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Last Squash

April 8, 2011

So, last weekend we ate the last big squash of the season. It became chili, gratin, pancakes, squash with Moroccan butter, and then some soup. (It was a really big squash.)

I hadn’t been sure if the squash would really keep all winter long. Apparently squash, unlike other winter-keeping vegetables, like to be kept at about 55 degrees, which, conveniently, is just about the temperature our kitchen is at most of the winter, when we are running the woodstove in the living room for our main heat. So we piled up the squash on the side of the kitchen farthest from the stove and hoped for the best.

The other variety we grew, Long Island Cheese, was tastier, but it did start looking a little spotty by February. But this one was still perfect by the end of March.

The seed catalog called this variety Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck, but the local Amish appear to call them Neck Pumpkins. This is a great variety, although we found out that they are still quite popular with the Amish around here, so we can actually buy them in the market very easily. So I don’t know if we’ll grow them again.

They’re much like a butternut, only, as the name suggests, they’re mostly neck, which is great! The long neck is very easy to peel, and then you can slice it into rounds. So if you want a squash for chopping up and cooking, rather than baking and scooping, it’s a great choice.


Pea Netting is Up

April 2, 2011

Despite continued cool dreary weather, we got about two hours out in the yard today. Most of the peas have sprouted, and the early ones are several inches high now, so we got the trellis netting up for them. (If you haven’t used this stuff, it seems to be pretty great – nylon mesh with five inch holes. We used it last year for peas, cucumbers, and squash. They all did quite well with it, and it seems to be still in fine shape for another season, even though we didn’t take particularly great care of it.)

Last year it seemed to be almost into May before the peas really took off and started climbing, so we probably have awhile to go yet, but once they take off, they really take off, so it’s better to be ready.

I also got some of the past-their-prime items in two of the beds cleared out, and planted beets, carrots, broccoli raab, and spinach. Tomorrow we’re going to try to get some deer solutions figured out and perhaps reconstruct a better compost bin.

Almost spring!

March 18, 2011

Ooops…It’s been a long time since we posted…I got sick, then I had to travel for work, so I got sicker, and then I had to crawl out from under the mountain of undone stuff…But life in the garden goes on.

Ok, here’s the update: The peas are up and about two inches high. The first batch Paul planted in January didn’t appear to amount to much. These are from the second batch in mid-February. Paul planted the rest of the seeds out in the open last weekend.

Many things that were planted in the fall and just kind of sat around not amounting to much all winter are now taking off: kale, broccoli, spinach, and arugula – which we had big heaping handfuls of with gnocchi and garlic a couple of nights ago. Yum!

The garlic is also up. The shallots were a bit slower and I was afraid they were going to rot with all our wet, but they seem to be coming up as well now. And all through the cold frames there are tiny seedlings from seeds I stuck in empty spots in January. I didn’t write any of them down, so I’m waiting to see what they are when they get bigger. But my guess is: mustard, spinach, lettuce, and more arugula. So we’ve got some spring green eating to do.

Happy growing season!

making coldframes

February 8, 2011

Summer gardening can suck;  aphids, Mexican bean beetles, molds, fungi, borer worms, droughts, floods, birds, deer, the list goes on … even a successful summer garden is a fight with nature rather than a cooperation with it.   Especially in climates with marginal amounts of sunlight, or late freezes, or simply erratic weather (which will probably be increasing), summer gardening offers high yields but lots of problems.  Winter gardening is the opposite.  Plants grow slowly, but without problems.  No need to check for bugs or blights because these are mostly adapted for warm weather.  Of course you can’t grow tomatoes in cold frames; we are limited mostly to greens and roots, and to giving early starts to spring plants such as peas.

Lots of plants can take freezing temperatures but not ice on their leaves; the cold frame protects from the extreme cold as well as from frost bite.  Kind of like us: cold is survivable but not when wet.  When the snow piles up, just leave it on for insulation; they like the opportunity to nap a bit.

There are at least three ways to use the frames.  First, is to plant in lat summer or fall well before temperatures get cold.  Then as temperatures fall, you’ll have roots and greens in cold storage.  They may grow a bit, but are mainly hanging out.  Second, starting plants in the fall gives them a head start in the spring.  By mid February when the amount of available light starts increasing rapidly, you’ll have well rooted and healthy plants going crazy as they wake up from a long winter slumber.  Roots established and ready to go.   We’ve had greens try to go to seed with snow on the ground!  The third use, is to use the frames as an early starter for peas and other early cold-tolerant crops.  We’ve started ours in early February.



Begin with the most important part of the cold frame, the transparent material on top.  This can be really expensive.  Obviously we need unbreakable, weather resistant material.  If you buy something, one of the many plastics will work, but expect to pay $50 at least for a 3×6 piece.  We used re-cycled patio doors.  They are usually in the range of 6×3, made of tempered glass so strong that even if your kid runs fill tilt at it with a brick in hand, it will not break.  We got ours from a local glass repair store for free.  The main drawback with glass is that it is heavier than plastic; we’ll get to this later.   Note that glass from regular windows is usually not appropriate; it is not shatter proof and if in an old wood frame, the paint may contain lead.

Once you know the dimensions of your frame we can build.  It is pretty simple. Build a box out of 4 pieces of 2×4.  A front, a back, and two identical side pieces

1  The glass wants about a half inch of wood to rest on all around, so design dimensions accordingly.

2  The back of the frame should be taller than the front.  We made ours with the front being 8″ and the back 12″ off the ground.  This gives a slope to the frame, maximizing light and space.  Taller frames means more shadows, but more height; plan according to what you want to plant.  This height is good for greens and roots.

