Sheri Ann Richerson's exotic gardening, elegant cooking, crafty creations, food preservation and animal husbandry... all on two and a half acres in Marion, Indiana!

year round gardening

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It is possible to find reasonably priced walk-in greenhouses at farm or discount stores.

As anyone who owns a greenhouse – or coldframe – or tunnel house – knows, there is always a desire to have just a little more growing space. Some seeds need cold stratification to germinate, some seeds need heat to germinate. Some seeds can take two to three years to germinate – and the list goes on. Having different growing houses setup to accomadate the different propagation needs  or growing requirements the seeds or plants you are working with need is ideal – however not everyone has this much space, time or money to invest.

Every year brings a new batch of must-have seeds. Finding a place to sow them – and then continue to grow the resulting plant is a problem.

As a hobby grower, I have found I simply do not have adequate space – even with four greenhouses and a tunnel house (for winter vegetables). In years past, the extra seeds that I could not sow were simply stored – and eventually I ended up giving them to someone else because I knew I simply could not keep them forever.

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Jeffrey Rhoades installing the first Culti-Cave.

It’s already the middle of January and let me assure you, I have been busy planting seeds – indoors and out. I’ve done a bit of winter sowing – mostly perennials although a few half-hardy annuals snuck into the mix. This year I did my winter sowing in flats and put those outside in my new Culti-Caves. This made it super easy – and since there is just one seed per pot, transplanting is going to be a breeze.

Seed flats filled with perennial and half-hardy annual seeds sitting inside the Culti-Cave.

Some of the seeds I’ve already planted outdoors include lupine, milkweed, coreopsis, statice, dianthus, coneflower, foxglove, delphinium, peony, Indian physic, campanula, Eryngium, viola and pansy. Indoors I planted seeds of tomatoes, Aristolochia, Eucalyptus, hibiscus, olive tree, banana, jojoba, kenaf, starfruit, American licorice, aloe, Telopea, Abutilon, Callistemon, Epipactis, Puya, Hypocalymma and kangaroo paw.

In the garden, it’s time to direct sow seeds of carrots, cabbage, celery, onion and parsley. Be sure to sow these inside of a coldframe for best results. Other seeds you can sow now include pansy, snapdragon, statice and dianthus. Again it is best to sow these inside of a coldframe or use the winter sowing technique.

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A small round Black Spanish Radish harvested from the open garden in late November.

Those of us who grow vegetables year-round are really no different than those who grow seasonally other than we choose to grow varieties that – like us – brave the cold weather. Figuring out which varieties do well for us in our individual climates does take some experimentation. We can learn what works well for others by reading articles, blogs and of course participating in online discussion groups – but even then, what works for one person may not work for another.

Here in Marion, Indiana I have found the round Black Spanish Radish does quite well over winter – even in the open ground without protection. I love the dark black color of the skin – and the spicy taste of the flesh. Often though I find it necessary to remove the skin from these radishes before I eat them – it really depends on how tough the skin is – and you can tell by looking.

This is the very first Black Spanish Radish I grew. I harvested it a bit early, however I was quite anxious to taste it.

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It has been an interesting winter here in Indiana – much milder than normal. As usual, I had my winter lettuce bed that survived very nicely – and then there were the winter flowers – some of which bloomed on time, as expected – and some which bloomed much earlier than I had anticipated. Here is a pictorial view of what is growing and blooming in my Indiana garden – USDA hardiness zone 6 – this month.

The lettuce bed - inside the small tunnel house is a staple of fall garden, the winter garden and the spring garden. I allow it to set seed over the summer. The seed drops onto the ground and sprouts which means I never have to buy new lettuce seed.

 

The witch hazel "autumn embers" began showing signs of blooming on December 28, 2011. Here it is, the end of February 2012 and this small tree is still in full bloom.

 

Witch hazel "autumn embers" in full bloom in February. The yellow flower buds on the ground below the tree is winter aconite.

 

Winter aconite in bloom. The flowers have an intense lemon fragrance that I simply love.

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Tomatoes growing inside a cold frame in my Indiana garden on November 11, 2011.

See the vegetables that are still growing and being harvested under cover in Indiana in November.

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Kale doesn't mind frost. In fact, the leaves taste sweeter after a frost has hit them.

There are many plants that don’t mind frost and other plants that continue to thrive for several months longer if they receive some type of frost protection. Kale, for example, doesn’t mind frost – and will thrive outdoors throughout most of the winter, even in United States Department of Agricultural hardiness zone 5. Brussels sprouts is another great plant that survives throughout the winter outdoors without protection. If you wish to go an extra step and provide some type of frost protection, such as a row cover or cold frame, there are a number of plants that will survive the winter.

