How low can they go?

IMG_6363May is lovely- but can be wild too.  As we have seen this weekend in Santa Fe- a foot of snow!!IMG_6364

It is such a transitional time, the last burst of winter before it finally passes.  I looked back on my calendars and it does usually snow every year in the first week of May, so though odd, it is actually to be expected.

IMG_6360But the good news is no harm done over here.  All the little cool season greens and seeds were tucked under row cover and only seemed to perk up from crisp air all the moisture gifted to them.  If you are wondering how cold CAN your cold season crops get…wellIMG_6383

How low can they go?

IMG_6377The hardiest of the winter vegetables are Kale, Collards, Peas and Spinach which can take Temps as low as low 20’s and in the high teens.

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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.

Other semi-hardy vegetables are Beets, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celery, Chinese Cabbage, Endive, Lettuce, Radicchio, 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. (with the exception of Swiss Chard, this patch was almost invisible all winter under no row cover… but is coming back just fine!)

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So not to worry, the storm has passed, we have gathered the moisture and now we prepare for hardening off and the planting out process… More on that to come.

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Garden Transitions- The Fall Flip

I plan my garden very strategically so that there isn’t much work to do in June and July… For many reasons… Maybe first because I was a garden teacher for so many years that I planned spring and fall gardens with very little summer maintenance.  Even though I am not running a school garden this year, I now have a tiny baby and can’t really garden much at all…so it is convenient that I don’t have much to do but harvest in the high heat.  It is also convenient for leaving town during the hottest, driest time of year which we all want to do.

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Yeah for harvest help from our good friends from Ampersand, love you guys!!

And probably the biggest reason I plan so much for spring and fall gardening is that is when gardening in the high desert is at it’s best!  There is cool air, cooler soils and real water falling from the sky!  I start things outside as early as February (my pea crop was started then and yielded my best crop yet!)  and am eating out of the garden till Christmas eve.  Summer is for being lazy anyways right!?

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So though I am still being very lazy, I am starting to think about the transitions about to happen out there, the good old ‘fall flip’.  This is when I pull out all the lettuce and peas that have stopped yielding and bolted into pure bitterness that may still remain and I plant a whole new slew of cool season crops.  IMG_0273

Because it is only the 9th  of  July I can still plant a nice beet & carrot crop.  Later in the month I will plant more lettuce, spinach, cilantro, and whatever other cool season greens I wish.  I also have started planting big beautiful marigolds this time of year to have for autumn garlands.  IMG_9387

High summer I hear a lot of people say, ‘oh I am too late to have a garden this year’…but you are not!  Autumn harvest is within reach.  Plant now and you will abundance you will reap!!

Spring Greens

IMG_1658What a spring we have had! Erratic whether, moisture, crisp cool air, and really spring greens like nothing better!  I have begun harvesting multiple pounds of Lettuce, Spinach, Kale, Chard and Chinese Cabbage every week and just wish I had more garden space to plant more.

IMG_1666If you are doing succession planting in your garden planning, timing and leaving space for the future is everything!!  You have to think about how long it will take for a head of lettuce to produce,(about 60 days in the spring) and then plan what you will pop in its place once harvested.  In these pictures above and below you can see I planted Cabbage babies among the cut and come again Lettuce, so that by the time the Lettuce is bitter the Cabbage will take over.

IMG_1799I usually plant a lot of cut and come again varieties of Lettuce, Spinach and Kale and Chard so I don’t have to keep planting…but this year I knew I could sneak in a bunch of head Lettuce before the warm season crops needed the square footage, so now the garden is full of butterhead and romaine varieties so I can remove the whole plant and put in warm season crops the same day…..lots of salad ahead for Mama’s Mini Farm CSA!

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The next three days are leaf days, so in go the last of my greenhouse Romaine starts and I will be sowing directly more Cilantro, Spinach, Arugula and Lettuce.  Possibly for the last time till mid July, as once my attention and garden space goes towards the warm season crops I simply don’t have enough room or time for greens…not to mention when the weather heats up many of these spring babies go bitter or bolt quickly.  Luckily my Chard and Kale keep pumping through the heat and I may not even need to replant them if I care for them right…

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Which is to say I have found that if you shade cool season greens in the high summer they really like it and last longer.  As you already know I am a huge fan of row cover for a long list of reasons… but when it gets too hot and plants don’t get enough fresh air they can get very flimsy and over succulent.  So much so that they couldn’t survive one day in full exposure and they will just turn to mush before your eyes, so I try to gradually remove the row covers for more and more hours at a time to toughen them up to the real world.

