We got hit by a 22 degree freeze last night. Three weeks ago it was 97 degrees. We watched the weather and had a couple of light frosts but this was the change from fall to winter around here. So, we have been preparing.
My interns and I went thru the garden, harvesting all the unripe produce and pulled and chopped up all the summer plants we knew would fail with a hard freeze – tomatoes, peppers, okra, egg plant, etc. and put the debris on the compost piles. We made up a mixture of planting mix soil, coffee grounds, ground up egg shells, and worm castings for the new plants. Each little plant gets its generous handful of this nice extra fertile soil mixed into the soil. And we mixed up liquid fertilizer (see below in italics) to water the new plants in with. (See below) This has made it possible to give the babies a boost, even the smaller ones that are delicate, and we’ve had pretty good results, loosing few of them.
We needed the garden space, though it killed me to have to pull up tomato plants covered with tiny tomatoes and blossoms when in the severe heat we had so little production. They were just starting to really produce. Same went for the peppers though they produced better in the high heat than the tomatoes (that stop fruiting when it goes above 91 degrees F). But they had to go because freeze kills everything. We had covered the plants against the frost before the freeze and they survived it. But below 32 F, they die. That included the last of the cucumber and squash vines as well. We even pulled up most of the zinneas but some survived.
The day before we put in a couple of flats of winter plants like broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, red and green cabbages, Napa cabbage, beets, flat leaf parsley, lettuce, kale, etc. the day before. We watered them with the DIY liquid fertilizer of compost/manure tea with vitamin B1, in solution and diluted with rain water, to give them a boost and lessen the stress and shock of transplanting. Then we put about an inch of soft broken spray-free straw put thru a chipper to insulate the babies and around the other plants already growing and established.
We laid the tomato cages on their sides alternating direction on all the beds to elevate and make an air space then covered with 3.5 mil plastic sheeting, held down by single cinder blocks, bricks and a few heavy rocks. We also used little metal clips from the stationary section of Walmart to adhere the plastic to the wire of the tomato cages to keep the plastic from pulling away when it gets windy or connecting sheets together. These have little springs and come in 3 sizes in a plastic clear container. They get used year after year. They also keep the plastic from tearing so easily and control the amount of air that comes in.
Sorting the plastic sheeting from last year and laying it out, placing it over the tomato cages and securing it, altogether took 1 ½ hours for the 9 large beds in the fenced in area, and the row of trough sized container plants in front of the house.
Every year we have used this technique with lots of production all winter. In the really cold times the plants grow slowly, and speed up when the temperature gets above freezing. We only take the plastic off when it gets over 60 degrees so the cold weather plants don’t cook. But then we don’t remove the plastic, just roll it back, then return it when it cools again. We take a little bucket to collect the clips so they can be returned when the plastic gets put back. We just roll back the weights but keep them in the same location.
The plastic sheeting we get comes in 3.5 mil gauge from Home Depot. We like the clear rolls of 25′ x 10′ which cost about $13 for two rolls in the garden department. They last 2 or 3 years usually, then we toss them when they get too gnarly with holes and break up. But we reuse the good portions. I hate to put plastic into land fills and use them as long as possible. Don’t bother using the cheap thin tarps used for painting as they are too thin to provide protection and tear very easily.
Some more winter plants can be started inside in flats even in cold weather, but you have to wait till the soil warms up (not frozen) to plant them with the amended extra soil, and they need to be boosted with the above tea/B1 mixture, and mulched, then immediately covered with plastic held up by the tomato cages.
Some kinds of plants are so hardy they can take this kind of pressure of the season. Plant species that are particularly hardy in the cold include flat leaf parsley, spinach, onions and garlic, beets and carrots, kale, broccoli, bok choy, chives, some kinds of lettuce (leaf), turnips, collards, Swiss chard, radishes (including the large kinds), mustard greens, mizuna (Japanese sweet mustard), broccoli rab, cabbages, and several kinds of oriental vegetables in that family. I’ve seen spinach and flat leaf parsley growing in 4″ of snow. But the other ones are hardy as well.
When the season starts to change, we augment the garden soil, adding in kitchen waste dug into and covered with the soil (which feeds the worms and breaks down quickly to give it more organic matter), often adding thin sprinkled layers of crushed granite all purpose sand (for the worms and good drainage) mixed with hardwood fireplace ash, compost if we have it, and worm castings and composted manure to keep the fertility of the soil high. This also helps soften the hard Georgia clay if you are growing in-ground.
