Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Cold Frame Near the End of Winter

Our garden beds were under snow for all of February, and still are. I harvested nothing but eggs the entire month. I know there are parsnips out there that I could dig for, but with the snow cover I have only a vague sense of where I would look for them. However, the cold frame has been ramping up over the last few weeks.

Yesterday I was able to harvest a fair bit of spinach, which has come through the winter beautifully. Although 3.7 ounces doesn't sound like a lot, it was more than enough for two omelets. I also removed the most damaged looking leaves and tossed them to the hens, still in their winter quarters, and starving for green things. Defying the 10-hours-of-daylight rule, the spinach grew straight through the winter except right around the solstice. Granted, it was very slow growth in early January, but we didn't get our 10 hours back here until February 2nd. It "shouldn't" have been growing at all with less than 10 hours, but it did.

The Napoli carrots I planted in there last fall have all long since been harvested and eaten. Along with the spinach, they did the best. That's the variety (sadly, a hybrid) that Eliot Coleman refers to as his "candy carrots." The parsley and beets didn't work out so well. The winter density lettuce held on alright until it got really cold. It looks to me as though one rouge d'hiver lettuce plant is going to come back strongly, while the others succumbed. I should probably let that one go to seed and save it. The scallions I planted did so-so. Most of the oniony stuff in there now is a generous contribution from a seed swap.

In early February I casually tossed in arugula seed where the carrots had come out (top center). If you look closely you can see that it has germinated and is beginning to grow. Temperatures have been above freezing during the day for the last week or so. I expect we'll be able to eat that arugula within a few weeks. None too soon as far as I'm concerned. I want green.

Knowing what I now do about what works well in a cold frame in my area, I would concentrate on carrots and spinach if I had only this one cold frame to carry me through the winter. If things go as planned though, we'll have at least a couple more cold frames for next winter.

How's your winter garden holding up? How's your spring garden shaping up?


el said...

Looking good in there, Kate! I hope you do build a couple more; they're fun.

Re: the 10 hour thing. It's my experience everything still grows all winter long, it's just that it's a lot less visible to you, especially if you look at it every day. The watched pot not boiling and all that. That said, the one thing that really obviously grows for me is mache: I hope I sent you some seeds. It goes gangbusters in the winter (as does arugula) and then politely dies once the overnight temps are at 50 or so. And then lots of lettuces keep on putting out too, it's just that by now most of mine are quite bonsai as I take all their lower, bigger leaves.

Leigh said...

The cold frame looks great. I am trying overwintering my spinach under mulch. This from an article in Organic Gardening Magazine.

I've lost track of where my carrots and beets are since their leaves froze back.

Elizabeth said...

You're wonderful and I read your blog all the time. I just thought it was time that I let you know that I'm here and reading.

Thank you for being faithful to your dreams.

Penny said...

I have never tried a cold frame before this year. Being a neophyte winter gardener, I put my seeds for kale and lettuce in last Sunday. I think I may have chosen the wrong time, but I'm learning!

Kate said...

El, I guess that's what I'm seeing too, at least for some crops. I wasn't planning on mache for this year, so I put those seeds into the vault. I can only trial so many new things each year, and you sent so very many new-to-me seeds! Thanks again. I'll definitely try it next year. I could love a crop that does politely and on time.

Leigh, that's where I'm at with the parsnips. But I'm going to have to go find them as the snow melts back.

Elizabeth, how sweet! Thank you! I'm glad the blog offers something to you.

Penny, if it were earlier in the year I might have questioned your location before offering prognosis. But unless you're up in Alaska or some other part of the frozen north, you're probably safe with kale and lettuce in a cold frame at this date. Good luck with them; they're two of my favorites.

Momma Pajama said...

Our weather here north of Seattle has been very mild all winter. Not a flake of snow at all! With weather highs in the mid-50s, it is really tempting to plant outside sooner than our traditional April 23 "last frost date." I do not have any cold frames but I'd really like to try at least one next winter.

I am busy expanding my raised bed garden, producing major compost, and starting my tomatoes and peppers indoors this week. Chomping at the bit...

Kate said...

Momma Pajama, I love your handle. I would really encourage you to build a cold frame or two. I want at least two more for next winter. They really allow you to get things seeded earlier and to harvest later, with a minimum of effort once they're built and filled with soil. I'm getting ready to start a huge number of seeds inside too. Spring is coming soon!

Kathy said...

I have never used a cold frame either...but this post gives me hope!! I'm not sure how it woudl do this far North but it's worth a try.

As for a Spring garden...we are making a raised garden bed today to grow the majority of our veggies. We will also rent a garden plot from our City's Community Garden as we have a teeny tiny yard. The seeds will be planted indoors this weekend =)

Penny said...

It was fairly simple for me to make my cold frame. I just bought four straw bales and put a scavenged window on it. Viola! cold frame. :)

It grew weeds during the coldest part of winter, so I assume it will grow kale and lettuce soon.

Kate said...

Kathy, you might find them a little addictive if you try cold frames. Maybe it's their tidy little size or their ability to extend the seasons, but they're pretty exciting to me.

Penny, I tried the hay bale thing before built cold frames. I started too late in the season with them, and because I used an old glass window instead of a safety glass pane, the first hail storm ended that experiment. But I loved the fact that the semi-rotted hay provided instant mulch right in the garden in spring. I'm sure you can get kale and lettuce started immediately in a cold frame.