Monday, January 31, 2011

Goodbye January

     Finally!  The calendar says it is the last day of January.  Finally, not a day too soon.  I visited the park today to check on the cold frames, really to check on my greens.  Parked the truck back by the maintenance sheds as the parking lot by the barn was not plowed.  Not a complaint, just an observation.  Someone had driven through the lot and compacted the snow there into a couple of walkable ruts.  The ten inch snow of last Wednesday has compacted down to about six inches, but has not melted even on paved areas.  Staying in the path traveled by some courageous four wheeler, I was able to get to the edge of the community garden and gaze out at my plot, number 84, close to the middle.  Some animal tracks had pierced the virgin snow, but none approached my plot.  I could see that the tallest cold frame still held snow, unlike last year when the two foot snows trashed many of my single paned cold frames.  Making them look like white donuts, with the snow stacked on the edges, but imploded with a donut hole in the middle where the glass collapsed onto the veggies.  So far, that does not appear to be this year's fate.  But why trudge out to the middle to disturb the frames?  The snow cover is insulating the plants from at least the wind.  Tonight is forecast to be another wintry event, with maybe one to three inches of some combination of snow, slush and rain.
     So tomorrow will be February.  Hooray.  Not usually looked upon as any great gardening month here in Delaware, but one month closer to spring.  By the middle of the month the days will be just a little bit longer.  You will be able to feel the increasing strength of the sun on your skin.  The surviving plants, hopefully there will be some, will have enough light to start growing.  Supposedly, even if one heated the cold frames, there would not be much growth from mid November to mid February due to short day length.  With that in mind, I have been starting seeds, to have the next set of plants to try to push the limits.  Ah, maybe we are about to turn the corner.  Goodbye January, I will not miss you.   Prepare to garden on  -  George

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Brrrr, it be cold!!

     It wasn't supposed to be like this.  Joe Bastardi of Accuweather promised in late November that the worst of the winter would be over by the end of December.  Well December was indeed cold, but the garden survived, and we were on to the New Year with a mild winter in store.  Wrong!  Joe, what happened?  It is twelve degrees as I write this.  A new monster heating oil bill hit just yesterday.  With predicted lows of seven to nine degrees for the next couple of days, what would happen to the plants inside my single pane cold frames?

  So this is what the garden looked like on January 19th.  The little bit of snow was adding some nice insulation.  But by the 20th, uh oh,

    The snow has melted, and the veggies look great.  But the cold is coming!  So how do I insulate?  It is windy out at the park, I mean really windy.  I could put leaves on top of the cold frames, but would expect them to blow away.  I could cover the frames with row covers!  But that would violate my rule of keeping things CHEAP.   And the plastic might shred in the wind and blow away.  Come on, as the saying goes, "Think outside the box."  Eureka moment!  Not outside the box, why not think inside the box?  Leaves or insulation placed INSIDE the box would be protected from the wind!!!  I have never read of anyone else insulating inside the box, so will it work and can I patent the idea?

      Above is the original cold frame, the box in the upper right hand corner of the above photos.  The light colored leaves that look like little celery leaves are indeed celery seedlings from the seed spread from summer seed heads.  And the little bitty fern like leaves that look like carrot tops?  Yep, baby carrots from all of those beautiful seed heads I encouraged to grow last summer.  The ones that look like Queen Anne's Lace.  So I am anxiously waiting to see how these volunteers will develop this spring.  All of the plants in this box are volunteers transplanted or naturalized from mother plants in other areas of the garden.  Too small to point out are the baby water cress plants that sprung up even after that long brutal stretch of last summer.  Ah, did I say summer.  I would love to be hot, humid, and sweaty right now.  For at least a few minutes.

