Saturday, December 30, 2017

December's Garden (2017)

Winter is here.  The temperature has been down in the teens and the weather report predicts it will not improve.  Tonight's low will be 11 degrees and tomorrow night will be 5.  We tried to get as many outside chores finished before the bad weather arrived.  One big chore was burning the fence row.  This is necessary to keep trees from growing up and destroying the fence.  Bill mowed the grass in the field to create a fire break so it would not accidentally get out of control.  He saved the grass and we were able to put it in the garden on the paths to keep us from sinking in the mud.

However, bad weather arrived sooner than expected and he did not get finished.

We also managed to get the hoop houses up.  Last year I went into detail as to how we set them up and this year I will only share what we have done differently.  Even though the string worked great between the wire hoops, this year we decided to put them about 2 feet apart which is closer.  Last year's landscaping staples were a failure.  They were just too short and when the wind blew hard, the fabric would jerk them out.  Painting them orange helped us find them in the dirt but the paint chipped off into the soil.  This year I purchased 50 12-inch staples for $15 from Amazon (a good deal) and then spray painted them with a very thin coat of yellow paint.  So far they are working perfectly; the only drawback is I have trouble pulling them up so we are only pining one side down.

Orange staples are last year's and yellow are this year.
The opposite side will be the side we open.  It will be held closed by rolling the extra fabric around conduit pipes.  The pipes are much lighter and easier to handle than the rocks and bricks we used last year.  It is only necessary to open one side because it is easy to reach across when harvesting.

Conduit metal poles rolled up in the fabric to hold it down.
These three hoop houses are in the area closest to the woods.  Some of the plants have been growing since spring, others were planted later.  Each one has an assortment of different vegetables.  As something was harvested, something else was planted in the empty space.

Hoop house on the left side in the picture above. The Swiss Chard is wilting because it has not recovered yet from last night's freeze.  It will be fine.

Center house.

Hoop house on the right side.  When I uploaded the pictures I discovered the stool I had lost.  We were working in freezing cold weather and were hurrying.
This bed is planted with everything that can't survive deep into winter so it has been harvested first.  It is located in the same spot as last year's hoop house.  Next year it will be rotated to another area.

This is the hoop house which is on the east (yard) side of the shed.  All of these seeds were ones I have saved.  Since it only gets sun half of the day, I was not sure if it would do well. It is difficult to get flowers to grow in this spot because it is in deep shade when the leaves are on the trees in the summer.  Being beside the shed seems to have protected the vegetables from harsh winds.

These two hoop houses cover the collard greens.   

This is how they looked with the covers off.  Some of them are struggling.

These are looking great and were harvested for dinner.  All of them should look this good, but they don't.

Some of the smaller plants are suffering; they are rotting in the middle of the stems.  A few are sprouting leaves again above the root.  The older plants with thicker stalks are doing fine, it is the smaller ones that have the problem.  I should not have planted collards in the same area two years in a row.  It was a chance I took since the seeds they dropped sprouted and I let them grow.  I think it is some type of virus.  As the dead ones are pulled up, they are thrown into the burn pile.  Last year it was my Florida Broadleaf Mustard Greens that were affected and these Collards are planted very close to that spot. Come spring, this area will be planted with something entirely different.  I must rotate these crops away.

Small unhealthy plant on the left, large healthy one on the right.

Will be cut right above the new sprout.
Tiny new sprout 

There was another problem.  When I removed the cover and began harvesting, I discovered this!  A big, plump, overfed imported cabbage worm!  We have had bitterly cold weather with the temperatures dropping down into the teens at night. This picture was made on December 28th and this horrible thing has survived happily under my hoop house that long. To prove it was alive and not frozen, I poked it with a twig and it moved.  If I had not found it, this monster would have eaten everything.  Just as cockroaches can survive a nuclear bomb, these things will survive everything, except my shoe.  A good tip:  fold the leaf in half before you smash it so the guts won't be glued to the bottom of your shoe. 

