Posts Tagged ‘cold frame’

It’s Wisconsin. It’s March. It’s Summer!

Sunday, March 18th, 2012

The average March high temperature where I live is 42 degrees.  The average minimum is 24, with an average mean temperature of 32 degrees.  Today, a high of 82 is predicted.  We’ve had highs of upper 70’s to over 80 for the past week.  The lows have been just below 60.

I don’t know if this portends oncoming climatic disaster, but the warm weather is sure making it easy to get a jump start on a lot of this year’s preparation tasks in the garden.  I’ve been taking advantage of the warm weather to clean out my beds of last year’s growth.  It is something I’d have to do anyway, but it’s more pleasant working in a T-shirt.

In the past week I’ve pruned and cleaned out the raspberries, cut back all last year’s asparagus fronds and weeded the asparagus bed, pulled out all the corn stalks from last year’s two beds of corn, and cut down all the stalks in the Jerusalem artichoke bed.  Yesterday, I hauled most of the debris to this year’s new compost pile and worked in the contents of one of the 55 gallon drums of household compost that will fire up and help break down the new pile.

Cold Frame and Compost Piles

But before I went to work on the compost, I moved my cold frame and seeded it with a mix of salad greens.  I first had to harvest the greens that had already sprouted in the frame, left over from last fall.  There was more than enough for Judy and I to enjoy a very nice spring salad of spinach, arugula, mache and lettuce.

After moving the frame to the new area I that had cleaned and raked up, I seeded it with several mesclun salad mixes, various lettuces, spinach, arugula, endives and mache.  I watered it down, and with luck, we’ll be harvesting greens in a few weeks.

Old Compost - New Compost Pile

My new compost pile will reside where I had a three year old pile that was almost used up.  I had previously sifted 6 five gallon buckets of compost to empty the old pile and cleaned out and raked flat the area.  I laid down several inches of stalks and dry material and alternated layers of stalks with a couple 5 gallon buckets of the sludge from my compost barrel.

I’m getting much lazier about diligently following any rules for my compost piles.  I rarely even turn the piles any more.  I now have three piles:  the new one, last year’s, and a pile two years old that is pretty close to being mostly broken down without ever being turned.  I’ll sift that one into buckets and anything that won’t go through my one inch screen gets will get tossed back into the new pile.

As the year progresses, I’ll keep dumping green  material, mostly weed harvest, onto the new pile.  I always have a supply of compost if needed for adding to a bed or for making some soil mixes.  I know my method is not perfect for killing weed seeds because I don’t get it to temperatures hot enough, but I live with my weeds.  I believe that weeds are actually a very good thing to have in the garden and you have to control them just enough so they don’t get the upper hand.

Teaching an Old Dog to Teach

Monday, December 12th, 2011

The outdoor season is over for my 2011 Wisconsin garden.  I may do a little more clean up, and possibly drag in a few leaves to cover up some north beds, but the frost has already penetrated deep and there is nothing left to harvest.  There will be no more weeding or working the soil.  All my efforts now are in preparing for next year.

Gardening patterns and habits repeat themselves as you learn what has to be done to ensure a good harvest, but that hardly means every year is the same.  Change is constant and I’m always ready to try something new or modify what may not be working.  Here are a few new things from this year’s gardening adventure:

Cold Frame

I finally built a small cold frame.     I really didn’t put it to the test until this fall, but the results were excellent and it has me keen on trying more season extending structures.  Next year it’s going to be put to work early in the spring.

New bed

After shrinking my garden area for the past several years, I actually carved out a couple small new beds in the compost area.  The bed project was a test to back up my teachings on making the raised bed system I employ and the ease with which these beds can be formed and put to work.  The results were carrots, beets and peppers that I otherwise would not have had.

Planting Boards

I had been using planting boards for years, but my boards were just scraps of plywood I had laying around.  Not quite right, so this year I cut a couple to exactly the right size and I’m really glad I did.  It makes planting and working on my hands and knees much easier.

T-Post Tomato Trelils

I finally built the rock-solid tomato trellis I had envisioned for many years.  It put an end to the wind blowing over the cages and made it easy for me to string the vines up high.

And lastly, I became a teacher this year.

I’ve actually been giving talks about my garden for several years.  I’m a very loose disciple of the garden teacher Alan Chadwick.  What I really embrace is the open raised beds  of his teachings on intensive food production.  In the past  these talks were done gratis, but I’ve secured some paying engagements next year, and I’ve found that I really enjoy sharing my gardening experience with others.

To be a good teacher you have to keep learning.  And to learn you have to try new things.  I was quite happy with several new things I tried this year and I’ll continue to innovate in the garden in 2012.


Greens Under Glass

Friday, October 21st, 2011

We’ve been harvesting salad greens from the cold frame I built earlier this year.  I talk about the building of the cold frame here.

I seeded the frame about a month ago with a mix of mustard, spinach, arugula, several Asian greens and some lettuces.  As the picture shows, germination was excellent.

Until now, when we are finally getting some very cool nights, the main issue has been to remember to open up the glass lid totally during the day.  The daytime temperatures under the glass easily climbed to over 100 degrees F on sunny days, even with outside temperatures in the 60’s.  With the lid propped open but still above the frame, the temperatures got really hot, so I’ve been opening the frame totally during the day and leaving it open about an inch during the night.

Now that we are approaching freezing temperatures at night, I’m closing the frame totally each evening.  So far, the greens are beautiful and my salad mix rivals the best high priced mixes we see in the markets.

As the greens are really thick in the frame, I’ve found the easiest harvesting method is to snip off the entire plant with kitchen scissors just where the stem is coming out of the ground.  I just look for the greens that are the tallest, grab a leaf to get some tension on the plant and cut it off.

Here’s a picture of a salad made with greens, shredded yellow and orange carrots and sliced red onions.  Dressed with a garlicky balsamic dressing, it is delicious.  If all goes as hoped for, we’ll be eating salads like this with our cold frame greens well into December.