In this climate the soil should be moist, not wet, with the bed well mulched around the plants – at least an inch deep. For the more mature plants, I like to give them 2 or 3 inches. Don’t use colored coarse mulch. Things I use successfully are finely cut up autumn leaves, unsprayed grass clippings, broken up wheat straw or timothy grass, soft and fine. This insulates the roots and helps hold in the heat that comes in thru the plastic sheeting. It also feeds the worms that live in the soil which provides beneficial micro-organisms and opens the soil to needed oxygen and moisture.
It’s better to start the seeds in late August thru September and get them in the soil when large enough. But this year we have had such intense heat even into October, everything we put in the soil that was for winter died. This was very frustrating because we’d just see them start to perk up and bam, gone as the heat would return and no rain. We planted 3 times this fall and only about 10% of them survived. This sometimes happens and especially now with the wild fluxuations of weather we have been experiencing. However, it can all be done.
I don’t recommend putting seeds in instead of established seedlings this late in the season with the exception of garlic buds, onion sets or beets, radishes and carrots. You can experiment with them but realize they will probably have trouble germinating when it’s too cold.
Take the seeds you want to plant, put them in shallow flats with drainage, using a seed starting formulation (a mixture of petalite, vermiculite, and fine compost), keep them moist but not wet, in a warm sunny window. When they are about 2-3” tall with true leaves, above the baby leaves, usually a couple of pairs, before moving them to a seed cell or small pots. The second move should be into planting mix soil which has more nutrition, in the seed cells.
Winter vegetables can be a substantial source of nutrition over the cold months. It takes a bit of trouble to keep them covered but so worth it in terms of taste, freshness, and food value. Not to mention variety of species which are only available usually thru seeds, since grocery stores only carry produce of a limited diversity. You also can control the growing conditions, growing organically in nutrition rich soil, with no hidden chemicals in your food. Not to mention saving a lot of money over organic produce in the stores. Or having it so fresh it hasn’t been sitting in a carbon dioxide warehouse for weeks, preserving for you the real nutrition and enzymes of fresh produce.
There’s nothing quite so nice as sitting down to a winter meal accompanied by a lovely fresh green salad from your garden, or stir fried greens. We like lots of different kinds of leaf lettuces, and colored Swiss chard, kales, broccoli and other cabbage family veggies, which you can only get when you start them from seed.
Here are some of the seed companies that I most enjoy choosing seeds from: Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co, Kitazawa Seed Co (oriental veggies), Strictly Medicinal Seeds, Gurney’s Seed Co, Southern Exposure, Johnnie’s Seeds, Seeds of Change, Mountain Rose Herbs, Pinetree Seed Co, and Richter Seeds. These seed companies have presence on the internet. Usually if you subscribe to their sites, they will send you notices of sales and new entries. They usually also will send you hard copy seed catalogues upon request.
I like having the actual paper catalog because they can be bookmarked with a sticky notes for easy reference.
See the below sites for your perusal (and drooling – my problem with seed catalogues). It’s important to avoid the companies that are destructive of the freedoms of bio-diversity, intent only on profit, but gobbling up the little free and diverse seed companies into Monsanto and other similar corporations, so I have taken the trouble to research who the good guys are.
Here are more sites that are Monsanto/GMO free seed companies: https://www.caribbeangardenseed.com/?fbclid=IwAR1O7WUnRld851YP4EBkTcuCSTW5O5-RBsqwzM1ckVEb-NpWrntIRBXTy6c , http://in5d.com/list-of-monsanto-free-seed-companies/ . https://www.facebook.com/notes/homesteading/non-gmo-seed-companies-who-have-signed-the-safe-seed-pledge/645492415468276/ , http://in5d.com/list-of-monsanto-free-seed-companies/ , http://www.treehugger.com/lawn-garden/10-best-seed-companies-selected-by-readers.html , https://www.burpee.com/gardenadvicecenter/about/about-burpee-seeds/about-burpee-seeds.html , http://www.off-grid.info/food-independence/heirloom-seed-suppliers.html , http://www.smallfootprintfamily.com/the-10-best-seed-companies-for-heirloom-seeds , and https://www.richters.com/ .
Garden Dreaming – Just imagine sitting by the fire in your warm cozy living room, with a pile of catalogues and a note pad dreaming of the year in seeds with a cup of tea (grown in your own garden, yum), and a drawing of your garden spaces. Then, when you get your seed packets in the mail, think of who you know who does this too and conspire to do some serious seed swapping (builds community, is like a little Christmas on seed swap day).
Diann Dirks, 11-13-2019
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