3  Thus the side pieces need to be cut with an angle, starting from 12″ to 8″.  Furthermore we want the glass to sit smoothly on the wood, so the top edge of the front and back pieces need to be at the same angle as the side piece.  There are a variety of ways to do this, including to make the front and back pieces themselves sit at a slight angle (and appropriately cut the side pieces), or to cut  a bit of wood from their tops to create the angle.  You can also ignore it and put in some filler afterwords.  We’ve used all these options and each works ok. But this does have to be addressed because we want the frames fairly sealed. The first option is the best, but also the hardest.  It will take two people, some planning, and some skill.

4  We don’t use treated wood.  The current stuff is not as bad as the old highly toxic treated wood, but we are still dubious.  Untreated wood left outdoors will eventually rot, possibly as fast as 4 years.  We have ours resting on a lower wood bed, so at least our frames are not in contact with the soil.  We also designed our new ones to be dissembled easily for summer storage.  We bought new wood; if you can get clean recycled wood, much better!

5 A cross piece in the middle is useful depending on your material.  We chiseled a groove in the center of the front and back and inserted a small  1×1 middle support.  That way when there is 3ft of snow on top of your frames, the glass doesn’t bend and make the mustard greens too cold.

That is it.  Then there is planning the plantings, and maintaining them (opening and closing).  Get to that next.

Starting Seeds…

February 7, 2011

Yesterday I started the early seeds: leeks, onions, parsley, dill, broccoli, and violas.

I had just about zero luck with the leeks last year (aside from a couple tasty broths made with the too-skinny-to-eat results) and absolutely zero with the onions. Apparently I decided to try the leeks again, because leek seeds arrived in my seed order. (Does anyone else forget what they ordered and get surprised when they arrive?) And I had a couple dozen onion seeds left over, so I decided why not throw them in too.

I think my problem last year was that I tried starting them in the cold frame in the fall, so they would get off to a rolling start in the spring and get bigger, sooner. But I think somehow this screwed up their sense of seasonality and they were off when it warmed up. I had read that you need to make sure they are still skinnier than a pencil when they go into winter, which they were, but still somehow they didn’t act like it was growing season come spring. So this year I’m trying the more standard advice to start inside 8-10 weeks before last frost.

The parsley went into the freezer overnight after planting. I tried this last year and it really worked – reduced germination time to two weeks instead of four. You’re supposed to be able to direct seed parsley, but I’ve had little luck keeping on top of the watering to keep them moist enough for four weeks.

The dill is part of my beneficial insect campaign – about which more later. Broccoli is a new one for us. I tried it as a fall crop, but I started it too late, I guess, because all we got was one floret. There are still several broccoli plants sitting in the cold frame that I’m hoping will wake up and produce when it warms up. And the violas…well, you can’t have too many violas, right? I’m hoping to distribute them around the herb garden for some early color. (And eat them in salads!)

Oh, and we planted some more peas in the cold frames, and stuck a few in a pot indoors for good measure.

Blogging the Four Season Garden

February 5, 2011

So, I’ve been wanting to document our garden for sometime. For one thing, we’ve got a lot going on. We’re learning a lot — some of it pretty cool and surprising, like that we can really grow greens all winter long, and they are wonderful! (Neither of us wants to eat salads out anymore.) And folks keep asking us about the cold frames and what we grow in them.

But mostly, I’ve been surprised by how gorgeous the food we’re growing is. I’ve been almost absurdly pleased and proud of it, and I’ve been wanting to take pictures of it. (I keep saying that having the plants is like having pets, except they don’t get into too much trouble when I’m not looking at them — except in the summer, that is.)

The final impetus was that we got iphones — Paul first, then me. I wasn’t sure I really wanted to join the iphone world, but it does mean we have a decent camera in our pockets all the time now. So when Paul planted peas in the snow two weeks ago, I couldn’t resist starting to take pictures. (The peas still haven’t done anything visible yet, but Paul’s soaking the next batch, and we’ll probably put them in the ground tomorrow.)

So, here’s the scoop on the garden…Paul and my stepfather, Dave Ellison, built the first cold frames in September 2010, following Eliot Coleman’s designs. (Paul added a couple more this year.) So, we’re midway through our second winter. We have a pretty small yard, and I’ve tried to grow way too much in it, as Paul will attest. Right now we have lettuce, arugula, spinach, mustard (two kinds), kale, mache, chard, some scallions, a few carrots and beets, and some broccoli that got ravaged by cabbage worms in the fall, but it’s still alive, and I’m hoping that maybe it will still makes florets in the spring. Oh, and the peas…

So, we’re planning to keep you posted on what we plant, how we grow it, and probably what we make from it, too.

Pea Planting Time

January 21, 2011
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Mid-January is pea planting time. (We think, or so we’ll find out.) Paul soaked twenty Sugar Ann peas for four days until they started to sprout. Then we planted them in the very back of the tallest cold frame. Our hope is that by the time they hit the glass, we’ll be ready to leave it open.

We aren’t quite sure when the best time to start them is. Last year we didn’t get any in until early March, because of all the snow on the ground. Paul (the pea fanatic in the household) plans to start some every two weeks and see how they do. We’ll keep you posted…