I opened my hoop house doors at noon today and knew immediately I should have done it a bit earlier in the day. It has been a gorgeous late-winter day. There’s still the nip of winter in the air, but the sun has a spring warmth to it. As I pried open the door, a gush of steam greeted me as the warm air in the hoop house collided with the cool outside air. I had to wait a while before I could head in to pick—it was that hot.
The work of winter and spring are colliding just like that warm and cold air. I’m still harvesting nice winter greens to sell, although many of the plants are doing what they need to do to keep their species in existence: The seed stalks are shooting up. Some mustards and arugulas have flowers, and there are some small (and tasty!) seed heads.
My leeks and onions have been in for a while now, and I have some lovely baby green onion tops to add to my favorite dishes. Onions, when growing from seed, need a regular “haircut” to keep their tops at 1 to 2 inches. This directs the plants’ energy back to the roots, helping the onions size up nicely. I’ll direct seed my favorite onion—the fabulous ‘Long Red Florence’—right in the garden as well, so I can harvest early, from transplants, and late, from seed.
I also have some herbs growing along nicely. Oregano, parlsey, thyme, sorrel, plus a few oddities. There’s my cultivated apple seed from Germany and an early-maturing type of cotton that I hope produces the most wonderful fluffy cotton balls ever on my Wellandport plantation. One must try these things. Or at least I must.
I love having one of my grow-light stands in the kitchen, right near the woodstove. Two weeks ago I seeded all my eggplants, early brassicas, and lettuces for transplanting into the garden in April. Amazingly enough, a mere 24 hours later, some of the kale varieties were up. With the woodstove kicking out heat, those little kale seeds decided to pop. Miraculous.
Then there’s my favorite early tomato, ‘Stupice’. I have a 4-inch pot that must have 200 or so little baby ‘Stupice’ sprouts in it. These will be my June tomatoes, I hope. I’ll get them planted in my hoop house in April. Then, with a bit of luck and some row cover fabric thrown over them for extra protection, I should have ripe tomatoes 55 or so days later. Those first tomatoes are always the best!
As for the peppers, hot and sweet, they will all go in tomorrow. I’ll soak the super-hots, like ‘Scorpion’ and ‘Carolina Reaper’, for a better germination rate. I wish I’d planted them a little bit earlier, but I’ll get that fire rolling in the kitchen and hopefully they’ll jump up quickly. I just hope the weather stays cool so I need and want the fire. If you come to visit and I’m wearing my bathing suit, you’ll know why—I’m just trying to get those hot peppers going!
It’s so wonderful to see all these things sprouting and growing. Great also to feel the warmth of the sun and to dream about what this year’s garden can do. I never get tired of it because it is different every year. My gardens…my blank canvases await! —Linda Crago, Wellandport, Ontario
It has been pretty cold here. My two cold hoop houses are in full production for winter now, with arugula and all varieties of mustard, chard, and kale. My chicken and ducks are sharing one hoop house with the greens—blocked off, of course, from the greens, or the greens would be no more.
I’ve got a gardening group going up here too, kind of like yours, Bill. It is a very committed but small group. We share ideas, problems, and seeds, of course.
I’m also in the middle of planning a pretty big event called “Seedy Saturday.” These events are held all across Canada. It is basically a time of learning and a sharing of open-pollinated seeds. Last year we had about 500 folks attend. If it gets any bigger this year, I’ll be seeking a new venue.
I’m still doing some CSA baskets. I had lots of storable root veggies this year, squash, and cabbage, and with the hoop house greens, the baskets are pretty darn good! —Linda Crago, Wellandsport, Ontario
Leslie, your seedlings look so neat and organized! Maybe mine will be a little more orderly next year, too. I’ve purchased a hoop bender from Johnny’s. This is the big one, designed to bend the tubing from cyclone fence. Two 10-foot pieces bend together to make a 12-foot-wide arch covered with 20-foot-wide plastic. Hopefully we’ll get it up fairly early in January. I’m going to start with 20 feet long. This will give me about three times the floor space of the ramshackle hoop house I’ve been using for years and probably five times the usable space. I’ll let you know how it goes.
With inspiration from the Test Gardeners who are educators, I’ve begun an education project myself. An old friend and I have started a loosely organized group of interested backyard gardeners. Some are customers of my CSA farm, plus some others. Few have much gardening experience, but a lot of interest. We’ve met twice so far, about 8 people each time but probably 12 different folks altogether.
First meeting was at my friend Brent’s back yard where he does veggies in a few nooks around a nicely landscaped yard with swimming pool. Second one was a walkabout at my 2-acre garden. So we’ve shown them large and tiny so far and talked about what we call “cool-weather veggies” here. Next month we’ll see if any of them have actually started their winter gardens. Actually, I think it’s cool that we’ve begun in winter. There are plenty of tomato/cucumber/zucchini growers here, but not many folks do the winter garden.
Just where this will lead I don’t know, but I think we’re providing people some help and encouragement. —Bill Nunes, Gustine, California