat in that hoop house, sure beats the gym!!!IMG_9576Now with smaller chucks I went back over, yes again, with a rake.  This is the zen part. There is still a little smacking of clumps but mostly just smoothing it all out.IMG_9577

The finer you go, the tilth better for your seeds.  And the more even you go the more consistently moistened when watered.  Now this stage seems to be the most appealing for toddlers to step right in the make their mark… So I baby trapped the bed by putting in a few stakes and wrapping with twine about a foot or two high.  This seems to work well for a person of 22 months– though past 2 years they can just hurdle it with ease– I guess I will cross that bridge when we come to it.IMG_9579  There is drip tape already in the hoop house so I just re-laid it.  It won’t be turned on for another month, but having it out gives me nice straight lines to plant along and a sure thing my babies will get the water they need as the season progresses.  Now we Plant!!IMG_9581These are cool season crops started in the greenhouse, ready to have more space!!  I divide them ever so carefully and placed them individually in the ground.IMG_9585

As I transplant I make sure to make holes deep enough for all the roots to rest in without being scrunched, I also make a little moat around each plant to ensure water pools around each and doesn’t run off.  IMG_9587Now we water & wait– though with the warmth in the hoop house it shouldn’t be long now!!

IMG_9513I had to go away for week before posting this– so here is what it looks like a week later!!  We should be eating in no time!!IMG_9517

Leaf Day!

IMG_3346Sunday Afternoon- What a great time to start seeds indoors!  Today would be a great day to start cool season greens inside – kale, cabbage, chard, lettuce… if you have a cold frame or even row cover and are ready to begin your outdoor watering routine.. you could also start all those things outside today (especially down south Amber!!)I am also starting my sunflower and pea shoot sprouts so we can have fresh greens asap!!

 

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I have to admit I am missing my own Planting calendar this season, so I dug up a few posts from my archives from the days before I ever made the glossy pretty calendar… So for this year I thought I would just share with you some of my informative blogs posts, already written and ready to go!!  My gift to you to jump start your growing season!

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Here is the Recap from my seeding class from years past

How to make Homemade Potting Soil

How to make Wooden Planting Flats

Garden Planning

Bed Prep

Also, if you are a more hands on learner- My dear friend Amanda will be teaching an indoor seeding class next weekend at the wonderful Ampersand Learning Center.  I am sure it will be super informative and get you growing!

There are also some cool classes Home Grown New Mexico is putting on this season too that I want to check out, including a cool looking one called Evolution Gardening/Revisiting the Victory Garden in the 21st century Awesome!!

So no shortage of things to learn and do these days!  Let’s get Growing!IMG_5210

Gardening with Kids

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Growing together

I approach gardening with kids much like I approach anything with kids; with great joy, patience and as much non-attachment to the outcome as I can muster, this way when it’s fun it fun and when it’s done it’s done.

Because I am a what you might call a serious gardener, meaning I spend a larger than average time in my garden as well as garden for a living, I have had to figure out ways to not only share my great love of the earth with my son (and many other children along the way) but figure out the balance of engaging him AND getting stuff done.  This has been of course been achieved with varying degrees of success over the seasons but with his help and the help of many years as a schoolyard garden teacher I have learned a trick or two that may be helpful to you.

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Perfect fit!

Start early:

Not only is fresh air and sun shine good for you and your child post-partum, but getting babies used to where you plan to spend a lot of time with them is helpful.  As they arrive on this earth, providing them with safe comfortable ways to be here is crucial if they are to feel like they belong on this good green earth.

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Close and cozy for short spells at first

When my son was very young I put him in a little basket in the green house.  It was warm and the light was filtered so I felt he was safe from the elements and I could be nearby, sometimes not gardening at all, but given back my hands for a moment while he gazed up at the green.  It is still our chosen play spot during the colder months of the year.

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Nakey time in the sunshine!

When he got a little older he spent lots of time on his back right in the garden patch…

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So much to amaze!

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Sunny out here!

luckily there are very few itchy things to worry about here in New Mexcio whichs brings great ease to a gardening mothers heart.

But I always made sure he was well protected when the sun was bright.  He always slept really well outside.

Provide Safe Spaces:

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Where will he roam next!

As a new mother on a somewhat unruly homestead I was often nervous about where to let him roam and what was really ok to let a baby wander into. Those first couple of years my husband did a lot of baby proofing in my behalf.  Adding brick paths

Adding little edges, walls and fences to help him define boundaries of plants and people space, and of course give him something to pull himself up on and lots of safe grazing foods within reach.

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Good Grazing

Let them explore:

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Glorious rain!