IMG_1810I often raise the row cover so wind and beneficial insects can find their way in on the ends, because another set back of having your crops under constant cover is pests, namely good old aphids can take over while you aren’t watching.

At some point when cool spring breezy days shift to hot summer days, Often around June 1st.  I take the row cover off all together and replace it with shade screen.  This lets light, water, and beneficials in, but it takes the edge off those sweltering afternoons that will cause a cilantro to bolt in one day!

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I have found in full sun gardens these shades are very helpful for almost all crops even warm season crops, throughout the whole summer. I have learned my lesson with more than one June hail storm destroying my precious babes!  More info on what to use is in  this previous post.

So if you aren’t out there already….get sowing!! You can plant pretty much any cool season crops, flowers and roots right now and in a few short weeks it will be tomato time!! Hooray! IMG_1670

 

 

 

Easter Sprouts

IMG_1081 (1)I have written many times about growing sprouts at home cause it is just so darn easy and rewarding.  I have lots of friends out there who simply can’t start vegetables indoors but sprouts only require attention for 10 days or so and really only need heat and water and a little sunshine.

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You can grow them with kids and they just love it and you could just keep that going and forgo a garden altogether and still get a constant supply of yummy fresh food for your table.

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Field Peas Day 1

Here is last years link on growing sprouts and Micro greens. But seeing as today and tomorrow are leaf days I thought I would remind you to sow some sprouts indoors.

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If you do they may just be ready for Easter salads, and Easter baskets for that matter.  Why not grow peas shoots or sunflower sprouts this year instead of grass and when the thrill of Easter morning has worn off, snip the sprouts into salad and get double your money…

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Field Peas Day 13

Happy Spring everyone and Happy Sprouting!!

 

Seeds Starting Recap

Last Saturday I gave a public class on Seed Starting at Earth Care community garden.  It went well and was well attended but made me realize a few things…..One was that a little re-cap may be useful,  as people tend to have the same questions and quandaries about starting seeds indoors.

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Seed Selection– Save your own, Trade, Share, Swap…If you are to buy seed go for heirlooms, locally appropriate and organic.  If you would like to start your own seed saving collection, open pollinated varieties are what you need.  Avoid hybrids (for seed saving) and GMOs at all cost! Sources I recommend:

Seed Savers Exchange

Native Seed Search

Fedco

High Mowing

Peaceful Valley

to name a few

Containers and Soil– There are of course so many choices, so I encourage you to use what you have and find what you like.  My favorite are wooden flats so here is a link to making your own out of old pallets or new wood.  I also prefer to make my own soil, so here is  link to that, but of course find your method of ease a pleasure.  Just remember for seedlings fluffy and light soil is best- high in peat moss or Coconut fiber.  Once the seedlings the bigger they will need more nutrient rich mix or a rich garden bed and I will write more on that later.

Temperature–  Seedlings need different soil temperatures to germinate.  For example some lettuces can germinate in soil that is 50 degrees and Tomatoes often need 70 degree soil.  Here is a great Vegetable Planting Chart form High Mowing Seeds blog that has great info on soil temp, germination times, spacing and more.   If you are starting your seedlings inside, the soil is probably stable at the temperatures of your house, but if not they are in an unheated greenhouse or cold frame, it is probably much colder.   I simple Soil thermometer, purchase at any nursery, should help you see what your soil temps really are.

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Check it morning and evening to see how it changes.  Also check your seed packet to see if it tells you ideal soil temperatures for germination, so you know if you are waiting long enough before starting over.  Remember if you seedlings haven’t come up yet, they are just waiting for the right chemistry, so don’t give up.  Just keep working the elements of warmth, light and water till you see those sprouts.  If you need to you can buy seedling heating mats here.

