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.

More Posts

Harvesting produce and herbs in the snow

There are some crops that can last you well into winter. If you plan ahead (or even if you don’t) you can be enjoying fresh herbs and vegetables long past first snow fall.

Last week I was amazed to find parsley in pristine shape under three feet of snow and chives not great, but good enough for a forgotten recipe item.

outdoor vegetable and herb plants you can harvest in the winter
OK - maybe a summer bounty isn't possible in snowy winter months, but there are still a lot of fun crops you can harvest from outdoors in the winter. The kale and leaks in this photo are some.

Simple things, like marking the location of plants, are important prep work for settling into winter with access to your garden goodies. Here are some crops that tend to be winter hearty:

Carrots – there’s nothing like a fresh dug carrot. The taste is so rich and texture different from anything you buy in the supermarket. Untreated are best eaten immediately, so having immediate access to them can make a meal much better. We’ve harvested carrots the entire winter and into the spring in some years. It depends on how quickly the snow falls. If you get a good cover before the ground freezes, the soil often stays soft. Portions of carrots that are in frozen ground are no good – plus very difficult to dig up. It depends on the year.

Turnips – these are more sensitive to freezing but if snow falls early and keeps its cover, they’re good well into winter.

Parsley – this is a biennial that goes to seed the second year producing bitter leaves but good propagation help in year two. I’m finding it stays green and very tasty through winter under heavy snow between the first and second year. This year the ground is frozen deep, and it’s even doing well in those conditions.

Kale – able to withstand very cold temperatures, this one is surprising me with its heartiness this winter. Leaves yellow or wilt if it’s no good, but if it looks like is supposed to, it’s fine to eat well into cold months.

Sage – leaves stay green and healthy after most other plants have suffered from frostbite. Even dried on the vine, they’re great to cook with.

Chives – if you have a thick patch, you’ll be able to find green and firm stems in the mass. You’ll have to read through some dead stuff, but it’s better than buying high-priced and treated herb packets.

Brussel Sprouts – these plants will withstand a heavy frost, and can even stay tasty under heavy snow if they’re mature enough. These plants grow tall so you might even be able to see them after a heavy accumulation. Sometimes you need to peel off the outer leaves, but they seldom freeze all the way through.

Herbs – parsley, thyme, sage and sometimes chives tend to stay hearty well into the winter months. Sage may dry and turn a bit brown, but the leaves stay on the plant and are still tasty. Chives requires a fairly dense set of plants and you’ll have to spend some time culling out the green from the dead, but if they’re bushing enough, you’ll find green gems in the mix through much of the winter. The rest remain green, at least on this Zone 5 plot.

There’s nothing like going out into your garden during the dead of winter and discovering an edible delight. With a little bit of planning, you can still be harvesting while others are settling for old supermarket fare.

If you have enjoyed this post, please take a moment to share with quick, easy to use and clickable icons on the left of this page. Thanks!

 

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.

More Posts