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Truly Wonderful!

So much of the world is fascinating and marvelous when you are brand new and whenever I let go enough of say a wet baby on a chilly cold day, I am able to witness some of the worlds greatest delights!!  And of course had a towel and warm bath waiting.

Let them feel:

Wet and dirty, flowing water, gritty sand.  Children’s whole beings are big sensory organs and their job is to take in the world and process it.  The garden is the greatest place to experience the feel the texture of life and open our senses to all the miracles of sensory awareness the world holds and it truly is all right there in our own backyards.

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The feel of flowing water

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Pluck!

Sometimes that means letting them pluck a flower or two or eating some dirt, but the casualties are most likely worth it!

Keep them with you:

I think one of our greatest successes is that when I work in the garden, my son comes with me or at least up till now at 3 years old.  Sure I sneak moments to myself and save certain jobs for when he is with someone else, but mostly I just tell him it is time for working in the garden and he joins right in.

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What’s a little gravel in the mouth?

When he was small of course a pile of gravel was enough keep him happy , or a bowl of water or a pile of dirt….but as he grew he would wander off and get into places I was not so fond of….I started to find toddler size boot prints all throughout freshly sprouted seed beds so yes, I baby proofed the garden a bit.  It ran string about 2 feet high around the beds as boundaries and they did in fact stop him from trampling, though a few other visiting toddlers weren’t slowed in the slightest and just startled right over….I also put recycled tiles in the garden paths as stepping-stones and it seemed to be more entertaining to jump from one to another than tramp the plants, so we were both happy with that!

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Gardening within the lines

Give them spaces of their own

When kids get even older, say 2, it is important to set them up with projects you can let them work on without having to keep too close an eye.  They want to help and have meaningful work, but if you can work right there with them they need to have something important to do that does contribute to the job at hand.  If I am sowing flats of example, my son stirs the soil and fills the trays.  Often he has his own agenda when we enter a space like the greenhouse and wants to water all the plant accessible to him with his own watering can.

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At his level- he gets the have free rage over the bed under the benches

Give them meaningful work and real tools:

My husband is a champion of involving our son in projects.  He somehow has two of every thing and can set him up to work right by his side.  He also seems to have varying sizes of things so that our son had a real hammer, but one that fit in his hands and wasn’t a danger, not only so he doesn’t get so frustrated by working with something that simply doesn’t fit him, but so he can actually succeed at hitting a nail.  Now that he is bigger he is really helpful in delivering things.  He can pass tools and go grab things and loves to help in that way.  They also build real things and I am so grateful we both have real skills to pass on.  I have never seen my son use a toy tool bench, but I wonder if he would just pass it by, once you have had the real thing it is hard to play with plastic imitations.

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Real tools, kids size

Be ready, Be reasonable about expectations & Be prepared for breakdowns:

Setting you both up well is really important.  Having the hats and the gloves and the water and the shovels can seem like a lot to think about when you are just going to kneel down for some weeding….but I find my son always wants the same things and if I have them on hand and don’t have completely interrupt my flow to get things for him, we are both happier and can stay focused for much longer.

Just as giving a tiny child a huge hammer and expecting him to wield it well is silly, the same applies to planning a whole day in a sunny garden with 2-year-old, it is simply a bad idea.  Scaling my time has been important to learn so that our time and energy together is fun and not over extended.  Weather it is the right size tool or timeline, tuning into a child’s size and capacity can make or break any experience.

Though no matter how hard you try to prepare, measure and accommodate, when a child is done, he is done!  Yielding to a child’s needs is another good lesson I have learned in my power garden sessions.  Sometimes they are just done before you are and want different things at different times.  Now that my son is three he can say, “I am hungry” or “I am all done” and I can say “Ok, I will finish up here and we will go get a snack.”  It is all very civilized, however this time last year he simply could not communicate so well and our gardening together would often end in me stepping too far away for a moment and him wailing in worry, or some other seemingly insignificant thing that would abruptly end our blissful garden sessions.  But I took it all in stride.  One of the hardest things to learn as a mother in these first couple of years is that my child and I have very different needs, though any stranger could tell that just by looking at us, I really had a hard time accommodating both what he wanted and I wanted at the same time.  But as I yielded, so did he and we always managed to work together and get those seeds in the ground or the crops in from the field as well and snuggle, nurse and rest together.  And just remember, just because it may end in tears one day, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try again, maybe with a few lessons learned, but there is always another chance to grow together!

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Where your done your done!

Do things together:Which often mean slowing down and letting go.

