Notes from Windward: #70


Getting a Start on
the Spring Garden

Lindsay: March 11th

     The days are getting longer, the frogs have long since started their nightly calls down by the creek, the first of the wildflowers are poking through the leaf litter, and flats of vegetable seedlings are emerging everywhere there is space, warmth and light.

overwintered green

      A key part of gardening up here on the plateau is taking advantage of the spring moisture, which means getting cold hardy plants in the ground that will grow through April, May and June. Since we have been having this mild winter (though as I write we are having a bit of snow flurries), we are able to get an even earlier start to spring growing.

     Arugula, spinach, and a variety of lettuces have already germinated in Vermidise, as well as outside in the main garden. We've also seeded radishes and turnips, which have germinated nicely, in the main garden, along with peas and carrots, which are taking a more leisurely route.

germinating salad greens

     While the winter greens growing in Vermidise were eaten by the guinea hens, we did have some unlikely survivors outside. A few of the greens and herbs planted in the grow tanks for duck-ponics survived the winter, as did collards, kale and chard growing in the main garden. The grow tanks for duck-ponics were covered with a single layer of ~4mil plastic and we ended up turning off the pump that cycles the water through the tanks (and helps to keep the plants at temperatures warmer than freezing) when we had the cold snap in December, with temperatures reaching down into the single digits.

kale that overwintered in duckponics

      The plants in the main garden were under a simple lean-to cold frame loosely put together with old glass doors. So the plants growing in both locations had minimal protection from the elements and pretty fully experienced the single digit temperatures we had back in December. So I was quite surprised to find that they were still alive after such cold temperatures. This bodes well for our ability to maintain and harvest greens through the winter in a more protected or insulated space.

sprouting garlic

     The garlic, planted this past October, has sprouted and is looking quite vibrant. Garlic is one of the crops that we grow well, in part because it does much of its growing in the spring. So, we are also experimenting with a few new varieties of garlic. Since we decided to do this relatively recently, we are trying our hand at spring garlic (planted in the spring rather than the fall) and I will report back on how this goes.

parsley seedlings

     With all the work Carina has done in Finney trailer, there is quite a bit more additional space for starting seeds. First to start in early February were some hardy spring brassicas, such as broccoli and cabbage, along with the ever so slow growing herbs, including thyme, sage and sweet marjoram. Sage and thyme survived the winter in the herb garden, so we are also on our way towards establishing some perennial herbs. Onions and leeks were soon to follow.

     Oana had surprisingly good success last spring with growing lavender from seed (it is usually propagated through cuttings) so we started some more lavender as well to continue expanding our lavender patch. I started the peppers a bit late last winter and the tomatoes a bit too soon, so we adjusted the timing accordingly (starting the peppers around 2/15 and tomatoes around 2/25). Also growing now are collards, kale, swiss chard, cilantro, parsley, and a variety of lettuces and arugula for transplanting into the main garden and into the aqua-ponics systems. We are hoping to have a few eggplants as well, so they too are now seeded.

lettuce starts

     We recently moved some of the flats of cabbages, broccoli, collards, kale and lettuces down to prop house to free up some more space in Finney. MaryLou had been diligently bringing the trays out on nice days for some sun exposure, but these seedlings had yet to experience cold temperatures. So, of course, after many nights with the lows still above freezing, the first night these new seedlings spent in prop house (which is buffered slightly from the outside temperatures, but only by few degrees at most) the temperatures dropped to 22°F.

     When I woke up to find the ground so hard underfoot and a thick layer of ice formed on our rain catchment barrels, my heart sank to think of the plants. But, amazingly enough, these little tender seedlings survived the cold just fine! The only plants that suffered were the swiss chard which were a bit younger than the rest and closest to the door.

brocolli and cabage starts

     Similarly, during a warm spell in February, I seeded lettuces and spinach in Vermidise. Then the weather turned cool again with freezing temperatures at night (which the hanging grow tubes are particularly susceptible to) and I thought I would have to reseed as the seeds would have been damaged by the cold temperatures. But a few days later, sure enough, up came the cotyledons (the first "leaves" of a plant, but that are not actually true leaves). So it has been quite pleasant to be so continually surprised by the hardiness of some of these plant varieties.

     The next steps for us will be to get more peas in the ground (which is pending the construction of the new terrace) and transplanting all these seedlings out into the garden. It is also about time to start bringing duck-ponics and barrel-ponics back online, so they too can receive transplants.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 70