Cold-Hardy Vegetables Can Take A Chill

I’m so excited for spring, it’s ridiculous. This morning for the first time in months, I see patches of grass finally poking through the snow cover on our front lawn. Our garden started the week buried under 3 feet of snow or more and inches of ice had to be chipped away to free one of the two ways into the garden. But once I was in, I made quick work to free to the other entrance and let the dogs come into the garden for the first time in four months. I then turned my attention to the raised beds and carefully removed the snow from the top of the cold frames, then shoveled as much snow off the raised beds as best I could, only to be thwarted by 2 inches of ice under all the snow.

The temps slowly rose throughout the week, allowing us to see 40°s more often than 20°s and teens now. The last snow fall delivered 8 inches only 8 days ago and a quick look at my notes from last spring show it snowed as late as mid-April 34 inches with an ice crust. Spring in New England, particularly central New Hampshire at 1460ft can take on its on ecosystem which after 3 winter and 2 growing seasons I am just starting to learn. It may snow up here in the next month, but after 130 inches (the amount we have received since October 2018, we can handle a few more stragglers.

our garden as of March 30, 2019

Plants can be greatly affected by the weather, particularly spring’s harsh late frosts and wide temperature swings from the lingering cold nights to a late day warm up.  It’s not unusual to start a morning in the low 40°s and end up in the low 70°s which is why it helps to know which plants thrive in this weather.  There are plenty of vegetables which can be planted in the early part of spring – even as early as mid-March depending upon what zone you live in. When I lived in zone 6b in Connecticut, I was able to usually start my cold crops around St. Patrick’s Day; however up here in zone 5a-b (our property seems to be in both zones and I’m not exactly sure where the garden is) I am discovering that the garden is on a new timetable.

Peas, carrots and lettuce are always my first seeds that I directly sow into the garden. They are simple and easy to grow – at least the peas and lettuce. Carrots can be tricky for some depending on the soil and whether your using a raised bed or in-ground. I have had fantastic success ever since I coupled them with marigolds. Marigolds are a fantastic companion plant, working on a soil level emitting an enzyme which deters root eating nematodes, as well as above the surface in attracting pollinators to the garden. Marigolds can be planted in late spring so if you are looking to add some flowers for instant color in your garden – look to pansies. Don’t be fouled by the name – pansies can take a frost. Snapdragons are also a great early bloom which doesn’t mind the cold mornings.

Here’s a list of cold-hardy crops which are great starters for your spring garden and the temperatures needed for their seed germination. The cold-hardy plants work best in the spring and the fall. Happy spring gardening!

Cold Hardy Veggies Soil Temp°
required for germination
Beets 50°-70°
Broccoli 55°-75°
Brussels sprouts 55°-75°
Cabbage 55°-75°
Cauliflower 55°-75°
Carrots 45°-85°
Chinese cabbage 45°-75°
Fava beans 45°-65°
Kale 55°-75°
Kohlrabi 55°-75°
Leeks 50°-85°
Lettuce 40°-80°
Mustards 40°-75°
Onions 50°-75°
Parsnips 55°-75°
Peas 45°-75°
Parsley 50°-75°
Radishes 45°-80°
Rutabaga 55°-75°
Spinach 45°-75°
Swiss chard 50°-75°
Turnip 55°-75°

Speaking about Organic Gardening

It’s been a whirlwind of new year for us at Homegrown Harvest. You wouldn’t think the dead of winter would be a busy time of year for a couple of gardeners, but it has been.

We’ve been putting together a new lecture series on organic gardening. A few months ago, I was asked by a friend to come speak at her volunteer organizations’ opening meeting.  I’d never been asked to speak – although Mark and I had talked about the idea earlier in our IMG_1039organizational days of beginning Homegrown Harvest- so I agreed.  I decided to do a talk on the whys and hows of healthy eating – why you should grow food and not lawns.  It was going to be the first time I was ever in front of an audience of people who wouldn’t fail the class for being absent. I had never ever given given a talk or lead a discussion like this before. High school, in front of a few Trinity classmates perhaps was the last time I did anything remotely close to this. In college at BU,  I made sure to stay away from speaking opportunities, the exception being in my photography class where they made you get up and present your photo before a firing squad as your “peers”.  Okay perhaps they didn’t riddle my work with bullet holes but each comment felt like a slap in the face of humiliation at at the time.