All this said I must admit the biggest lesson I have learned is that being a serious gardener and a good garden mentor don’t always align.  I often feel I must get certain things done in a certain amount of time and little ones simply don’t get that.  Yes, I do power garden on my own, but remembering that my helpers, both young and old are still learning to connect, love and savor the earth is a great lesson for me, when did I get so busy anyway?   Most of what I learn is that being in the moment really does make it last longer and gives us more.  Being in the garden with my son does involve some boundaries and guidance, but mostly it is truly a time for reverence and connection.  We are sharing in each other and in the world together and sincerely, nothing could be finer and truly neither of us want anything more.

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Every berry is a miracle

 

And now look at him!!  My little garden guy.  Marveling at the wonders all around him, sharing the miracles of life with those close to him and working, always working!!  Love that little garden guy!

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Reminding me to stop and smell the flowers!

 

PS After I wrote this I came across and similar and beautiful post about gardening with kids here where I borrowed this quote from:

“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.”

― Rachel Carson

 

 

 

Time to Sow

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I have been puttering around the house this week, knowing I should be starting seeds, but way more drawn to spring cleaning and trying new things.  I have unconsciously been putting off starting seeds outside or in the greenhouse, though my calendar tells me to do so and all my experience from years past point to NOW, I just haven’t felt drawn to do it…. and know I know why,  WATER.

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There simple has been none.   For almost 2 months very few drops of anything have fallen from our skies, while the rest of the country wades through multiple feet of snow, we kick dust around, sweep our porches constantly and sneeze our way through a disturbingly early spring…..

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But the gift of rain has fallen upon us, finally!! So beautifully slow and steady all night, so well received by our parched, dry earth.  Every thing feels back to balance somehow and today my seeding instincts have finally kicked it.

For those of you who are following along with my calendar this year I know you may have seen seeding dates since January, but if you haven’t planted anything yet, you are NOT TOO LATE.  The dates in the calendar are what you could plant, not necessarily what you must plant.  In fact if you planted everything I recommended on every day, you would need at farm to grow all that food.  Every garden and gardener is different, every single season, so if you are gardening this year, today would be a great time to get started with a few simple questions before you get those seeds in the ground.

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Ask yourself and your garden…

How much room do you have to grow this year?

How much water have you collected, or are you willing to pay for city water?

Are you going away at all this summer, if so when?  You will want to plan your harvests around your trips.

What do you know you will want to eat fresh daily?  What can you afford to source from farmers instead of growing yourself?

How much windowsill/greenhouse space do you have fro starting seedlings?  If none, what is your budget/plan for getting starts for your garden?

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These are all big questions I must address every year before I start throwing seeds and water around.  I try to change things up every year too, to keep up on the needs at hand.  For example, having a new baby, no money and lots of time at home in the past few summers, my garden was tremendously ambitious.  I planted mostly spring greens and during the summers my garden was filled to the brim in tomatoes.  From 110 plants I weighed in 300lbs of red and 75 lbs of green (early frost) tomatoes from my backyard.  I grew enough to can and supply for my families needs for a year.  With the same plan in 2012 I never bought a tomato product.  This year, to date I now have 25 pints & 3 quarts of diced tomatoes, 5 pints of salsa and 5 half pints of ketchup left to carry my till July. I will let you know if I run out, but I think we will plan accordingly and be just fine.  So these past years it was my goal to never buy a tomato product,  and my experiment worked….

Put up for the long winter ahead

Put up for the long winter ahead

This year I am wondering, will I do that again?  We have more travel planned, the water is looking less promising and I am actually more excited about growing spring greens for my Mama’s Mini CSA and trading for milk and eggs, than having all that tomato processing to do this fall… Decisions, Decisions!!

Well, While I mull over mine, what will you grow this year?  What will you buy, trade, what will you forego?

If those questions are already answered, well then now my friends, would be a good time to begin to sow.  If you are beginning your garden journey here are a few posts that will help you get started-

Homemade Potting Soil

Bed Prep

Seed Starting

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Winter in the Garden

As winter slowly slips in we are starting to transition into the internal senescence of the season.  The leaves are falling, blanketing the world & garden for a rest.  As a human being I too will rest, though I continue to eat all winter long and love to provide, as least a little fresh food for my family.  I believe in letting go, but I also like to hang on, just a little.  The key is just consolidating so you can conserve your resources and maximum energy in all forms. Here are some of my secrets for high desert winter food production.