Light- This seems to be the most tricky for home growers.  Many windows simply don’t get enough DIRECT sunlight.  Choose a south-facing window that gets direct sun ALL day, that is at least 8-10 hours a day.  The more the better.  If your seeds sprouts but then get really long and leggy and look like the are desperately seeking the sun, you probably need to supplement with electric lights.  So many people know so much more about that so google that.

Water- Seeds really only need the right temperatures and moisture to germinate, that is sprouting before photosynthesis.  Once you sow seeds (in a moist sowing mix) you MUST keep them moist at ALL times.  Yep, Always!!!! that means watering many times a day if you need to, especially in a heated house in a south-facing window in the high desert!!!.  A helpful tool may be a spray bottle.  Set it on a fine mist and mist the soil.  If you have children helping this is a great job for them and really can’t be over done.  Once you see puddling on the surface of your soil, stop watering.  A watering can with a fine sprinkle really is necessary,  as big flows of water can wash the seed right out of the soil.  Because the seed is only in the first inch of soil, this is what need to be moist.  Once a plant grows the water needs to go deeper and the plants can be watered less frequently, but int he the beginning, moist always.

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Water quality has an effect too.  I use my precious rain water for seedlings and really have noticed a difference from the years I have used our hard well water.  Tap water is ok, but it is best to fill your watering can or a big bucket hours, or days before you water so that the chlorine in the water can evaporate and the water can come up to room temperature.  Cold water can shock plants and of course chlorine can harm them.

Seed Needs– Each seed of course has it’s own temperament.  Some like to be planted deep, some with no soil at all.  Some need fire, freeze or even scaring to crack their seed coats.  They say a generally to plant seeds twice as deep as they are wide.  Seed packets are great source of information, but if you don’t have packets, the High Mowing Vegetable Planting Guide works great to find out all the little special needs of each of your precious seeds.

So there you have it– If you seeds are warm, wet, sunned and in a good growing medium they should come up just fine.  Plants are more like us than we might think.  If you are cold, they probably are, too hot, the might be too.

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Now planning your sowing timing and taking care of the babies well so that they thrive and are ready to go outside when the times comes, oh and of course there is seed starting outdoors as well…..but I think I will write more on that later, for now this should get you started if you haven’t jumped in already.  Happy Seed Sowing!

Happy Leaf Day

Over cast skies full of promise, moon in Water Sign of Scorpio…all signs point to leaves today.  ImageIt is really starting to feel a bit warmer out there and we will spend the day prepping Hoop House Beds, watering our little sprouts that are coming up in there and of course Planting Leaves.ImageWe do many sowings in the greenhouse early & transplant things like Kale and Collards outside a bit later….But today we will also start direct sowing Lettuce, Spinach, Mache, Cilantro, Chard & Arugula outdoors.  ImageI will lay some row cover over them to keep them moist, warm and protected from the birds…and in about a month they will be fine just left in the great wide open.  We are now harvesting Spinach from baby plants I transplanted outside under row cover this fall.  They are now starting to really take off along with the Lettuce, Kale, Onions and Garlic that share it’s bed.  How does your garden grow…

PS if nothing yet, not to worry, we are just getting started here we have lots of time to sow. Happy Leaf day from my Garden to yours

Planting into pallets

Is there anything you can’t make out of an old pallet?  Yes, it does take more time and a bit more know-how to upcycle a pallet into a totally different and functional thing, but luckily I have an expert on my side.  Yep, Joel does it again.  This time he made me a new seed planting flat out of recycled pallet wood.

(Note: I do also do make these out new wood too, see here)

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Cool Huh?  Want to try? Here is how he did it.

First, he tore the pallet apart with a flat bar to get the the lumber in order. Image

Then he used the cross pieces which were 3.5inches wide and 1/2 to 3/4 inches thick.  There was mix of oak (harder, longer lasting, heavier) & pine (softer, easier to work with lighter)

 

Then he cut off the split tips with the nails in them- to have clean, split free ends and not to bother with pulling out the nails.Image

Then he cut 2 pieces at 1ft long and 6pieces at 2ft long

He nailed 2 of the 2footers & 2 of 1footers into a rectangular box.  The 2 footer edges over lapped the edges of the 1 footers.  Unfortunately he moved so fast I didn’t get to photograph every step… but I hope you follow.

