I finally had a chance to do something in the garden. My spring itch has subsided a little bit once I had the chance to get my hands dirty. The garden is still covered with a foot or so of snow that is slowly melting away. We made a path to the bird feeder a few weeks ago and today I made an extension path to the vegetable garden.
I opened up the cold frame for the first time today. It has been closed up for the last three months. I had good intensions to grow and harvest vegetables in winter but I couldn’t get access to it. With three feet of snow covering the vegetable garden and temperatures that dropped to below 0 degrees Fahrenheit and sometimes double digits below, I didn’t expect to see anything alive in there. I also haven’t been able to water inside since I closed it up.
The temperature was hovering around 40 degree and I managed to dig my way there so it’s a good day to check the inside. As soon as I pulled the tape off and opened the plastic ‘door’, I could feel the heat rushing out. To my surprise, there were some red lettuces, mustard greens ‘Dragon tongue’, Mizuna, Red Russian Kale, Swiss chard and some carrots that survived the ordeal. Not in such a good shape though. These are the ones that made it through winter as seedlings and now they are not much bigger. There are also some new seedlings that sprouted up. I have no idea what they are. My best guess is either Broccoli Raab or Pak Choi.
I took my time cleaning up inside the cold frame; pulling up the dead, clipping off dry and rotten leaves, and pulling up weeds and moss. Then I put new seeds in. The day time temperatures are still around 30 and 40 degrees fahrenheit and at night will drop down ten points or more most of the time. However, the temperature inside the cold frame is much warmer because of the heat trapped inside. So, this is a good time to put seeds in to get a head start for salad and transplanting later on.
I’m happy and satisfied getting my hands dirty. In two to three weeks, we will have baby greens for salad. The vegetables that survive the winter will also be big enough to harvest for soup and stir-fry.
By the time we finish with the greens, the temperature outside should be warm enough to transplant Swiss chard and kale to their permanent spots. The following are the seeds I put in, most of them do well in cooler temperatures.
Lettuce: Green Oakleaf, Danyelle (red leaf), Black Seeded Simpson
Swiss chard: Fordhook giant, Ruby red
Kale: Red Russian, Nero Di Toscana
Radish: French breakfast, Sparkler white tip, Red meat
Edible Chrysanthemum (Shungiku or Tang Oh): Round leaf, Serrated leaf
Pac choi: Green, Red choi
Carrot ‘Short ‘n Sweet’
Mesclun (arugula, red Russian kale, endive, chervil, Raddichio, red romaine, and Bibb)
There is not much left in the vegetable garden especially after temperatures dropped below 20º F. I didn’t have time to cover the plants outside the cold frame: Mizuna, Broccoli Raab, Scallion, and Mustard Green. But they perked up a little bit once the temperature climbed above 50º F. Heavy snow is predicted for today so I harvested some Mizuna and Swiss Chard and steamed them with fresh tuna yesterday before they got buried under the snow.
This winter will be the second year we put up a cold frame. Last year was our experiment in growing vegetables in winter under a cold frame without extra help from a heater. We started the whole process very late last year and the winter was extreme, but we still had salad when it was freezing outside. The frame nearly collapsed from heavy snow piled on it but it was very encouraging to be able to have fresh greens from our own garden in March. We have assembled everything early this year. We also added supporting bars to the hoops so we won’t have to hold our breath during a heavy snow fall.
I’ve sown Chinese Broccoli, Kale, Swiss chard, Chinese celery and Arugula in this plot in early September. They’re growing quite nicely. Mustard Green ‘Dragon Tongue’ sprouting up from fresh compost I added to the plot is a pleasant surprise. Pac Choi seeds sown weeks ago also sprouted but turned out to be Mizuna instead. This mislabeled seed package has become my problem lately since I frequently forget to label the seed pod packs when drying them. Unfortunately they all tend to look alike. Too late to sow another Pac Choi in there for this winter; they wouldn’t sprout until next spring.
Slugs have eaten all lettuce seedlings. My second batch will have to be in the house as baby greens instead of full grown lettuce. I put a beer filled container in there but only two slugs took the bait. I think they only go for fresh beer, not the one that their comrades have already drowned in. I picked off a few more fat slugs yesterday and don’t know when my next chance to check inside the frame will be, hopefully it will be cold enough to slow their metabolism down.
Now the slugs have moved on to devouring the Mustard green ‘Dragon tongue’ seedlings (above image). Surprisingly enough they won’t touch the Edible Chrysanthemum sowed since spring. It’s a vegetable worth growing because I can sow it once in spring and keep harvesting it until late fall. I cut them again yesterday but left enough stems to see how they will weather this winter in the cold frame.
Snow is coming down today and expected to be around a foot by its end. Hopefully I can make a path to the cold frame and pick some salad tomorrow.
Great references for growing winter vegetables:
Four-Season Harvest: Organic vegetables from your home garden all year long by Eliot Coleman
Salad Leaves For All Seasons: Organic growing from pot to plot by Charles Dowding
I’ve been thinking of growing Edible Chrysanthemum for years but have never gotten around to it until this year. Either it was too early or too late in the growing season to sow the seeds, or I ran out of space. This spring was too cold to grow a lot of leafy vegetables so I decided to sow chrysanthemum since it loves cool weather. One package was a couple of years old (the oval leaf) but has sprouted anyway albeit a bit slowly. The freshly purchased this year (serrated-leaf) sprouted up really fast though.
Edible Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum coronarium) aka Tang Ho (Chinese), Shungiku (Japanese), Tang Oh (Thai), Kelsang (Tibetan) is an edible green that can be eaten raw or cooked. It tastes similar to spinach but has a stronger flavor. The most common uses are in soup, stir-fry and in salad. I don’t really know how many varieties there are in total but I grow two different kinds; the smooth oval leaf and the serrated-leaf. The taste is not much different between them.
It can be direct sown in the ground once the frost has passed. I sow them in rows like spinach and thin them when they get around 1.5 inches tall and use them in salads. The whole plant can be pulled out or just cut above the leaf node and it will grow back between the leaves. When the temperature gets too hot, I cover them with a net to filter out some of the sunlight to prolong their life span. As much as they don’t like hot weather, covering them with a net really helps. I also let some of them flower for the bees and to provide seeds for next year.
I no longer have to go to Chinatown to get an expensive, wilted bunch when I have a craving for them. But I will have to pull them out once their flowers have matured and sow another set for a fall harvest.
Edible chrysanthemum are as easy to grow as other greens and their flowers are pretty too.