Spring produce is poking up at Halcyon Acres

Those hearty cold weather delights are popping their heads up despite the frigid temperatures and repeated snow storms. I was most delighted, and a bit shocked, to see the tender purple asparagus shoots peaking through. Since I don’t recall a single day in the last three weeks hitting 50, this was unexpected from this plant usually triggered by soil temperature.

Peas were a close second in bringing a broad smile to my face. As I walked around each bed this weekend to detect the slightest sign of growth (does anyone else do this more than once a day in early spring?), I found some welcome surprises.

Purple Asparagus baby shoots at Halcyon Acres
Purple asparagus getting stubborn about waiting for warmer. Me too!

Among those hearty seeds or bare root plantings that decided to become leaves braving the chill were strawberries, rhubarb, asparagus, turnips, garlic (of course), romaine lettuce and carrots. Still waiting on broccoli, spinach and a few others planted on that 65 degree day in February I thought was the mark of an early spring, but I’m quite pleased I won’t miss the season this year for some of my heat-recoiling favorite treats.

Fresh pea seed starts
Fresh peas, anyone? Won’t be losing that one to heat this year. I like to play with my food, so this is a favorite spring snack treat for me.
Elephant Garlic at Halcyon Acres
Elephant Garlic rounds out the mix this year as a new selection with six other types of hardneck and softneck varieties from prior years staying steady.
Artichoke seedlings
This is a new try this year – artichokes. No idea if these promoted perennials will produce even once, let alone in years to come, but figured I’d give it a shot now that I’m far enough south to consider such a thing.

nlevin

Growing chemical-free produce can be a spiritual experience. Join me as I discover and share the secrets to making it work on a tiny plot of suburban land in Roanoke as I try to adapt what I learned during 20 years on over 100 acres rural in New York.

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Too anxious for spring vegetables

This isn’t a new thing. I tend to anticipate spring too early when I’ve had enough of cold temperatures and the weather teases sunny, warm days. About three weeks ago, I packed most of my winter clothes in the attic and set out to the garden to get cool loving crops planted outside. We hit a record high of 84 degrees and I figured if I didn’t act quick I’d lose the joy of harvesting cool-loving vegetables (again). Big mistake.

My first year in Roanoke (2016), I lost most of my favorite crops to bolt after planting from seed into the ground too late. Same thing happened in 2017. Fool me twice – OK, maybe it’s once but I’m a slow learner.

While it’s a seemingly slower pace in Roanoke, Virginia than my Rochester, New York most recent roots, it’s not when it comes to the “don’t blink” spring that happens in what I now recognize is “the south”.

I miss the New York weather that sustains lettuces, broccoli, peas and other staples long past early June and again into the fall. In fact, I’d plant leaf lettuce every three weeks all summer long for delicious continuous greens. I didn’t realize Roanoke can go from 40s to 80s overnight and once that heat hits, those crops that thrive in Finger Lakes climates are gone to bitter bolting because those cooler nights don’t come.

Roanoke outdoor vegetable plantings so far

This year, I was determined to ensure I didn’t miss that short window between freezing temperatures and stifling heat. Looks like the freezing temperatures are back for a few more weeks. Yesterday showed the first signs of peas emerging, so I’m thinking those spring crops will survive, but it will be a while before they thrive.

Outside seed starts so far include a wide range of carrots, romaine lettuce, several varieties of peas, broccoli, spinach, turnips and red cabbage. I’m also trying anew a strawberry crop this year (the deer have been devastating in the prior two years) with 25 plants put in last week plus five more purple asparagus root plantings.

I assembled, then tore down, an outdoor walk-in greenhouse once the 60 mph winds forecast hit. All my container seed starts are now living indoors for the next couple of weeks anyway, with grow lights in small greenhouses and the warmth of electric heat.

Indoor seed starts

Trying different types of lights on each shelf to see what works best for container seed starts.

I’m trying some new things with the seed starts. This includes artichokes (a total experiment likely to fail – the seeds were cheap enough to give it a go) and sunflowers (the deer have annihilated direct to ground starts in prior years) with hopes more mature transplants will survive in the field of tall yellow sunbursts I’ve always dreamed of. Of course, that would have been a lot more doable when I had 117 acres than this tiny lot, but won’t it be amazing if I can make it work here?

I’m giving my last go to some standards – curious and unusual heirloom tomato and pepper varieties, leeks and cauliflower.

What grew well in my little town of Potter, New York, doesn’t tend to thrive here. The soil is great (a lucky find in this town, I realize) and the sun exposure is decent enough even though I’m in a valley of mountains, but I’m still learning about the seasons and the critters that delight in taking my harvest before it’s done producing.

New and old this year for chemical-free produce offerings

This year, I’m focused on doing more of what’s worked in the past with hard-to-find crops that have thrived here.

This includes a lot of root harvests that survive the critters, the weather and the occasional neglect. Garlic is a big one with more than six pounds planted of half a dozen varieties. Carrots, turnips, beets and curious potatoes are back.

Asparagus will be a staple for many years to come. I’ve planted both purple and green but am focusing on the former for the future. It’s thriving here and last years’ harvest was delicious on a crop that usually takes three years to mature.

This is the last year I’ll try strawberries. I’ve moved the beds and plan on deterring the deer with Irish Spring soap (the best repellant I’ve found among many tried) and bird netting. If the deer win this year, I’m crying uncle on that crop.

Spaghetti squash has been a big hit and productive crop, so I’ll continue with this one. Summer squash and zucchini are out. I’ll try acorn squash for one last time this year. Fails in past years here have left me frustrated.

We’ll be continuing with our fresh herb crops – currently at about a dozen varieties. Sadly, my big rosemary producers died this winter, but I have more than a couple dozen seed starts to repopulate. Might need to keep them indoors for a year or more before they’re strong enough to go into the ground with whatever is killing them off (my guess is it’s the black walnut trees on the property).

Lots of new fun stuff I’m trying too – but will have to wait and see if these crops flourish here.

Stay tuned for updates on what’s working, what’s not and the chemical-free produce available to you in the Roanoke area coming soon from Halcyon Acres.

nlevin

Growing chemical-free produce can be a spiritual experience. Join me as I discover and share the secrets to making it work on a tiny plot of suburban land in Roanoke as I try to adapt what I learned during 20 years on over 100 acres rural in New York.

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