Sunday, March 26, 2017

Winter Garden, Evaluation (2016-2017)

I declare winter over.  Done.  Finished.  Now that I have established it is spring, I will share the successes and failures of my 2016-2017 winter garden.

The biggest success was using a BIG, STRONG, HANDSOME SON to do all the work getting the garden ready. Thank you, Reese.  However, he has moved away from home so now I will need to adjust my future garden plans.

Reese removing the hoop house covering from the plastic bag.
Another big success was the covering I placed over the hoop houses. In an earlier post December's Garden (2016), A Giant Cover Up I wrote about getting the garden ready for winter and gave the information where I purchased all the supplies.

The one-ounce weight Dewitt brand covering worked perfectly.  It was thinner than the covering I used in the winter garden of 2015-2016.  My concern was that it would be too lightweight.  The plants would freeze under the covering and then thaw when the sun rose.   One ounce seemed able to protect but was still thin enough to let the sunshine through.

It held up well under the weight of the snow which was never more than about 4 inches at one time.  However, it did freeze to the ground and would rip apart when the sides were lifted.  After we realized it would rip, we learned to open it carefully.  Moving slowly is hard to do when it is freezing, windy and snowing.  The tears are along the edges and not bad enough to keep us from reusing it for at least a few more years.

Putting the vegetable rows close together was a mistake.  At planting time, the rows looked far apart especially when everything was small sprouts.  However, the hoop houses ended up being too close together to easily harvest from both sides.  

January's Garden

February's Garden
Using fencing wire worked perfectly.  My hands did not have enough strength to cut it apart; it required a man's hands to work the cutters.  After we were almost finished, Reese realized (when he noticed the blisters) it would have been easier to have used an electric saw.  

Placing the wire about 2 1/2 feet apart and connecting them with string worked perfectly.  Together it helped support the tunnels when the storm winds blew.

Using the wire landscaping staples was an EPIC failure.  They held the cover down while the ground was dry, but, after a soaking rain, they would fly out with the first strong gust of wind.  We then had to rescue the cover from the other side of the yard.  

Epic Fail
We solved the problem by gathering up rocks, blocks, fence posts, anything with enough weight to hold the sides down.  Removing the blocks to lift the cover was not easy but I learned to just roll them off the edge. Longer staples might work better...maybe?  I need to solve this problem before next winter and welcome any ideas about what to do.

Big Epic Fail
Painting the staples was a success and a failure. They were easy to spot in the dirt because of the bright color. However, the orange paint chipped off into small pieces and disappeared into the dirt. There are not enough chips to ruin my garden, but I don't like anything toxic in my soil. Everything either breaks down or leaches chemicals into the soil eventually.

The biggest problem was the DRAMATIC attack of the armadillos shared here Something Pretty, Something Putrid and Something Pretty Putrid.  The drama continued when Mrs. Monster Returned.   Then finally, Santa Brought Me an Armadillo and ended the war.

Due to the armadillo damage followed by rabbits and squirrels later, I lost all of the following vegetables:

Swiss Chard
Sugar Beets
Snow Peas
Brussel Sprouts

I lost most of the following vegetables:

Collard Greens
Chinese vegetables

I lost some of the Australian Winter Peas.

I was left with:

A few Chinese vegetables and winter radishes but they can't survive deep into the winter.
Mustard greens and turnip greens which only Bill likes
Australian Winter Peas 
Onion Tops
Enough spinach and lettuce to make salads
And PLENTY of cabbages

We did not starve but our garden vegetable choices were severely limited.  I handled this by trying different recipes and buying vegetables from the grocery store when we needed a variety.

What one thing would I do differently if I could go back in time? 

Easy.  I would have put the covers up two months earlier and used them to protect the winter vegetables from the armadillos and rabbits.  That would have saved the 40% of the garden they destroyed.