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Then he nailed the remaining 4 2footers to the bottom of the box using 4d galvanized nails. These are rust resistant and small enough that they will keep the wood from splitting, but large enough to hold your box together when it is full of heavy, wet soil.  Because the wood was irregular enough he just pushed the bottom slats together and nailed…but it is important to note during this step to leave a little space between the slats for water to drain out, but not soil.  I usually stick a quarter between the slats which has always proven to be just right.

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And there you have it.  Here is one I made from Redwood and screws in 2010 (in front) and the new Pallet one (in back).  Image

Similar—-but there are few subtle differences.

*The new one is a bit wider than the other.  As far as size go, I pretty much try to maximize my table space.  If you table is a 3×6 (which many tables are) you can fit 9 2×1 flats on it.  That should be more than enough (much more in fact) for all your seedling needs.  Remembering, when you start seeds in wooden planting flats you will need to divide them or thin them before they reach the garden, so leave space in you table(s) for transplants.  This is basically bio-intensive gardening, but more on that later…here is the next step if you are eager.

*The other difference is that my new flat is mostly oak and the older one is Redwood.  Both have their pros and cons

Oak- Hard, Heavy, Durable,Rot Resistant, Brittle-(Available in Pallets)

Pine- Soft, Not Rot resistant, Light weight, Cheap or free-(Available in Pallets)

Redwood- Light weight, doesn’t spilt easily, VERY Rot Resistant-(Must buy)

Wooden Flats are a great thing to add to your garden shed if you find yourself starting seeds every year.  They are pretty simple to make, relatively cheap and last many years, not to mention they are NOT plastic.  They work beautifully to hold moisture and give ample space for those babies to grow.  Many farms use them, which is where I learned about them.  Here are a few I stumble across while ambling through a sleepy farm in Colorado last spring.

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Yes, I take pictures of other people’s planting flats, I told you I was a farm tourist.

Good Luck and I hope you help rescue one more lonely pallet from the back of your hardware store and put it to good use.

When you are ready here is a link to how to make potting soil for the flats and one on how to plant into them properly.  Let the sowing begin!!

All Prepped up and ready to Sow!

This watery full moon in Pisces brought me back to the garden, knowing it would be one of my last chances to plant fall greens, I went at it with great gusto.  Though not a great time to harvest roots, I simply had to make room in the garden for greens so I dug up a potato row, planted around St. Patty’s Day.  It was a beautiful harvest, perfectly rain moisten soil, cool air and sunshine on my back, baby and daddy sleeping and just me and the mother earth..and 16lbs of perfect plump taters…

After I dug, I sprinkled a nice layer of compost I had stashed from this spring onto the bed

And then the Zen art of raking a bed, brought me back to my days at CASFS, where I studied gardening as a fine art.  We would spend what seemed like hours, leveling and raking the beds, so they were perfect plane and the very finest of tilths.

The finer and fluffier the bed is, the easier it is for those tiny seeds to nestle in and take root.

Then I laid down the drip tape and made little furrows along it for my seeds

Tucking in so tenderly the last lettuce of the season

Ahh.. nothing like the joy of seeds well sown.  I covered them with a thin layer of straw so the birds wouldn’t get them too quickly, and of course to keep the freshly raked soil nice and moist and warm.  I also placed 19 gauge wire hoops over it, for when I cover them with row cover when the cold does come..and they act as a good baby deterrent too,  though he was not too happy about not being able to walk on my perfect bed..

Ok big watery harvest moon, rain down and let’s get one more salad crop out of this season.

