Sunday, January 17, 2010

Winter Greens

It's mid-January and for the Northern Hemisphere, that means winter. Lots of people are deep in the throes of winter blues, but I'm feeling a bit... "green" this year. Winter greens... mmmm... delicious.

Some of the tastiest plants like it cold and do well in near freezing (and sometimes below freezing) temps. Since this was the first winter with the greenhouse, I decided to try my hand at winter gardening.

Over the summer, I read and re-read Eliot Coleman's Four Season Harvest. The man is inspiring for many reasons, but a big one is that he lives up the road from me in Maine. He's more northern than I but is right on the coast, so has some advantage there. However, in page after page of his book, he makes a compelling case for selecting and growing cold-weather crops. Heating a greenhouse through the winter takes energy and is wasteful. But if you work with the plants that love the cold, you can have fresh greens without any extra electricity. Sounds right up my alley.

In keeping with the theme of "At Least I am Learning", not everything went according to plan. For one, Coleman recommends starting your winter veggies in August at my latitude. In August, I was suffering from heat exhaustion and the last thing I was thinking about was winter. I thought if I planted my greens now, they would mature and bolt by the time it got cold enough to put them in a deep sleep for the winter. So I stalled.

And stalled.

And then, at the beginning of October, I remembered and feverishly planted. My poor lettuces and kale. They tried to grow as fast as they could, but the sun was already low in the southern sky and it was cold at night. I completely underestimated how up here it goes from late summer to late fall in two weeks and that the lack of sun was the biggest problem.

But the wee plants did their best and I was able to prove that even now, in mid January, green things are not dead in my greenhouse despite the lack of heat and the extra cold this year.

Snowy greenhouse (and cute goats).

I ended up growing two sets of plants, those under an internal cold frame and those outside a cold frame. I wanted a "Control Group" for this experiment. I wondered if the double layer of plastic in the cold frame would slow down the meager sunlight and stunt the plants. The opposite effect occurred. The plants under the cold frame far surpassed those outside the cold frame, although both sets survived and did not die from frost. Totally fascinating.

Double layers. A cold frame within the greenhouse.

Plants without a cold frame.

Plants under the cold frame doing much better.

Looking good, just not big enough.

Overall, I am very pleased and I am planning to keep a bunch of those plants through the winter for my early start in spring greens since they will likely grow as soon as things warm up. The biggest problem is I didn't plant enough greens and didn't let them grow enough before the seasons changed. Both issues are easy to fix next year and I can't wait to see how much greener I am in January 2011!

1 comment:

B said...

My winter crop was a total bust this year. I actually timed it well and planted in October. Unfortunately, my raised beds were much too alkaline, and that really took a toll on my poor plants. That, and I totally didn't anticipate the two weeks of below freezing nighttime temps this early in Florida.
Alas, no veggies for me this winter, even my greens didn't have a chance.