Was it worth the money spent on supplies?  Absolutely. 
  • I spent $50 for the wire to hold the hoop houses up.  It is still in perfect shape and will last many years.  If the winter garden is bigger next year, I may need to purchase more.  
  • The cover cost $45 plus $20 for shipping.  We used very little and will be able to reuse it again and again.
  • The landscaping pins cost about $12 and that was a waste of money.  They have been trashed.
  • Most of my seeds were saved from last year but I used so many repeatedly planting, I will now need to purchase more
Did I save enough on vegetables to cover the cost of everything? 

No.  If I had been able to harvest Brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, carrots and kale, the savings would have paid for everything.  However, I consider the cost of the hoop houses an investment in a garden tool.

What will I do different this coming year?  
  • Every plant in the next winter garden will be under a hoop house.  Everything.  Period.  No exceptions.  It is too much work plowing, planting, weeding, and watering to then see everything destroyed by pests.
  • The hoop houses will be further apart so I can harvest from both sides.
  • I need to solve the problem of weighing the sides down.  The landscaping pins did not work.  Rolling the blocks away did work but I need to find an easier solution.
  • Bill will be using a different gun.  He is switching from a .22 long rifle to a .223 caliber with a 1 by 4 1/2 power scope with a laser and flashlight mounted on the rifle.  Meaning (for novices like me), he has mounted a laser and powerful flashlight on the gun barrel.  I no longer need to hold the flashlight beside him while we dance across the back deck all night long in search of destructive critters.  Gun safety is something we take seriously. The armadillos are still around our neighborhood.  We see their destruction when we take our afternoon walks.  They will return; but, this time, we will be ready.
  • I plan on using the hoop houses this spring and maybe summer to see how they work deterring bugs.
  • No cabbages will be planted in the spring garden.  I have had enough.
Overall, I consider the winter garden this past year (2016-2017) to have been a smashing success.  It was definitely worth the effort.  Even though there were huge problems with pests, the number of fresh winter greens harvested more than offset the loses.  If anyone might be considering growing a winter garden, I encourage you to read my past posts and plant something, anything.  I made ALL of the mistakes so hopefully, you won't.

I do plan on a winter garden again this fall.  It will be easier since I have the supplies and the fencing wire is already cut.  If anyone has any ideas or suggestions, I welcome help about anything I can do differently this coming year.  Fall really isn't that far away.

December's Garden, A Giant Cover Up (2016)

Winter Garden, Cover Up (2015 - 2016)

Winter Garden, Sunlight Hours (2016)

Reese Moved Away from Home

Something Pretty, Something Putrid and Something Pretty Putrid (2016)

Mrs. Monster has Returned (2016)

Santa Brought Me an Armadillo (2016)


  1. Very impressive, Jeannie! Most hobby gardeners all over the world are
    learning by doing and good AND bad experiences are the best teacher.
    We say " Next season I will be smarter. "
    I also use covers (agrotextiles) during many months and in winter when I still have some vegetables like kale, endives, lamb´s lettuce
    and similar. In summer it protects against too much sun and also keeps away potato beetles, white cabbage butterfly (who wants cauliflower with ugly caterpillars !),carrot flies, onion flies and also blackbirds that damage tender lettuce seedlings or pick up seeds like peas. Seeds do not get dry, you can give less water and the soil stays crumbly. I fix the covers with bricks and also iron bars. On raised garden beds it is even easier to do.
    Usually we do not have so very strong winds.

    1. I had not thought about the ground staying moist due to the covers. I wondered if there would be enough light to grow vegetables, but if you can grow cauliflower, it must be enough. I HATE the horrible caterpillars. As soon as the garden dries out, I am going out there.

  2. I love it! You had so much success and learned a lot even with the failures. I'm sure your husband was not sad to get a new gun! What is is with guys and guns? :) Hopefully, you will win the pest war this year much easier.

    1. Becky, he can buy all the guns he wants as long as he is guarding my vegetables!
      You have also had success this past winter! I look forward to watching your spring garden grow.