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.

The Culti-Caves are ideal for protecting flats of winter-sown seedlings and giving me a place to work out of the weather.

This year, I have added two small Culti-Caves and a small walk-in greenhouse to the mix. The Culti-Caves and one of the small walk-in greenhouses are being used for winter sowing. This is an ideal way to sow perennial seeds in soil blocks or flats, protect them from the elements and give me a semi-warm, dry place to work with them. After all, even winter-sown seeds need to be checked on to make sure the soil remains moist and to monitor germination.

Adding shelves is a great way to get more out of your greenhouse or coldframe space.

One of the small greenhouses – as well as the two larger ones – are heated. Of course, my large one is still in the process of being repaired, so it is down this year, but it is used to pot plants up and grow larger plants instead of being used as a propagation house. By adding shelves I can increase the space I have to start seedlings or cuttings. The problem comes when those plants begin to grow – and this is where a larger (or extra) greenhouse comes in handy. In fact, to save on the heating bill, I heat as needed – in other words, I start the winter out with just one greenhouse heated. As plants germinate or root and more space is required, I add heat to the other greenhouses – one at a time. It is the only way to manage this many greenhouses on a budget.

To grow plants or start seeds that need even more heat than what you can provide – such as tropicals, tomatoes, peppers or other warm weather crops, consider adding those stand-alone greenhouses that look like a shelving unit with plastic over them. Place these inside of your heated greenhouse and you will find they will create a micro-climate that is warmer than the greenhouse itself. Use a thermometer to monitor the temperature inside so you do not overheat the seeds or seedlings. The plastic covering will also cause moister to build up, so unzipping the plastic front from time to time to vent it may be necessary.

 

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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.

For those of you seeking information on planting bulbs, corms and tubers, there are quite a few that you can plant in a heated greenhouse this month. Remember the earlier you plant them, the earlier they will flower. This is especially important if you sell your flowers. Iris, anemone, Triteleria and crocosmia are good choices for the cut flower market.  Choose a variety of colors and remember to alternate your planting dates so they aren’t all in bloom at the same time.

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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.

The ideal time to sow seeds of the Black Spanish Winter Radish is August or September. These radish do get larger than the typical round radishes you see in the stores. In fact, they are close to the size of a small turnip when they are ready to harvest. I find one radish is more than enough to use in an entire salad – and when I eat them sliced, the radish often lasts three to four days.

Adding a dash of salt seems to lessen the spiciness of this particular radish – but let me tell you, if you grow it during the summer, the radish is downright hot. So hot, in fact, I refuse to grow this variety during the summer months. Another thing I have noticed about this variety is – just like other radish – they do self-seed. If you’ve grown them and had them go to seed, head out to your garden this winter and look around to see if some are coming up on their own.

Once you acquire seeds of this particular variety, it is a good idea to save some seeds from the plants you grew. This is not the easiest radish seed to find. Saving radish seed is very easy – but you must be aware if you let more than one variety go to seed at the same time you do risk cross-pollination.

These are fresh radish pods – and they are edible. Harvest them at this stage for salads or stir-frys. Allow them to remain on the plant and dry to produce seeds.

To save radish seed simply allow the plant to flower, make sure pollination is occuring (you will know it is if you see bees visiting the flowers), allow the flowers to remain on the plant once they have faded and soon you will see long pods forming where the flowers once were. Inside of these pods, seeds are forming. Allow them to remain on the plant until they begin to turn brown.

Cut off the toe of the pantyhose, place it over the forming seed pod and secure it around the stem taking care not to damage any part of the plant. This keeps seeds from falling onto the ground in the event the seed pod bursts open before you have a chance to harvest the seeds.

At this point, cover the seed pods with pantyhose and secure the pantyhose at the bottom with a twist-tie – just be gentle and make sure you do not pinch the plant stem in the process.

Once the seeds – and stems – are completely brown, cut the stem below the pantyhose, turn the entire bunch upside down and shake gently. Many of the seed pods may have popped open already and this will help shake those seeds down into the pantyhose and away from the twist-tie. Now you can untie the pantyhose and gently remove the stems and pods.

Although these are pea seeds, I wanted to show you how I lay seeds out to dry on a styrofoam plate. Be sure to turn the seeds several times a day while they are drying so moisture does not build up underneath them. The label you see has yet to be attached to the plate – and often I attach it with tape so I can use the actual sticky label on the container I store the seeds in.

Place the dried plant material on a paper plate or screen and break open the seed pods that are still closed. Once you have gathered all the seeds, lay them out on a paper plate or screen to dry for about a week. Be sure to label them so you don’t forget what they are. Once they are dry, put them into a container that already has a thin layer of dichotomous earth in the bottom of it (DE is a pest preventative) , place a label in or on the container and seal it. Store the container in a cool, dark, dry place.

That’s all there is to saving radish seed. Remember that seed saved from your own garden is adapted to your local growing environment and thus is better able to withstand the growing conditions in your area and local pests.

If you want to know more, be sure to pick up a copy of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Seed Saving and Starting – and don’t forget you can download a free sample chapter for your Kindle device.

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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.

 

Hellebores are a reliable winter bloomer. This particular one began blooming in November 2011 and is still producing new flowers in February 2012.

Another variety of Helleborus getting ready to bloom along with the white crocus.

Even the daffodils are showing their buds earlier than usual this year.

What’s happening in your garden this February? Are there flowers blooming? Are you starting your vegetable garden earlier than usual? Do feel free to share your thoughts below in the comments section! I would love to hear from you!