Grow a variety of salad mixes in a cold frame and eat fresh salads all winter long.

Lettuce is one of the easiest plants to keep alive throughout the winter – and the one I recommend beginners – or naysayers – try their hand at. Plant lettuce seeds in mid-August through mid-September. Cover the plants with a cold frame once the frost threatens. Most of the time it is not necessary to water or vent the cold frame during the winter months, however until winter sets in you may need to do this.

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Row cover protects tomato plants from light frost allowing the harvest to be extended.

A video of radish, peas and tomatoes under row cover in November in my Indiana garden.

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There are many varieties of seeds ideal for winter planting including lettuce.

Fall is the appropriate time for planting winter vegetables, however winter gardening and winter planting are two very different aspects. Winter gardening is all about growing fruits, flowers and vegetables during the coldest part of the year. Winter planting is all about putting those crops – rather they are bare root plants, seeds or tubers – into the ground from December through February.

The key to winter planting is pre-planning. Potatoes and bare root plants typically require that the hole be pre-dug before the ground freezes. Now that is not to say you cannot dig frozen ground with a pick-axe or use plastic to create enough heat to allow you to dig, but let’s face it, that requires a lot of extra effort – and frankly, when it is cold enough outside to see your breath who wants to be outside long enough to plant a garden. This is why pre-planning goes a long way towards your winter planting success.

Remove weeds and plant debris in the fall so the beds are clean come winter.

Remove weeds and plant debris in the fall so the beds are clean come winter.

When it comes to seeds, the only pre-planning required is to make sure your beds are free of weeds and cultivated so once spring arrives you aren’t trying to figure out which seedlings to remove and which ones to keep. After all, it never seems to fail that weeds grow faster than cultivated crops.

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Fall Vegetable Garden Pinterest

There’s more to love about October than Halloween. In fact, this is a great month for growing fall vegetables, whether that means planting new crops or simply extending the growing season for summer planted crops such as tomatoes. Growing fall vegetables – and keeping them alive in the ground through the winter season – is a great way to save money on your grocery bill and eat fresh produce year-round. In fact, the fall and winter seasons are often easier to grow cool weather crops in. One reason is there is less pests. Simply make sure to plant the crops you wish to overwinter in late summer or early fall so once the first hard freeze arrives, the plants are already full grown. The key to keeping them alive is using a combination of frost cover and 6 mil. plastic. Hoop houses are nice, but you can make your own small hoop houses with metal or plastic conduit or even tomato cages.

A large tunnel house in the background. Smaller tunnels covered with row cover in the center. Hoops made of plastic conduit in the front waiting to be covered.

 

It doesn’t take a lot to keep frost off of plants, which is half the battle of keeping them alive. Simply covering them with row cover is enough depending on how cold it gets and the severity of the frost. For example, last night we had a killing frost here in my Indiana garden. The vegetable plants in the open garden – with the exception of carrots, kale and peas – were killed. The plants under the row cover and 6 mil. plastic were fine – including the tomatoes. I typically start with the row cover. It does two things – keeps pests at bay and protects the plants from light frosts. Once the night temperatures begin to fall below 50, I go ahead and add the 6 mil. plastic. I do not use greenhouse plastic, just the regular clear plastic I use on my house windows during the winter months – just be sure it is 6 mil. I do vent the plastic during the day so the plants inside do not get hot enough to die. Once the daytime temperatures are down in the 40’s, I quit venting the plastic. I know some people go ahead and vent their hoop houses, but since I want to keep some warm weather crops alive as well, I do not.

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Carrots grown during the winter months are sweeter and far more tender than those grown during spring and summer. I also recommend growing a variety of different colored carrots for variety and their various health benefits.

Carrots grown during the winter months are sweeter and far more tender than those grown during spring and summer. I also recommend growing a variety of different colored carrots for variety and their various health benefits.

Growing vegetables in the winter is a lot of fun and a whole lot less work. Cool season vegetables, such as the purple carrots above, taste more succulent when they are grown during the colder part of the year. Radish are not as hot either. Lettuce and other salad greens practically melt in your mouth.

Weeds are not an issue as long as you start with clean beds. Put a layer of straw between the rows once the plants start to grow. The straw blocks weeds, breaks down over the winter adding nutrients to your soil and helps keep the soil warm. In fact many vegetables, such as potatoes, carrots, radish and turnip, are easy to store in the ground all winter long if you cover them with a heavy layer of straw before winter sets in.

A large tunnel house in the background. Smaller tunnels covered with row cover in the center. Hoops made of plastic conduit in the front waiting to be covered.

A large tunnel house in the background. Smaller tunnels covered with row cover in the center. Hoops made of plastic conduit in the front waiting to be covered.

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