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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Consider including sage as a hearty, tasty and fun perennial in your garden

what does young sage look like?
When I first started vegetable and herb gardening, I struggled to find images to help me identify plants looked like before they were mature or harvested to know what to weed out. We'll try to provide photo journals from seedlings to harvest on this blog in the future. That was the prime reason for setting up the pictures feature (yet to be populated - check back next week).

Sage is a plant and herb that anyone can learn to appreciate. It’s pretty in a landscape with its green/grey leaves and delicate purple flowers it displays during a decent part of the season. It also tastes great, smells wonderful and survives through tough conditions once it’s established.

How can you use sage?

I’ve learned to appreciate sage fresh in recipes not ordinarily associated with this herb – like salads and eggs. It adds a delightful flavor and texture to a raw green and vegetable mix. Experience the delicious zest it adds to omelets or a scrambled concoction (I like to combine it with thyme, mushrooms and little bit of Swiss cheese – talk about a mouthful of tantalizing flavors that combine for an exciting new experience).

Sage provides a festive aroma when dried and burned during the holidays. It’s also been purported for eons as a cleansing agent for groups, spaces (rooms) and people – removing old energy and inviting the new.

Growing sage in your garden

sage is a great herb in Zone 5 for Halcyon Acres
Three feet of snow at Halcyon Acres didn't deter the hearty sage plant from staying fresh.

The great news is, it’s easy to grow. We touched on this in our growing herbs blog post, but I wanted to offer a spotlight for this remarkable herb in a stand-alone post.

While it’s relatively easy to start indoors during cold winter months (we’re in Zone 5 here) for spring planting, the gestation period is fairly long, so don’t get disappointed if you’re not seeing shoots after a week or two or three of watching. At Halcyon Acres®, we’ve had good luck starting seeds indoors in the ‘green houses’ you can buy at farm supply stores (they run about $100, but you can get them on sale for $50) that stand about five feet high with four or five shelves, have a zippered translucent plastic woven cover and measure about three feet wide by two feet deep. We use grow lamps with covers to focus the heat and light close to the soil surface and keep the cover closed for a few weeks (the seedlings seem to like humidity) with no need to water after an initial spritzing.

Once you have a couple of good leaves showing, it’s fine to start acclimating the plants to the outdoors, adding an hour or so each day (unless you have a cold frame set up – they’ll usually survive fine here), provided frost is no longer a concern.

Once you put it in the garden and get the roots established, there’s little that will kill a healthy sage plant. It’s not invasive and occupies a relatively small space even at full maturity. It lives great with crops that shade sunlight from the soil (like strawberries or oregano).

Enjoying the hearty nature and health benefits of sage

Sage is also one of these herbs you can enjoy year-round – even in snow belts. Leaves often stay hearty and fresh under snow cover. They’ll survive a hard frost. Plants thrive relatively early in the spring season.

It’s so much fun to have these plants around as you enjoy the scent wafting around during the summer season, dig through snow to find fresh delights in the winter and enjoy an early harvest in the spring.

Want a perspective from a chef on sage? Check out this post from the Healthy Food and Diet blog for tips on cooking with sage and more.

 

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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