Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Winter Garden, Sunlight Hours

Winter gardening seems strange to us because few people do it today. When you can go to the grocery store in January and buy fresh cantaloupes, strawberries, and tomatoes, why bother? Simply put, the food tastes so much better.  It is worth it to me for the wonderful flavor, extra nutrition, larger variety, and money savings.

Successful winter gardening involves planting the right plant, at the right time, in the right place and then harvesting it at peak season.  I can't do that.  Every year it seems the weather is different, my family needs are different, and how much garden work I can handle is different.  What has succeeded one year, has failed the next. I am NOT an expert, just a person who has failed miserably many times over.  What I can do, is share what has worked for me in hopes something might succeed for you.

My garden is located in plant hardiness zone 7a, lower middle Tennessee;  the winters here can be bitter cold, or not. I have discovered many winter hardy plants can survive brutal cold temperatures, blustery winds, and low sunlight; but, not all three at once.

The Problems:
1.  Bitter cold - well, short of building a heated greenhouse, this is not one I can solve.  What I can do is plant hardy varieties that can withstand, and thrive in freezing temperatures.
2.  Blustery winds - The wind is going to blow hard and will probably damage the plants.  Some type of protection can make all the difference in survival.
3.  Low sunlight - knowing the speed plants grow helps you know when to plant so you can plan for the best harvest.

With each type of food plant, there are many varieties and some can withstand colder temperatures better than others.  One way they endure is by changing their starches to sugars which protects the plant from freeze damage. This is good for us because the flavor changes from bitter to sweet.  They freeze during the bitterly cold weather then return to normal when the warming sun arrives. The secret is to choose the best survivors.

These are turnip greens in the early morning after a hard frost.  They look like they are ready to die, but as soon as the sun rises, they will spring back to life.

Turnip greens in the early morning after a hard frost.
This picture was made during the first part of December when they were still getting enough sunlight.  For me, turnip greens will only last through the middle of January.  They are not my favorite food so I am not willing to bother putting them under cover.  I try to pick them before they die.

The same plants in the late afternoon after a day of sunshine.
The most important factor with winter gardening seems to be the amount of sunlight the plants receive. Plants slow down as they get less and less sunlight, then go dormant.  For this reason, it is important to plant more food than you think you could possibly need.  In the summer, the vegetables are maturing rapidly and it is impossible to keep up with even one zucchini plant.  In the winter, it's more like walking outside to pick food out of your refrigerator.  It just sits there.

My sun times are as follows and how it affects my plants.

September 1st, 12 hours 56 minutes
This is the best time to plant seeds and the transplants which were started in the shade in August.  The ground is no longer blistering hot and anything sprouting will rapidly expand.

October 1st, 11 hours 49 minutes
During this month, the plants continue bursting in growth and you will wonder if you have planted too much. Don't worry.  It won't be excessive.

November 1st, 10 hours 41 minutes
Plants begin slowing down in growth as the sunlight lessens.  For me, Thanksgiving is a good time to harvest and cook many of the cool weather plants (then send the leftovers home with the company) before the freezes get them (the plants will freeze, not my guests).

December 1st, 9 hours 54 minutes
Most plants stop growing at less than 10 hours of sunlight.  By this time all growth has slowed and is almost stopped.  I watch the weather report closely.  We might have a warm month, or it could be bitter cold.  This is a month that could go either way so I get the hoop houses up.

December 21st, 9 hours 42 minutes
Winter solstice - shortest, darkest, saddest day of the year.  The only good thing about it is that now you can start looking forward to just a little bit more sunlight each day.

January 1st, 9 hours 45 minutes
Bitter, bitter cold, rains, and snows.  The plants under the hoop houses are just sitting there.  Those outside in the weather are suffering, looking terrible and most will die.

February 1st, 10 hours 25 minutes
Not much difference from January except that by this time so many of the plants have been harvested, the garden looks forlorn.  Toward the end of the month, you can see a little life begin to spring back into some of the plants.