The weather is about to drop down to the single digits and some things will not survive temperatures that cold even under the hoop house. This is Tokyo Bekana and the stem already has freeze damage. 

These are some of the just harvested plants.

Tokyo Bekana Cabbage
Green Seoul Cabbage
Pai Tsai Bok Choy
Chirimen Cabbage (?)
Aichi Cabbage

Everything that can't survive the bitter cold has just been harvested.  Most of it was Chinese vegetables.  Winter radishes can't survive either.  All have been harvested except for one I was saving;  however, it had frozen to the ground and was not worth eating. I waited too long.  Just like the summer garden produces different vegetables at different times, so does the winter garden. Now it is time to begin harvesting the hardier vegetables.

Since it was more vegetables than we could use, I left part of the roots intact, placed them in cups of water and put them in the refrigerator.  They will keep for a few days.

Even though I have only been winter gardening a few years, it has been rewarding because a small amount of work will produce a large yield. Unlike working in the miserable heat of the summer, most of the work for a winter garden is done in the fall when the weather is cool. Harvesting continues all winter long. I live in lower middle Tennessee, zone 6b or 7a and my winters can be harsh.  Few people winter garden and I don't understand why.  

To learn how last year's garden succeeded or failed, these are some of last winter's garden posts.

Some of the vegetables I grew last year.  

Because of the (small amount of ) success from the year before, I decided to put up bigger and better hoop houses.  

My garden covered in the snow.

Then how it survived the snow.

An explanation as to how sunlight and cold weather affect the plants.

Garden Update

What worked and what didn't in the winter garden.

How it all got started.

Choosing which plants stay and which ones go in anticipation of winter.

"I heard a rumor my fan club was wondering why I was not out in the freezing cold picking greens from the garden," said Scooter.

Are you looking for me?
"Don't worry.  I'm fine.  I'm keeping Pack Leader's hand warm which is a much higher priority."


  1. That wide variety of winter greens is astonishing! So you are able to serve a varied
    and balanced menu even in winter. Your family will be thankful.
    I must confess that I only know some of these types of vegetables. I guess some are eaten
    raw and some will be cooked.
    Let´s wait how this winter will be.

    1. Christel, I don't think I need to wait any longer to see how this winter will be. I have decided it is VERY COLD!!!!

  2. It's so much fun to see what you grow and how you take care of it! I would never have thought one would need to burn the fence line to get rid of all the weeds, but it makes sense. Here in Toronto we have lots of snow (which I like) and it's quite cold at feels-like -21 degrees Celsius (which I also like. I'm a true Canadian!). So, nothing will grow on my balcony in this weather, and that means blog-surfing to see what everyone else is growing!

    1. As I read your comment, I had to check my local weather report to see how cold it is outside. Then I had to figure out how to change it from Fahrenheit to Celsius! (Math, gosh how I hate it.) So right now it is 16 degrees F and -9 Celsius. Now that is cold but you have us beat Margaret, and I gladly let you win bragging rights!

      The other "easy" way to clean out a fence row is to get goats. They love to eat anything growing up a fence. The next choice is to use a weed-eater to chop everything down, but it won't get the trees which weave back and forth in the fence. The last choice is weed-killer, which we HATE to use.

      Right now I agree with you and choose to blog-surf with my feet propped up and a cup of hot tea.

    2. What teas are your favourite? I have a whole shelf devoted to teas, and just added some camomile today.

    3. Margaret, it would be easier to tell you which teas I don't like (bergamot & lavender). I am a "teaholic". There is not a favorite because it depends on my emotional mood. Last year my New Year's Resolution was to learn to forage for more teas, I discovered some delicious new ones, but did not have time to take pictures for the blog. As soon as the vegetable garden was planted, my time was spent out there. This year I will try again, but won't announce my plan to the world since I probably won't be able to keep it.

      Right now I am drinking an unknown tea. Dustin made himself a cup before he went to bed last night and forgot to return to the kitchen to get it. It was sitting on the counter and I grabbed it, the cup will go into the dishwasher before he gets up. He will never know what happened. If you snooze, you loose.