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Plan:

Timing is what makes a winter garden.  Planting your winter vegetables in August will ensure good hardy plants that you can protect and keep harvesting off into the winter.  Planning ahead is really what winter gardening is all about. If you got a late start, transplanting can be done into the fall, but don’t expect much growth till spring, your plants will most likely live, but may not thrive until spring…however they will have such a head start you will be eating from them when it is technically still winter, most likely March.  Last year I made my own calendar with sowing dates for year round high desert harvest and sold them locally.  I am working on the 2014 one right now which you can preorder, just send me a note that you would like one in the comment box.

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Plant:

You can still plant perennials in the fall and early winter. October is a beautiful month to plant, garlic, bulbs like tulip and daffodils, Perennials & Fruit Trees.  It is also pleasant, as most nurseries have big sales on perennials this time of year so they too can consolidate and converse labor in the coming months.  Perennials will need to be watered in the winter, but no more than a good watering every 3 weeks( unless they are covered in snow and then you get the day off!).  In the spring they will have a beautifully established roots system and be stronger against harsh spring conditions.  As for seeds, I honestly do not plant any seeds from Fall Equinox to Winter solstice, remember, mother nature needs to rest too.  If you do have ways to cover your beds or have cold frames, established plants, or even starts can be covered of put in cold frames in the fall.  After November 15th though, I would probably hold off till February for this too, as it is really hard for a little guy to go through transplanting shock in the cold season.

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Gather:

Building soil and adding organic material is our main goal as gardeners, especially here in New Mexico.  Learning wild foods is of course crucial, but if we want to eat cucumbers originally from India and Lettuce from the Fertile Crescent we must provide the tilth and nutrients needed for these delicacies.  To do this we must gather, save and cycle as much organic material as we possibly can into our systems.

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Leaves– for mulching beds, making compost and general building organic material on your site.  Bags are lining the streets right now, you have a trunk in your car, right?  Mine get delivered to my front yard; after years of living under the same big tree my neighbor and I have figure out the perfect harmony.  He rakes the leaves that fall in his yard, bags them up and throws them over the fence into my yard.  I dump them out onto my beds and give him back the bags to reuse!!

Jaengy smashes the toasted egg shell for me in the clay mortar and pestle, one of his weekly tasks

Jaengy smashes the toasted egg-shells for me in the clay mortar and pestle, one of his weekly tasks

Egg Shells– Every time you crack an egg put it on a cookie sheet in the oven, the pilot will dry them out and when the sheet is full they can be crushed to a powder and saved in a mason jar for calcium amending later.  I have found them very effective in preventing blossom end root in my tomatoes. Last year I saved a gallon full and it turned out to be perfect for 100 tomato plants, one handful per plant.  Since tomato planting time ( May) I have already gathered almost a gallon…luckily there are some other amazing uses for eggshells.

The sweetest smelling soft country roses outside my front door

The sweetest smelling soft country roses outside my front door

Coffee grounds– Great for acid loving roses.  They can be applied directly to the soil around the rose during the year, or you can cycle them through you compost system.  Worms love them too!

Compost– If you garden and don’t have a compost, start one.  You will be amazed at how much less garbage leaves your house and won’t have to worry about stinky, leaky garbage bags anymore.

Compost:

I usually start a new pile of compost every spring, so that by fall the old one is fully decomposed and can be harvested.  Making compost where you would like to have a garden the next year is ideal, as the soil is being worked & amended for you.  To harvest compost I usually take off the top ‘cap’ of leaves or straw, (used to keep moisture in a pile and keep in any smell) dig out the ready compost and pass it through a shifter over a wheel burrow.  This can be out of a chicken shed, worm pile or just plain old compost pile.  If the compost has sat all summer, it is probably ready to use, though sifting gets out any bigger pieces that have not decomposed which can be added to the new pile.  Shifting also gets out the worms so they can be added to a new pile.  Then sprinkle the beds with about an inch of compost and turn the compost in a bit.   By harvesting compost now you also can store it in a container so you have it on hand for potting mix in the late winter.  Trust me, you will only wait till January to harvest compost once, it is no fun at all!

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Turn soil:

This can be done with a pitch fork or a broad fork, which doubles your efforts and can be bought locally here.  If the compost has fresh manure in it, it will break down and leach over the winter and should be plenty safe for spring planting.  Fall is a great time to dig, fork or loosen beds, as the soil is warm and often moist from the fall rains.  If you wait till spring, the ground may be frozen when you are ready to plant your early crops.  perennial crops do not need tilling, and prefer not, but annuals do seem to respond best to lightly fluffed soil with good titlth (texture) and well broken down organic material so nitrogen isn’t robbed in the process of decomposing other things.  Here is a whole post on bed prep, oriented towards spring, but you will get the idea.

