Category Archives: greenhouses

On greenhouse #3

A January 11th photo of the oldest (2007) greenhouse:  Reemay covers are off so the leaves can absorb some rare winter sun.   I planted this one with kale and salad greens back in late September.  These will be completely harvested by late March and then I’ll convert this greenhouse into a seedling nursery.  Right now, though, I take twelve gallon-size bags of salad- and braising greens a week out of the greenhouses and outdoor gardens for our customers, and we also eat about a half gallon daily.

In December, Tom and I attended a thank-you brunch for doing some fundraising for our daughter’s school.  It was held at a swanky country club in the dunes near us and, as I walked into the bar area to refill my Bloody Mary (brunch, you know) all heads whipped around to see me.

Obviously, Tom was in the bar giving away our farm, one bag of salad and one log of chevre at a time.

“Duuuude,” I hissed.  “You can’t be doing that,” I told him, grabbing him by the elbow and goose-stepping him away from the crowd, after demurring to all the other parents gathered around.  “Don’t you know I have every drop of milk and leaf of green spoken for from here to April?”  I don’t think he really did know:  he’s not involved with either gardening or milking.

“Maybe we just need another greenhouse,” he said.  “I have no problem at all building another greenhouse.”

And this is the 2008 greenhouse, the bigger one:  I planted these salad/root veg things in October.  They’re growing more slowly; they won’t be “peak” until mid-Feb. and then they’ll be “done” in late April, right about when the tomatoes go in and the warm season starts again.

It’s been on my list for a while (a third greenhouse, that is).  And it’s at this time of year that I can see why I most need one, though the greenhouses are the most busy and productive in the warm months.  My reasons for wanting another aren’t to supply the other parents’ refrigerators, though.  They’re more mundane, like, if I had a third greenhouse I could use it to grow worm-free brassicas in the summertime (joy! no Bt, no covers) and I could plant a LOT more garlic and a lot more root veggies.  It’s green greed is all (insert evil laugh).

So in April, we’ll add another.  This one will be 16’x32′.  Stay tuned…

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On multiple harvests

blooming lacinato

Early spring means late spring in the greenhouses.  And late spring in the greenhouses means it’s probably time to evict the winter residents.  I’m moving through second, third and even fourth harvests from the greenhouse beds while on the way to pulling them up altogether.  I’m feeling a bit of pressure to stop, drop and eat!  It’s time, you see, to transfer the tomatoes and peppers to nursery hot beds.

So, we’re on a green binge.

Especially now that the new push of growth has begun, I look, eagerly, for sprouts and leaves.  And nearly everything is fair game. This is the time of year to eat what you could never find at your grocer’s, or even at a farmer’s market.  Order up!

Self-seeded beets:  1.  fleshy leaves, 2.  the roots are bound for quick lacto-fermented pickles

Kales:  Lacinato 1.  broccoli-like blossoms, 2. leaves, and 3.  peeled stems, great for stir-fry!  and Red (Russian) kale  1.  broccoli-like blossoms, 2. juicy, salad-bound leaves

Kohlrabi:  1.  the root of course but 2. the leaves, like all of the brassica family, are quite edible.

Cabbage: 1. De-headed, I leave some leaves attached to the rooted stem. In a few weeks, I get 2. a leafy second harvest (shown above).

Carrots: 1.  Roots of course but 2.  did you know you can eat the ferny leaves too?

The flowers of arugula and mache now grace some salads

And I am not above eating the roots of plants that are arguably grown for other purposes.  Parsley and celery fit this bill.  They require a bit of scrubbing but they taste just like celeriac, the fat root of the family.

On greenhouse season extension

Rapidly heading cabbages, freshly sprouting shallots and root-cellar potatoes means it’s colcannon season.  With bacon bits and goat-milk yogurt, it’s a one-pot hearty meal…especially if paired with a salad.

The one thing I cannot stress enough for those of you considering these plastic bubbles is this:  Having one extends your growing season.  In my experience at zone 6, it extends it in two months in each direction.  Four more months of growing things!  Think about your haul if you had four more months in which to grow your goodies.