My years working for my brother in the hedge fund industry taught me how to put together presentations, so sitting down and writing out the discussions has proven to be a cathartic activity for me, reinforcing my beliefs in organic land care management.   It was a moment of clarity brought on my Dennis Hopper and an Ameritrade ad that helped me diverge from following my brother’s path any further and create my own.  My work on the Hows and Why of Healthy Eating turned into 52 slides filled with vegetable facts, flowers and photography with given some animation. Hours and days of numerous edits , dry runs with more edits and more dry runs in my living room with my laptop, projector, screen and audience of five four footed friends of mine.

Finally, the day arrived. with about 40 women attended the September meeting of the National Charity League that morning and my despite the fact it was to be my virgin takeoff into the world of public speaking – I was relatively calm and not afraid to stand up in front of a bunch of strangers.  Instead I found myself to be excited by the possible opportunity public speaking could lead to for Homegrown Harvest.  Afterwards many people came up to me to tell me how much they learned and enjoyed my talk. One used the word ‘inspired’ to describe how they felt afterwards – the best compliment I could ever hope to ever receive and it has given me more confidence to go forward.

I decided shortly after that lecture that perhaps I would approach the New Canaan Library with the idea for a Spring Garden Series.  They recently started up a seed bank so I though it would be a natural tie in for us as a local vegetable gardening business.  It seemed a much better way for us to get out message out to people that healthy home vegetable gardening doesn’t have to be difficult and the healthy rewards you reap are beyond comparison.

Mark and I consider ourselves to be garden coaches – why not? People have life coaches, sports coaches, spiritual coaches. We don’t just sell you a product and walk away. We help you as much or as little as you want. Many people are too busy to get things up and started or don’t know how or where to begin.  We help teach and guide people in the process – making it easier for them to enjoy all the healthy benefits that go along with growing their own harvests.

Before the end of 2014, I had the privilege again to be asked by another volunteer organization, the New Canaan Beautification League to wanted me to come talk to them at their February meeting. They asked me to do a Garden to Table talk – oh and by the way – we’d like to video tape it if you don’t mind and put in on our public access channel CH79 New Canaan! Videotape? Um? Okay…

What had I agreed to?  I’ve never been videotaped except in home movies and those are not anything to be shared! So now I am going to be on TV? Um, that heightened the nerves a bit. So now I had to come up with a cohesive presentation that made sense talking to fellow gardeners about setting up a vegetable garden and the inspiration it en-vibes on your meals.

At the recommendation of a good friend of mine, I decided to take an online Dale Carnegie class on public speaking.  I’ve been to a number of lectures and presentations in my professional career, where the speaker went off on tangents, jumped around in their thoughts and slides – leaving my confused just wanting to take the handouts to figure everything out for myself later.  I certainly don’t want to be one of those types of speakers.

There is tons of information you hope to share with your audience but its crucial to not give too much which could overload and just confuse matters.  I find when I sit down to start one of these presentations that I want to tell a story. The overall point being that we can all enjoy growing some of our own food and by doing so reap the multiple rewards that vegetable gardening brings to our bodies and our souls.

Our local library loved the idea of doing a spring gardening series and we set up two dates in February and two more in April. March was off limits as the town does a one book, one town sort of things and everything revolves around that in March.  So our first two discussions in February I decided to focus on organic small space gardening dividing the discussions into two; focusing the first on container gardening. February can be a brutal month, and this year has been a doozy! This morning temperature was 14 degrees which has warmed up from the at zero and below zero days we’ve been experiencing here in Connecticut.