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Mulch:

Once this is done, heavy mulching really helps retain moisture, keeps the soil a bit warmer, as well as suppresses weeds in spring and build organic material.  Leaves & aged straw, are my favorites and usually free.  Cleaning, Composting, turning and mulching a bed now helps for early spring planting.  Once you do all these steps in the fall when the weather is still lovely, your beds are ready for early spring planting and you need not spend too much time out on the April wind chipping at frozen ground.

Lazy gardening- the self mulching bed.

Lazy gardening- the self mulching bed.

Row Cover :

I often will cover up my fall crops with row cover in late September before the first frosts, but most of the listed crops below are cold hardy and can take a few light freezes, so they can be ignored for a bit while you focus on rescuing the summer crops from the cold.  First you make little hoops from 9 gauge wire that you can buy in a spool from the hardware store.  Cut 3-4ft pieces and bend them to be a half circle.  Stick these in the ground about every 3 ft and then wrap with your row cover.  I get the heavy weight floating row cover from Plants of the Southwest for $3.50 a yard.  It is 12ft wide so you can cut pieces that fit over your beds…remember to leave extra on the edges so that it can be well weighted buy soil or stones- any strong breeze that catches under the covers will create a sail affect which could tear or remove your covers altogether.

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Let the Sunshine in:

Once I do cover my beds, I cover them for good, as protecting them from wind, and cold is important, the air moves freely, so no need to open and close them every day.  The fabric also keeps in moisture and with cooler temps you need to water less.  When I do open them up, I do it in the hot part of the day, as some plants actually freeze and thaw in the cold season.  Winter watering will need to be done, just like summer watering, when you scratch the surface of the soil and stick your finger in and the soil is dry a fingers depth, you should water, unless of course the soil is frozen.  I usually water my in-ground garden beds every 3 weeks in the winter.  Snow is a great thing for your veggies and there is no need to water if there is snow on the ground, just remember it also may not be the best time to harvest your plants either.

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Select Cool Season Crops:

Winter gardening really just mean keeping alive summer and fall crops.  Winter gardening for me starts in August when I start planting all my crops.  It can also mean prepping the soil in fall, heating it up early with cold frames and planting in late winter early spring.

In New Mexico, before or during the monsoon season is ideal for planting fall crops because the soil opens up and receives the rains and so do your seeds.  The moisture and cooling that season brings is great for fall crops and the plants thrive in the lessening light.  Choosing cold hardy varieites is key to a hardy winter garden.  In his book Four Season Harvest Eliot Coleman lists all his winter varieties and most seed companies now have lists of cold hardy crops like at High Mowing Seeds

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How low can they go?

When you do open them up, do it mid day, as the plant enjoy the sun and may even be some what frozen.  If you harvest them like this they will turn to mush, but if you wait till the thaw they will be fine! It is kind of amazing to watch during the day.  I have negelected to cover my Chard yet and it looks totally dead in the morning but by the afternoon it is perky again and ready to harvest.  Different vegetables have different cold cold tolerances which are useful to know.

The hardiest of the winter vegetables are Kale, Collards and Spinach which can take Temps as low as low 20’s and in the high teens.

Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Kohlrabi, Mustard Greens, Parsley, Radish, Parsnip, Turnip can all take temps 28-25 degrees.

All of these can survive under thick row cover all winter, though they may not show many signs of growth, they will start to spring new leaves in February.

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Other semi-hardy vegetables are Beets, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celery, Chinese Cabbage, Endive, Lettuce, Radicchip, Rutabega, Salsify, Bok Choy, Tatsoi and Swiss Chard, tolerant of Temps from 32-29degrees.  These can usually be harvested till Christmas under heavy row cover, but will need to be replanted in the spring under row cover as well.

Cold Frames:  Cold frames can be built in all kind of ways and there are some great designs out there you can easily be guided by.  I would start by reading Eliot Coleman’s books.  There are glass, plastic, straw bales, adobe and even some pretty sweet custom made ones by our local ‘Grow Your Own’ veggie man, Ken Kuhn.  I love cold frames and could talk forever about them.  But the first thing to think about tis your winter reality.  How much do you really need, how much are you really willing to do and how far are you willing to go.  I recommend finding a nice south facing nook close to your front doorstep where you can reach out in your bathrobe a slippers, raise a lid and snip a few fresh leaves on a cold winter day.  Now doesn’t that seem nice.  I wrote a whole post on making those greens last.

 So hopefully all this should get you started.  Stay tuned for the ‘Late Winter in the Garden’ post in a couple of months when you & nature are really ready to get growing again.

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