    So I opened the box cold frame in the top corner and put two used (courtesy of a neighbor's leaf donation from the fall) clear plastic bags over the little plants we just looked at in the picture of the open box.  In the picture above, you can see the reflection of the bags now in the box.  So a layer of plastic under the glass to help that frame.
    Now for the fun part.  I took off all the panels from the middle frame, then unrolled sixteen feet of plastic sheeting (a donation of a roll of bags that never had the proper seals between bags).  The five mile an hour cold wind that was hardly noticeable to me, was highly noticeable to the plastic.  It was instant flag and kite day at the park!  I would secure one end, scurry to the other, and by that time have a sixteen foot streamer!  Time and time again.  Really a little embarrassing.  Totally frustrating.  So in the end, that idea had to be abandoned.  Luckily I had another five used plastic bags that fit the job quite nicely, and  a large frame was done.
     By this time, the whole endeavor was feeling a lot like work, and it dawned on me that the forecast was for two to four inches of snow that night, BEFORE the predicted cold weather.  Duh.  Dummy.   Mother nature was going to insulate for me if I had the patience to wait.
     Well guess what?  Joe, the weatherman was wrong again.  We got less than an inch of snow, and it wasn't going to do the job against seven degrees.  So, what to do?  I was not willing to chance losing my little veggies, so it was back to the park.  Now 28 degrees, and a brisk twenty mile an hour wind.  Took my trusty pitch fork inherited from my grand father, and borrowed an overturned garden cart left by a fair weather gardener from better climes.  Figured I was not likely going to meet them at their plot on such a lovely gardening day.  So with my pants flapping and my teeth chattering, I hauled five carts full of straw from the communal compost pile.  Lifted the glass panels and tucked straw underneath.  But then the thought of having to pull all that straw back out to get to the veggies overwhelmed me.  And made it easy to conclude that the third bed should be covered with the straw.  After all, the pile I just forked had not blown away.

    So if you go to the park today, you will not see the plants above that you could have seen yesterday.  Instead, I hope that my little veggies are safely tucked away.  Some now with an extra layer of plastic below the glass, and some with straw either above or below the glass.  A fitting experiment to see which, if any, might keep old man winter from claiming the spoils.
    Now I may have a week or two away from the park before the worst of the winter hopefully is done.  Time to relax?  Nope, time to get all of the cold weather crops seeded indoors before their debut in the spring.
    Garden on,  George

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Starting the New Year

     That miserable cold December weather made me stir crazy.  So with a little warming on January 2nd, it was back to the park to get cold and dirty.  This picture shows my two previously completed cold frame projects and a bed that was hastily covered with plastic before the cold weather set in.  I was worried that the instant bed would crush the plants as there was not much headroom, actually there was no headroom.  Snow and rain had formed frozen ice jams on top of the plastic, so I feared for the greens underneath.  So, onto the first building project of the year!
      The plastic was gingerly moved away from the bed to reveal that the plants starts had indeed made it, and actually looked pretty happy.  From bottom to top is celery that I rescued from the communal compost pile, a couple of garlic starts, two rows of arugula, and several rows of mizuna mustard.
     Above is the "before" picture.  Shown are the glass panels that have been "lovingly stored in the garage for over a decade, just waiting for the perfect opportunity."  The opportunity is here.  The boards on top of the compost pile are "Trex" lumber.  I got two 20 ft x 6 inch and one 12 ft x 12 inch from responding to a Craigslist offer.  Free!!  Well over $100 if I had purchased the stuff.  And oh yes, the glass panels were rescued years ago from a neighbors trash on the curb.  Thrift and recycling at its best.  Please notice in the above picture the desolation of the surrounding plots.  December was cold and windy, and even the hardy cole crops suffered.
      This was a quick and dirty construction job.  The north side of the cold frame is the Trex 2 x 6 anchored upright by several oak slats driven into the ground and attached with screws.  The south side of the frames sit right on the ground.  When time permits, I will add height to the frame to allow for taller veggies, but this was a quick rescue mission!  So here above is the completed frame in only a couple of hours.
     This is another picture taken right before the completion of the new cold frame.  The higher cold frame in the top right corner was my first frame.  Most of the plants in it are either volunteers that grew right there, or have been transplanted there.  There are tons of volunteer carrots and celery growing around the garden from the seed heads that I left to grow last season.  The plants in the frame to the left of the box were started from direct seeding on 8/27/10.  From left to right were Easter Egg Radish mix, Rouge d'Hivre lettuce, Tenderheart Chinese Cabbage, Black Seeded Simpson lettuce, Champion collards, arugula, Pak Choi, Tyee spinach, Fedco Tenderleaf Hardy Greens, Ching Chang, Fedco Senposai, Mizuna mustard and Tah Tsai.  The three that have not done well are Pak Choi, Tyee spinach and Ching Chang.  I wish I had more of the beautiful little Tah Tsai.  Many of the plants from this bed were thinned and transplanted to the other two frames.
     Planted in the second bed and very successful are Fedco's Thick Ribbed Chinese mustard and ice arugula.  Both of these will be new standards for the garden.  Also very nice is the fairly sweet Red Russian kale, which never makes it to the frying pan because it is so good eaten straight from the garden.   -   So ends the first try,  1/9/11   George