 

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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.

Tomatoes growing inside a cold frame in my Indiana garden on November 5, 2011.

 

A number of warm-weather crops, such as tomatoes can be kept alive for several more months by erecting a cold frame over the top of them before the temperature falls below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Any stems, leaves or fruit that touch the plastic or row cover will sustain damage, so be aware of this. This is why tunnel houses often work best for taller crops.

Cabbage growing in a cold frame in my Indiana garden on November 5, 2011.

 

Cabbage – as well as most other cool-weather crops such as spinach, turnips, radish and carrots  do fine under cover throughout the winter. The cabbage above was planted last spring. The area where it was grown received shade all summer long. Now that the leaves have fallen, it is in full sun. The plan is to leave it in the ground until I am ready to use it to make saukerkraut or coleslaw. In fact, I have an entire bed of cabbage planted in this particular cold frame.

Here are a few other plants that take a light frost and bounce back for more. Mix and match these – and just think how much longer they would last if given some frost protection.

Swiss chard still going strong after several frosts, including a killing frost.

 

Japanese red mustard doesn't mind snow, or frost - and grows all winter long in the open garden without protection.

 

Peas can handle some frost, but providing frost protection keeps them alive longer.

 

Snapdragons also tolerate frost, but growing them under cover results in taller plants that bloom much longer.

 

Extending the growing season is all about learning which plants tolerate frost and which ones need frost protection. Just like any aspect of gardening, it is trial and error. Keep notes. Learn what you did right and what you did wrong. In no time at all, you too can be gardening year-round, even if you live in a cold climate like I do!

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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.

 

 

Here are a few crops that are ideal for winter planting – and best of all, if you let them set seed – once your beds are weed free – they will self-sow year-after-year.

potatoes – yes, even in United States Agricultural hardiness zone 5 – plant them from the end of November to the end of December.

lettuce

peas

radish

carrots

kale

collards

broccoli

parsnips

tomatoes

turnips

mustard

radish pods

winter squash

amaranth

rutabaga

tomatillo

arugula

beets

orach

sunflowers

bachelor buttons

celosia

cosmos

calendula

cleome

poppies

nasturtiums

four o’clocks

sweet alyssum

viola

chamomile

fennel

dill

cilantro

cutting celery

parsley

 

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.

Be sure to wait until the ground is completely frozen – which is usually after December 21. Otherwise the seeds may germinate too soon. If you live in an area with lots of bird or wildlife activity it may be necessary to cover the seeds with row cover or a cold frame to prevent them from becoming a food source for hungry critters.

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winter garden vegetables

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 and eat fresh produce year-round.

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. 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 plastic were fine – including the tomatoes.

 

 

As you can see, these tomato plants – and their fruit – survived just fine. In fact, I was able to harvest a basket full of tomatoes today – and they were firm.

In addition to the tomatoes, I also harvested radish. There were young carrots and lettuce in the garden that were close to being ready to harvest. The kale was doing fine, as were some cabbages, radish pods and Japanese red mustard that was growing under cover.

So you see, growing vegetables year-round is not rocket science. In fact, anyone – even you – can do this. All it takes is a simple cold frame and selecting the right vegetables. While it is true that the tomatoes won’t make it until spring, they will survive several more months and the crops, which are all cool season crops, won’t have any problems at all making it through the winter, even here in United States Department of Agricultural hardiness zones 5/6.

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Purple carrots

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.

Frost cover and tunnel houses help extend the growing season.

Once your seeds are planted and frost threatens, cover your plants with a cold frame, which is nothing more than a box with a clear lid. If your garden is rather large, a tunnel house – or unheated greenhouse – is a better solution. Remember, it doesn’t have to be fancy. In fact, you can make it yourself. The most important thing is that it protects the plants from frost and helps hold heat in while still allowing the plants to receive plenty of natural light.

Kale

There are some vegetables that don’t need protection to thrive during the winter months. Kale (see photo above), Brussels sprouts and Jerusalem Artichokes are examples of these types of vegetables. In fact, they taste sweeter after several frosts have kissed them.

Another advantage to growing vegetables during the winter is you can save a ton of money on your grocery bill without giving up fresh produce. If you didn’t get your seeds planted yet and there is no place for you to buy transplants of cool weather vegetables, don’t despair. There is still time to plant. The difference is the cooler the temperatures are when you plant, the longer the seeds take to germinate and grow into mature plants.

Young self-seeded lettuce plants.

Sprinkle lettuce or salad mix seed on top of the ground every two weeks all winter long. Water it in well as long as the temperatures are above freezing or broadcast the seed when there is a light rain or snowfall happening to help the seed make good contact with the ground. Lettuce is a self-seeding crop, so what does not germinate and grow now will come up in the spring.

Watermelon radish

Radish also self-seeds, so once it goes to seed in your garden, you won’t have a shortage. The seed pods are edible as long as they are plump and green. The variety grown specifically for the seed pods is called “rat’s tail.” The seed pods are wonderful in salads and work well in stir-fry. They are good to eat fresh too. They do taste like radish. The radish in the picture above is “watermelon.”

Other good winter vegetables include spinach, cabbage, edible-podded peas, arugula, cauliflower and broccoli. Think about the kinds of vegetables you grow in early spring and try them on the other side of the calendar. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

For more information on gardening year-round, be sure to check out The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Year-Round Gardening – best of all, you can check out a sample chapter on the Kindle for free!

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