Seasonal preparations

Winter Gardening

We would love to extend our growing season into the winter months.  With more infrastructure coming soon, we’ll ramp up for that.  But for now, we have a few rows under production and some that are overwintering produce.

Our society is so spoiled by having every want and whim at our beck and call in the grocery store that we have forgotten all about seasonality.  There are some vegetables that grow better in the cooler season or taste better after the first nip of frost.  These cooler season crops are such delicious treats to enjoy during the winter doldrums.

Though the winter garden is easier in the weeding department – as in really little weeding necessary – it still does demand some time an attention.

Like today.  Our first snow.  Not crazy but enough to cause some action:

IMG_2136

Sweeping snow off row covers

Weather was forecasted to be in the teens…brrrr.  Certainly cold enough to freeze plant cells and cause some serious damage.  To prepare for the cold, we placed multiple row covers over the beds with the last cover raised higher to create an air space between it and the other row cover.

The downside of the outer cover is that it is held up with our taller, fiberglass poles.  Not metal poles.  Metal poles are great.  They may collapse under the weight of snow, but once the snow is gone they spring right back to shape.  Fiberglass?  Nope.  They collapse under the weight and SNAP!

So, although the snow is pretty, gives some much needed moisture to the soil and even helps to insulate (and protect) plants beneath it, if it keeps snowing today, I’ll have to keep sweeping it off to keep the fiberglass poles from snapping.  You can see in the photo that some row covers have already torn under the strain.  They will have to be replaced after the snow melts.

Why go to all the trouble?  Because these delicious beauties lie underneath and are totally worth it!

IMG_2110

Pre-cold snap harvest – stocking up!

Filling the Pantry

Cool evenings and crisp mornings…there are hints of fall colors starting.  The change of seasons is becoming more evident with each passing day.

We’ve been working in the garden to clean out summer crops passed their prime while planting crops for over-wintering.  Crops in the works include: lettuces, radishes, turnips, beets, carrots, scallions, kales, collards, and even crazy things like cauliflower (may be too late but worth a try).

In the meantime, the last summer harvests have been processed in order to savor the tastes later on.  It is a bit of work, but there is a feeling of satisfaction when the pantry gets full.

IMG_1726

The results of a few weeks of canning.

Soon, I’ll get some beets and garlic pickled and restock our supply of hot pepper jelly.

What are you filling your pantry with?  Do you have a favorite canning recipe?

Black Plastic Mulch

This season, we are hoping that black plastic mulch will be a better way for us to control weeds.  Although it is a bit of labor at the start, once in place the fabric should suppress weeds and decrease our labor during the season (so we can focus on our plants, harvest and markets).

Bed prep

First, we reshaped the planting beds (goal was 36″ beds and approximately 30″ pathways).  Compost and minerals were raked into the beds, and the bed surfaces were evened out nice and smooth.

Fabric mulch

Next, we laid down the fabric by hand and used soil to keep in place.  We will be getting more fabric to cover the pathways and staples to hold everything in place.

Template

Jordan made a nice template.  The spacing works out to be 12″ between holes.  This spacing will be used for our market cabbages, kales and greens.  Jordan used a hand torch to burn the holes.

Sunset transplanting

Finally, the plants were transplanted into their beds.  On the right is the red cabbage bed all tucked in.  On the left is the green cabbage bed being planted.  Row covers are used to protect seedlings from bugs, strong winds and heavy rains while allowing air and moisture to get through.

Why are we going with fabric?  We are the only “employees” at the farm, and it is very challenging for us to maintain the garden and work full-time on the side.

The fabric mulch should keep weeds at bay while still allowing water and nutrients to pass through to the soil.  It will keep our beds more intact by protecting them from wind and water erosion, and the mulch should help retain moisture.

Plus – the fabric should last us up to 10 or more years.  The ability to reuse was important to us.  It may be labor to remove and lay the mulch elsewhere depending on crop rotations and spacing needs, but it will be worth it in the long run.

Challenges so far – I am not a good hole burner.  Mine are far from perfect.  Jordan is spot on with the template and torch.

I am still learning about the temperature regulation.  The black mulch heats up the soil and the row covers bump up the inner temperature.

Although the fabric should help retain moisture, the inner temperature of the tunnels have stressed the new transplants a little.  Frequent watering has been necessary to prevent drying of the soil and to cool the inner temperature of the mini-tunnels.  I now open the row covers just enough for air exchange but not enough for chicken invasion.

Is it really supposed to be 80degF in April????

The other challenge…chickens.  They have been free range and can get in and out of the garden easily through little holes in the deer fencing.  In the near future, some electric perimeter fencing will be installed to keep deer, dogs and chickens out.

Cabbages, kales and greens

Crop Rotations and Plans 2017

Crop planning is one of my favorite seasonal preparations.  It is part day-dreaming about the new and exciting things that will be tried during a season and another part problem-solving.

Problem-solving?

Well, yes…

Things to consider – what to plant, crop rotations, soil needs, and overall spacing (will what I WANT to grow even fit in the garden plan?).

Fall planted mesclun

Fall planted mesclun

Deciding what to plant is always the super fun part.  All those STUNNING seed catalogs that stuff the mailbox in January…glossy, perfect pictures of beautiful produce.  Love it.  But…it is easy to look at all those gorgeous photos and get carried away.  I’m a biologist at heart and am driven to experiment, but I also have to remember to go with what I know people enjoy and with what has proven to work in our setting.

With our raised planting beds, we are able to practice bio-intensive plantings.  That basically means we try to utilize all the space offered in the planting bed to maximize production.

Want a good and informative read?  

Check out Jean-Martin Fortier’s Book “The Market Gardener.”

We also concentrate our soil amendments to the planting area.  No more compost lost to the pathways or beyond the raised bed.  Focusing the application is more efficient and cost effective!

Crop rotations become easier with each season when you start with a master plan.  Flexibility in farming is a must, but having a basic idea from the get-go is needed to guide decisions throughout the seasons.

There is a lot of information out there about crop rotations and strategies.  The bottom line is to not plant the same crop or crop family in the same spot year after year.  Crop rotations give the soil a “break” and interrupts some pest cycles.  The crop rotation plan we try to mirror is Eliot Coleman‘s eight year plan:

8 year rotation plan from Eliot Coleman

8 year rotation plan from Eliot Coleman

So…with Spring around the corner, we are ready.

  1. We have our seeds ordered and seed starting is underway!
    Onion seeds

    Onion seeds

    2. Our crop rotation is set letting us finalize our crop plan.

    3. The garden is mapped for 2017!

And so begins our 2017 market season.  We hope you join us for this year’s market journey!