We’ve been bombarded with snow storms every week for the last three weeks and still have plenty of snow on the ground as a result. The temperature dropped back to winter levels again after a warm stretch in February. But it’s time to start germinating seeds for a new season, especially those that need more time to grow, bear fruit and ripen. I started our tomato, pepper and eggplant seedlings last week. The tomatoes have already sprouted up. Chili peppers will need a little bit more time to sprout.
Aside from the usual tomatoes we have been growing, Brandywine, Cherokee purple, Mortgage lifter, Nova, Indigo cherry drop…among them, this year we will try two new varieties. I ordered True Black Brandywine and Dark Galaxy tomato seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, one of my favorite plant and seed companies. I have never been dissatisfied with their seeds.
This year we also picked a new variety of pepper to try, also from the same supplier, ‘Buena Mulata’ peppers. The description is impressive and hopefully we like it enough to keep it on our long list of chili peppers we grow.
I also started varieties of kale and Swiss chard this week. By the time the last frost date comes, hopefully in mid April, they all should be ready to settle in to the garden. We agreed that the ‘Dazzling Blue’ kale we tried last year is worth growing again. If you like ‘Toscano’ or ‘Nero Di Toscana’, you will probably like this kale. It has similar leaves but with purplish/pink midribs and I find it’s a little sweeter.
We grow organic and love to try new kinds of vegetables so we’re a little choosy about where we get our seeds. Below is a short list of reliable companies we use for our vegetable seeds and plants:
We had around two feet of snow last Tuesday and most of it is still on the ground. The daytime temperatures are hovering between 30 and 40°F which isn’t helping to melt it. Today is the official first day of spring but outside, you would never know it. It’s more like ‘Hello spring, where are you?’ to me. Crocuses, Hellebores and Snowdrops were completely buried under. My little cold frame looks more like a little igloo in the garden.
It’s not only me that was fooled by nature, the Robins have already made an appearance despite the snow. The American Goldfinches have started to drop their winter coats. We try to help them by providing food and water when there isn’t much out there for them besides endless snow.
I had sown some lettuce seeds inside the cold frame a couple of weeks ago because I wasn’t expecting to get this much snow around now. I’ll dig my way in there tomorrow to see how they are doing.
Though it doesn’t look like spring outside, a new cycle of life, a new season, has already begun inside the house. This is the time I usually start tomato, pepper, eggplant, Swiss chard and kale seedlings. The first three need to be done around 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost so they can have enough time to grow, bear fruits and ripen. As for the Swiss chard and kale, they like cold weather anyway so I can put them out in the garden early.
Next, is prepping tropical plants in the basement for their summer outdoors. Spring should come around the corner and stay within a few weeks. But who knows? We had snow in April.
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)
We set up a cold frame for the first time last autumn but it didn’t do much for us this winter because we installed it so late in the season. However, it provided us with a place to start our vegetables early. The seeds were sown in March when some days were still hovering around 20ºF here. We were able to pick our first salad of the season in April when temperatures outside were in the mid 30ºF to low 50ºF.
The weather is still unpredictable. Temperatures have been swinging between 70ºF daytime and a low around 40ºF at night. It’s still too cold for many vegetables to germinate outside, but I have sown scallion, Mustard ‘Dragon Tongue’ and Oakleaf lettuce in the plot outside the cold frame and it seems to be taking them a little bit longer to sprout. But I can wait as I still have a lot of vegetables to pick from in the cold frame.
Aside from being able to grow leafy vegetables in the cold frame on an early schedule, I’m also able to use it for strengthening the seedlings. Plenty of sunlight can get through the plastic but not direct sun and it stays warm enough in there to avoid stunting the growth of the seedlings. I have to be careful to open it up during the day when the temperature reaches above 50ºF. It becomes a sauna in there if I don’t open it. Too hot or too cold is never good for growing anything.
This one worked so well that I’m tempted to get a larger one that will cover the entire vegetable plot. Maybe I could go through winter without ever buying salad from a store.
After a long wait for fresh backyard salad, I can hardly stop myself from sowing seeds in the vegetable garden. As soon as the soil softens, judged by seeing weeds coming up, I put Arugula, Radish (Cherry Belle and French Breakfast), Pak choi, Mizuna, Kale, Swiss chard, Scallion, Lettuce, and Broccoli Raab in. The arugula is always the first to come up.
I also put Snap Peas in the soil directly. I find that they grow stronger that way than starting them in a container and replanting them. I just soak the seeds in water for a few hours, placing them between damp paper towels. The roots will sprout out in two nights. I drop the ones with roots in the soil and cover them. I don’t have to worry about hardening them. If they feel it’s the right time to poke shoots above ground, they will. They are already a couple of inches tall now. I will have stir-fry sized pea shoots in a couple of weeks.
Some self-sown Broccoli Raab, Borage and Calendula also came up. Last year’s Red Russian kale, Scallion and Radicchio looks pretty fresh and healthy. I can pick them while waiting to thin the seedlings (great baby greens for salad). I also picked my first Asparagus of the season last weekend and will have some more this weekend. Garlic is looking lovely at this time too. I have already fed them once.
Yes, the tomatoes have sown themselves again. They are just an inch above the soil surface right now, not big enough to be transplanted yet. I will take most of the Borage and Calendula out from the vegetable garden and transplant them along with the flowers.
Anywhere I turn there are signs of new shoots and leaves unfurling, another cycle of life has begun.