I grow things year-round in them, of course, like that pretty head of late September-seeded savoy cabbage above.  Through the months of December-February, though, the greenhouses act more like big produce refrigerators than places in which things are actively growing.  But it is at this time of the year, early March, that I have a particular appreciation of them.  You see, late February/early March here means there’s still snow on the ground outside…nary a thing outdoors is “growing,” though there are a few hardy things hiding out there under the snow.  Indoors, however, it might as well be late April/early May.

Everything in the greenhouse, in other words, has hit the Spring button.  Chives and scallions are leaping out of the ground…a great thing, as my chevre loves chives, long missed since their November die-back.  Seeds of the February-planted fava beans and peas are shooting up.  The garlic is 8-9″ tall.  The lettuces, long picked-at and just hanging in there, are now growing madly.  The cabbages are heading faster and faster.  And the arugula, mache (corn salad) and fall-planted kales are at the point of bolting.

Sure, it’s nice to sit in there too…especially if you consider the alternative:

Abandon all gardening hope, ye who enter here

On light therapy

Coffee, dog, greens, greenhouse and snow on an overcast Wednesday morning

What a winter!  Even though I love this season, this particular one has knocked me off my orbit a bit…and I have been bobbling on, more eccentric than ever.

Time to get my bearings.  I think what was hardest for me this winter was the even more pronounced lack of sun.  Because we’re so close to the lake, we’re usually fairly shrouded in clouds between November and February.  A good and bad thing (good:  it’s so much warmer, bad:  clouds mean precipitation), those clouds.

But the earth is tilting, and as it tilts the clouds retreat.  To help my cloud-induced fugue state I have decided to spend part of my morning the way I spend it in the warm months of the year:  I take my 2nd cup of coffee outside with me to the garden.

Granted, at this time of the year, the snow-covered garden is not terribly interesting.  But the old greenhouse?  It’s a light box, even when cloudy.  Wear the sunglasses, take off your outerwear, grasp that mug in your hands and take a seat.   If only for 10-15 minutes, it really does a body good.

Closeup of that bed:  self-sown mache, Brune d’Hiver lettuce, and curly endive (frisee)

On blizzards, and groundhogs, and greenhouses

Stuck in the normally shoveled driveway (the 24″ side is the correct depth)

Wednesday was a snow day.  Boringly, that blizzard that hit everywhere hit here too…how could it not?  We’re quite used to snow here (we usually get 80″ per year) and Feb. 2nd’s storm was different mainly because it was paired with a bit of wind, too.  (shrugs) What can you do?

The girl was home from school, and so she and I had lots of time to discuss the meaning of the day, Groundhog Day.  “Gimme some other names for groundhogs,” I said.  “Whistle pigs and woodchucks”  she said, ever reaching for a gold star.  We discussed the older traditions of Imbolc and St. Brigid’s day, especially the notion of winter’s continuance, and how having a sunny day on this day means more winter.  “So the old lady was the Irish woodchuck,” she said.  “I wonder what it was before it was the old lady?”  Ah!  Perceptive child.  All traditions, religious or otherwise, are usually just pauses in the undertow of time. Something will overtake the whistle pig, eventually.

Keep in mind these things are between 9′ and 10′ tall

Recently, however, I have received a ton of questions about my greenhouses.  So I thought I would show you what’s going on in them despite the white stuff outside.  Here’s a bit of a photo journal, taken on Thursday at lunchtime.

Little teensy wrist, huh?  And a waist-high drift standing between me and dinner!

Here:  I have made it in:  and it’s quite toasty inside.  (23* is the worst it’s been indoors all winter.)

But turning around, this is what’s climbing up one side!  It’s quite okay to have snow 5′ or more up the sides, but up and over the top is kinda unusual.

I’ve knocked some of the snow off from the inside, but yeah, I might have to tackle some of it out here too.  Maybe some other day.

But other than the fact that I’ve clipped these lettuces into mere bonsai of their former head-y selves, I haven’t made a dent in the mache.  This is a typical bed.  Dinner!