IMG_1640The first program 28 registrants signed up for the free lecture – 12 brave soles showed up. The weather had been snowy earlier and bitter cold, proving too challenging even those with cabin fever to start thinking about spring gardening.  Tomorrow we have our second installment in the Spring Series – we have put together a discussion on the organic benefits of building a polyculture garden. A polyculture is an organic method that brings in variety to the garden, breaking up the monoculture, in turn helping to deter disease and bad bug infestation simultaneously adding health, beauty and color to the garden.  The weather is still frigid but clear and bright with a newly developed threat of snow later in the afternoon that hopefully will not keep people from coming out to enjoy learning about the vast benefits of growing your food efficiently and effectively through intensive planting.

The Year End Means a New Beginning

It’s hard to believe that Christmas is less than a week away.  In our area of southwestern Connecticut, the late fall has been filled with a multitude of weather events. A late-season hurricane named Sandy followed by her chilly friend, Athena, became the first winter storm of the season.  I believe Draco is in the mid-west right now.  Yes, folks, the Weather Channel is naming winter storms now, not the National Weather Service who is responsible for naming our hurricanes.  They think it will be easier for people to follow – after all who wouldn’t want to follow a big hulking blizzard named Brutus or a savage nor’easter named Kahn or Triton. 

More recently the weather has been milder than the way we started the month, albeit rainy.  In spite of the tough New England conditions, we still have five containers of a variety of lettuces growing strong and have been providing us with wonderful fresh leaves for our tacos and salads. We’ve covered them at night when I know the temperatures will frost, but one container which has never been covered continues to thrive despite a few overnight frosts. I believe it’s the Tyee spinach which I have in a small container that sits at the bottom of our stairs somewhat protected from the winds.  Tyee is a variety of spinach that has rich, dark green thick leaves.  We also have growing Parris Island Cos which is a romaine lettuce.  It’s crisp, sweet and delicous!  The Red Sails is a buttery lettuce with ruffled burgundy tinged leaves.  It was growing very nicely but the frost got to a few of the plants when we forgot to go out and cover the crops.  The Winter Density is a Buttercos lettuce which combines the characteristics of butterhead and romaine.  We have really enjoyed this lettuce in our tacos! It’s very cold tolerant since as I stated a few times we didn’t cover the crops and it shares a container with the Red Sail and despite the Red Sail looking a little frosty the Winter Density continues to thrive nicely. Lastly of the lettuces we have currently growing on the patio is the Buttercrunch. This Bibb-type lettuce forms a rosette, is bolt resistant and does well under stress.

Winter Density and red sail lettuce
Spinach Tyee

Inside the herbs are cozy and warm – loving when the sun does shine. I brought in the rosemary, mint, spearmint, and two oregano plants.  I brought in a container with the thought of possibly transplanting a plant when I noticed some seedling growth.  We decided to see what was popping up on its own and give it some time to discover who was the volunteer.  “Volunteers” are the seedlings which come up on their own from being dropped by the plant itself or bird etc… We put the grow light on it and last week discovered it appears to be a tomato plant!  Makes sense since we were growing a tomato in it over the summer. 

Hard-sided Cold Frame

The end of this week, Friday December 21st brings us the winter solstice . The winter solstice marks the start in the northern hemisphere for when our days begin to get longer and the nights shorter, as the sun rises farther to the north. Winter doesn’t mean that the growing season has to end though. Homegrown Harvest supplies both soft and hard-sided cold-frames, which are a great way to extend the growing season for many greens like mesclun, spinach, arugula and more. 

http://www.homegrownharvest.com

It’s an exciting time for us at Homegrown Harvest LLC.. Mark and I are just getting the company started up and finally made our first sale this week. Some one lucky is getting a vegetable garden for Christmas! We have been working hard on getting all our marketing materials together for the home shows and farmer’s markets we plan on being at in 2013. We bought a new beautiful red Silverado 2500 that Mark has already dubbed “The Flying Tomato”.  “The Flying Tomato” will be put to work helping us haul our growing medium, flats of plantings and other materials to deliver and set up for our clients.  She made her first delivery today as a matter of fact. The first of hopefully many.