cold frame

Almanac: Artichokes, Compost, and Caterpillars

inside the frame

Time for another brief recap of my activities in the Almanac. Things are starting to green up already!

  • I am growing artichokes this year. The height of ambition and folly, but a fun project. I am growing an improved variety of Imperial Star, which allegedly will grow ‘chokes in the first year. They traditionally need two summers to grow, so what do we do? Fool them. The plan is to grow them for 4 weeks, then plunge them into 40 degree temperatures for ten days. The plants think they have gone through winter and get reprogrammed for their second season artichokes. Counting back on the calendar, that means that I’ve already started my seeds so that they get winterized in time.
  • I got to really get into the cold frame today. The picture above depicts the chicory plants I’m growing. The green dandelion ones are puntarelle. I noticed, alarmingly, that most plants were actually three to five plants growing right on top of each other! I blame my overzealous seed planting in the fall. I dug up the plants and gently separated them out, but we’ll see if I ended up killing them instead. Plants really don’t like getting their root systems messed up. On the other hand, this will give a lot more space for each plant to grow.
  • I moved the compost pile cage so I could start a new pile. I tossed the half-composted stuff in it to give it a good start. Part of the pile includes a couple dozen oyster shells, which I have a feeling I’m gonna be seeing for years. They’ll eventually break down and add calcium to the soil (I hope). The end result of a year of composting? Only this much black gold:
    Compost finish smushed

    Kind of disappointing to have only a cubic foot. My guess it that I probably could have bulked it out a lot more with brown, dry materials. This was mostly kitchen scraps, meaning high-nitrogen compost. At least that’s plant matter that didn’t end up in a landfill.
  • I am trying a new hoop house technique to protect seedlings. I twisted #12ga wire into hoops and I’m using insect-proof garden fabric on top. Often, it’s not the cold that kills seedlings. It’s the wind, the weight of snow, the temperature swings. Covering plants will allow them to live a stress-free life. I am working on how to best secure the fabric with the nylon string you see here.You may be wondering about the “Caterpillars” in the title. These hoops are called chenilles in French; that means “caterpillar,” an analogy to the appearance of those long white tunnels.

    chenille
    It’s going to end up being planted with fava beans and sugar snap peas, most likely.

Alamanac: the week of January 1

Each Friday, I’m aiming to write a smaller post on a variety of things that I’ve thought about over the week. I’m calling it my “Almanac,” a fitting reference to both Writer’s Almanac and Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac.

  • The cold frame is protecting the puntarelle, raddichio tardivo di treviso and quarantina broccoli that I’m growing… problem is, I think I planted them all too late and they’ve gone dormant before they could produce tasty winter greens. The puntarelle makes bulbous stems to eat, the raddichio makes ivory-colored leaf stems and the broccoli… you know what that is. Luckily, the first two plants are members of the chicory family, which means they’re perennial. They’ll still be alive in the spring and I’m hoping I’ll get to enjoy them as a very early Spring treat.
  • Read the rest of this post…

Twelve things you can do for your garden this winter.

seed catalogsWinter blankets our gardens, covering our work in frost. The beds are tucked in; garlic and tulip bulbs alike sleep in the soil until spring. A gardener might think they must put their hobby to rest (and might even be grateful to!). When you’re getting restless in the late months, here are twelve great things that you can do to stay busy. The big payoff in gardening is that we get to see our successes; this list has more things with definite results. Keep reading to see what to do… Read the rest of this post…

Picking sunny planting spots

pick a better spot

That’s the cold frame again, pulling itself out of winter. I thought I did a good job of siting it in the yard – I even took a time-lapse video to see where the sun usually is. Alas, I put it about 8 feet east of where it should have been. The result is that it loses out on a lot of early-morning sunlight. You can plainly see this in the photo, too. The bed of garlic right in front of it is getting light, while the shadows on the frame look comically abrupt.Read the rest of this post…

An Introduction to Cold Frames

 

15 degrees out and four inches of snow on the ground!

15 degrees out and four inches of snow on the ground!

It’s the dead of winter, but it’s a sunny day. If you park your car in the sun, it’ll be warm inside – even though it’s freezing outside.

What if you could grow plants in there? They’d have warmth, shelter from snow and wind. They’d keep their moisture and not dry out.

With a cold frame, you can do exactly that. A cold frame is a wooden box that you put on top of soil, about a foot high. It’s got plastic or glass panes on the top to let the light in. Here’s mine in the dead of winter:

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