      Do you have a favorite? Is there a new one out there I have not discovered?

    4. I remember that post! I'm sure you've tried all the teas out there. I'm actually an Early Grey person myself, especially Cream Earl Grey. Do you ever drink flavoured teas? Or are you more of a purist?

    5. I have Earl Grey, Bill loves it too, but Cream Earl Grey is a new one to me. I must search for it when I go to the store.

      I like everything but what I absolutely cannot drink is anything with even the tiniest bit of sugar, honey or molasses. That eliminates many because some add sugar.

      My standards are very low, so low that I even shock my husband. He will not reuse a tea bag or re-perk coffee. He will take his used tea bags and drop them in my pot. Often I have two or three bags and will reuse them quite a few times. Sometimes I want a strong black tea to wake me up in the mornings, other times I want something spicy as an after meal treat, then other times I want something creamy warm right before bedtime.

      There is a wonderful tea shop in Nashville that I love to visit. The last time I went, I spent a lot of money and have not allowed myself to return. The teas were imported straight from the shop owner's family plantation in China. She kept a pot of hot water brewing and would make you a cup of anything you wanted to try. She would also treat anyone who walked in to a tea party. I joined one in progress the first time I happened to visit. It was one of those occasions when owning a credit card was a bad idea. When the truckload of tea I bought that day is finally gone, I will return and take my camera.

      My goal is to have a tea garden, but I don't seem to have time in the summer to harvest the herbs I already have. It isn't hard to do, but it seems there is always so many other things demanding my attention. It is easy to dream of the summer garden while sitting snuggled up on the couch drinking a cup of hot tea and ignoring the cold weather outside. However, when the hot weather returns, it becomes a different story.

      I do prefer the higher quality more expensive kinds, but can be happy with cheap teas also. Truly, I have no standards when it comes to tea.

    6. Tea is awesome! And the tea shop in Nashville sounds fabulous! I have a friend who works at a tea distributor, and often passes tea on to me. I'd be happy to mail you some! I love the Cream Earl Grey so much! I don't know if it's a thing, but that's what the label said! I've also tried Earl Green (not my fave) and I think there was another one in the same line but I've lost track now. I've given tea to all my friends IRL; it's time to branch out to bloggers!

    7. Yes, yes, yes! If there is a new tea out there and I have not tried it, my life is not complete.

    8. Awesome! PM me your mailing address, and I'll send some over! :)

  3. I know what you mean about winter's so hard to get it all done during the summer. You do very well with your winter garden. I have a few things struggling along out there...some chard, kale, and a couple of cabbages I'm not sure are still good. I hope to go out there and check them before long.

    I love getting seed catalogs, and several have arrived. My favorite is Territorial Seeds. They are based here in Oregon, and I've been buying them for years and years. At first, they were especially bred to grow west of the Cascades, so I loved them for that reason--they really grew well here. Now, they are branched out to all parts of the country, I think, but they still grow very well here. Years ago, I visited their test gardens and it's something I'd love to go back and visit again. They are quite expensive, though, so I buy carefully. For instance, I often buy 1 packet of a seed with the intention of having it last over 2 years, and that helps. I have not been able to grow my own starts for a couple of years, due to the move and not having a greenhouse any more, but hopefully this is the year that Rob makes me one of plastic and small boards as he did in the past. If not, I can buy starts, but I sure prefer my own.

    1. Catalogs have been arriving here since around Thanksgiving! Yesterday I began "glancing" at them then yesterday evening I pulled out my boxes of seeds in the basement. It is a big mess - it always is this time of the year. I saved seeds all summer long, then threw the labeled bags in one big box. Now is the time to begin sorting. Until I have organized the box, I do not allow myself to buy more. I also have begun inventorying my pantry. Dustin and Reese have brought some things back home which need to be either eaten or restocked. This is also the time of the year when I check expiration dates and mark them in big letters on the front of the label with a sharpie. It keeps me from missing something.

      I really would rather spend my time looking at the catalogs and dreaming.