Greenhouse update, New Year’s edition

9 of 12 beds in the “new” greenhouse:  I took the rowcovers off to show you

It’s technically still the beginning of winter for us, and the days and nights will continue to get colder, but there’s a little more sun shining every day.  The greenhouses, however, are still productive.  My challenge?  Pick things fast enough to use things up, but slow enough to allow the lettuces to continue to grow.  This harvesting remains a challenge because I am picking for my family…and four others!  (Everyone in the CSA gets a gallon-sized bag a week.  And we eat what we want, which is probably more like 2-1/2 gallons.)

“Old” greenhouse, looking at 8 of 9 beds:  empty beds have garlic in them

This has been a fairly typical winter for us.  “Typical” includes the 50-degree day of torrential rain we had on New Year’s Eve which thawed every flake of the 8″ of snow on the ground, as well as the regular weather ups and downs…if anything, I would say it’s been cloudier than usual.  Heh.  Climate change = change, all right.  At least the greenhouses nip off the extremes and we’re just left with “winter” in there.

This is a typical mixed bed:  3’x6′, cabbage, kales, lettuce

Trouble?

The lettuces are happy for the most part, snug in their beds.  I do experience the occasional die-off of a plant.  Notice these two in the picture above.  The center has not died on the plants, but the outer, lower leaves have.  It’s been my experience to just leave it and it might recover.  Only when it’s totally mush does it go into the compost.

I can pack things into the beds pretty well too, including things that hate being crowded like these cabbages.  I harvest the outer leaves (that also keeps the growth down) to give to the bunnies…and then occasionally I will eat a whole head.

Hope springs eternal

And those “empty” beds that you saw?  They’re also riddled with seedling lettuces.  Seedling weeds too!  But yeah, lettuces and onions can tolerate really low temperatures and still germinate.  It will just take them a loooonnnng time.

On the non-end of gardening

Mulched, and frosty:  the back gardens

Autumn and winter did a rather jumbled waltz this year (two steps forward, three back, two forward, one back, etc.) and honestly for this gardener my head spun, such were the extent of the wild swings.  Now that we’ve hit a cold snap that appears to have stuck, I admit to wishing the unthinkable:  bring on the snow.  Now that the ground has frozen what’s the use of pretending it isn’t?  Winter! Please come!

Dried beans above and fresh veg below, under cover, 8:30 a.m.  It’s 28*F outside and 51*F in.

Now is the time, too, that the greenhouse beds are covered with their blanket of Reemay (agricultural cloth).  The stuff shrunk in the wash this year, alas; I need to purchase more and either sew another three feet to its ends or drape smaller pieces over the 6’x3′ beds.  Having the beds completely covered, incidentally, is not do-or-die; rather, a fully tented structure should (in principle) retain warmth longer, but it still won’t prevent the nightly freeze to its contents.

Poking out of a now too-short length of cloth, Pac choy, flowering.  One little nip of frost followed by some warm weather causes it to bolt.  Fortunately, it still tastes just wonderful…especially in kimchi.

It’s a good thing we don’t eat salad in the early a.m.  It would be nearly impossible to harvest it then, while frozen.  The heat of the day brings the lettuces “back to life,” and this in itself is a daily moment of wonder.  By supper they’re perky and gorgeous.

But it’s not all salad in the greenhouse beds.   Kales and cabbages hog a lot of space too.  Endive and escarole and radicchio (chickories one and all) span the is-it-salad or is-it-dinner bridge (and I love gratinee’d chickory).  Carrots, parsnips, beets and turnips are grown both indoors and out but somehow are a lot easier to harvest in the greenhouses.  And leeks (perennial and annual), bunching onions, bunching scallions and perennialized garlic (a chive substitute:  unlike chives, the close-planted bulbs’ greens don’t winter-kill) make dinners and salads nice and savory.  Parsley, celery, chervil, cilantro, winter savory, thyme, sage and rosemary add some zest.  And sorrel.  Sorrel deserves a post of its own.

The 80* new greenhouse at 3:00 complete with lettuce eater

This post is to simply demonstrate that, for me, gardening (and in particular harvesting) is a year-round endeavor, and I love it.