Planting the Fall Garden

This post is a little over due, that is if you are following my garden advice, but not to worry it is not too late to plant your fall crops.  The past couple of weeks have been busy around here and it seems any garden time I have is going to preserving rather than planting.  But in this high desert garden spring and fall are optimal time for planting and reaping.  The cool weather and rains that the ‘shoulder seasons’ provide are great for greens, roots and many herbs.  Come late July and early August I fill in all those nooks and crannies that have been opened up by summer harvests with all kinds of leafy goodies. For example the garlic bed dug in July is now sprouting with fall lettuce and the potato bed will soon follow with more salad greens.  Sometimes you can even plant among big shady things in the heat of the summer if you know they will be coming out soon enough to give over the light and nutrients to the little guys, this is what they call using a nurse crop.  I harvest my broccoli,  move the irrigation over just a couple of inches and plant spinach.  In a couple of weeks the spinach will have germinated, the brocoli be done and ready to pull out( I actually just cut it off at the base and leave the root as to not disturb the bed too much, when forking happens in spring they will all come out).  When using a bed continuously it does require some top-dressing of compost, but there really is no need to re-dig the whole bed.  Just scratching where you want to seeds and covering them with a light layer of compost should do the trick.

When choosing crops for fall just think of cool season crops and do a little math.  Any good seed packet will say ‘Days to Maturity’ for you crop and variety.  If you figure the last frost date in Santa Fe is October 15th– that is about 60 days from now…so most lettuces are 60-70days to maturity (keep in mind, many people eat lettuce as baby leaves & surely don’t wait 60 days)  Also keep in mind that even if you have some crops that aren’t big enough to eat when the first frost does come, covering crops with cold frames, hoops and row cover and even blankets for the night protects them well and will buy you soon time.  Here in the high desert it takes a while to really have consecutive killing frosts to take a crop down.  Many people, myself included have kale for Christmas (the cold air makes it sweeter!!)

You may also want to keep in mind soil temperature, as that matters more than air temperature for seed germination.  It is more crucial in the spring when the soil is simply too cold to get good germination, but I have also heard if the soil is too hot, cool seasons seeds can have a hard time germinating as well. (Though truthfully I haven’t run into that yet)

This chart was borrowed from CASFS where I studied Ecological Agriculture and they Adapted it from UC Davis Vegetable Research and Information Center’s Seed Germination Temperatures chart (http://vric.ucdavis.edu/veginfo/)
Vegetable   Optimal Soil Temp for Germination   Days to Germinate

Bean, snap                        75 – 80                                    7
Bean, lima                         85                                             7 – 10
Beet                                    75                                              7 – 14
Broccoli                             75                                              7
Cabbage, heading            68 – 75                                    5 – 10
Carrot                                 75                                             12 – 14
Cauliflower                        68 – 86                                   5 – 10
Celery                                 68 – 76                                   10 – 14
Collard                               68 – 76                                    4 – 10
Corn                                    70 – 86                                   7 – 10
Cucumber                          70 – 86                                   7 – 10
Eggplant                             70 – 86                                   10
Endive                                 68 –75                                    10 – 14
Kale                                      68 – 75                                   5 – 10
Leek                                     68 – 70                                   10 – 14
Lettuce                                68 –70                                     7 –10
Melon                                  80 –86                                    4 – 10
Mustard Greens                68 – 70                                    5 – 10
Onion                                  68 – 70                                   10 – 14
Onion, bunching               60 – 68                                   10 – 14
Parsley                                65 – 70                                     11 – 28
Parsnip                               68 – 70                                    14 – 21
Pea                                       65 – 70                                     7 –14
Pepper                                 75 – 85                                     10
Pumpkin                             68 –75                                      7 – 10
Radish                                 65 – 70                                     5 – 7
Spinach                               68 – 70                                     7 – 14
Squash, summer               70 – 85                                     7 – 14
Squash, winter                   70 – 85                                    7 – 14
Tomato                                75 – 80                                    7 – 14
Turnip                                  65 – 70                                     7 – 14

Now if you like charts there is a great one Eliot Coleman has in the back of his book, Four Season Harvest on when to sow fall plantings.

Which I believe they have at the library, which I guarantee if you read the whole thing you will need no advice from me!!

Wow that was a lot of information, but when it is all said and done you could just do what I do; scratch some dirt, throw in some cilantro, lettuce, spinach, dill, arugula, mache, carrot, turnip, beet, kale and chard, cover with compost and call it a day!! Don’t forget to leave a little open space for the October garlic planting, oh, and pray for more rain!!

Here are a few links if you would like to learn more

Home Grown New Mexico

Sow True

Mother Earth News

Organic Gardening