March 1st, 11 hours 25 minutes
Yahoo!  Spring is on the way.  Anything that has survived the winter, will suddenly begin growing so fast you won't believe it.

It's deep in the winter now, but this is the time to dream and plan your spring, summer, fall, and WINTER gardens.  Below I have listed some of my posts that include information about my winter gardens.

First I shared thinning the summer garden in preparation for the winter garden.
Thinning the Winter Garden (2016)

This shows the importance of a cover and how much of a difference it made with my last year's (2015) garden
Winter Garden, Cover Up (2015 -2016)

Next, I shared what I planted in my 2016 garden and a list of some of the plants that can withstand cold weather.
Winter Garden, What is Growing? (2016)

This is how we (ok, Reese really did all the work)  covered up the fall/winter 2016 garden.
December's Garden, A Giant Cover Up (2016)

Each month I also post a running update of my garden's, successes and failures.  Hopefully, there will be something to encourage you to try something new.

Brussel Sprouts

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Local Ladies' Garden Club, January's Meeting

The Local Ladies' Garden Club, of which I am a member, met this week for the first time since last year.  Oh, how I have missed these wonderful ladies over the winter.  We discussed important club matters such as: Will we have Valentine party?  Of course.  Who will bring what food?  Everyone volunteered their best dishes. Other items of lesser importance were also discussed but the food was really all that matters.  

A few of the ladies brought arrangements which were surprising since finding anything outside to use this time of year is definitely slim pickings.  One of the club's longest-serving members showed the younger members what an experienced designer can do.  Yes, she used her evening's soup ingredients to make her arrangement.

I have so much to learn.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Tea Time, New Year's Resolution

I have a confession.  I love tea. I am a "teaholic" so I am making a (late) New Year's Day Resolution.

A few years ago I read on a prepper website about the upcoming (date unknown) apocalypse and everyone must be prepared.  So I jumped on the bandwagon.  I need to be prepared also!  So I checked their provision list.

1.  Water - check - I have well water with solar power on nonexistent sunny days.
2.  Beans- check - I can grow more beans than we can eat or that I can shell.
3.  Rice - check - I bought a 25-pound bag.  Yep.  That will last us a long time.
4.  Important individual food preferences - that would be coffee, tea, and chocolate, not necessarily in that order.  It might be chocolate, coffee then tea.  Or it could be chocolate, chocolate coffee and then chocolate tea...anyway, I prepared for the end of the world.   This is my secret stash.

I told myself it was ok to buy this much since I got everything on sale with coupons, or on clearance.  Plus, tea never goes bad.  It lasts forever.

A bit over the top.  I know.  So the next problem was how to store and drink all of this tea.  Making up my mind which tea I am in the mood for is difficult.  Making up my mind on anything is difficult, plus my mood changes daily.  I  also relish slowly digging through the pile.

This is the plan I devised so I would not look so obsessive.  I cut the front off of each box, put it and the tea into a plastic bag which cut down on needed storage space.  Also, it is easy to reseal them since they are being stored for the apocalypse after all and must last.  The basket on the right is for teas that are individually wrapped.

The baskets fit nicely into the empty spot between the microwave and the cabinets.  This way they are available within easy reach while I am waiting for the water to boil.

So what is my New Year's Day Resolution?

1.  Get organized - nope - already done that, well, at least my teas are straight.  Notice I did not show you my closets.
2.  Buy less tea - nope - who can resist a good sale when you have a coupon, and this is for the END OF THE WORLD.
3.  Buy different teas - nope - I don't think there are any out there I haven't bought yet.

My resolution will be to find new teas by growing them in my garden or learning to forage.  I live in the country, surely there is something edible in all those weeds around my house.  I will share my successes and failures which, hopefully, does not include food poison, with people on my blog.  Yes, I will survive.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Hope is on the Way

The snow has melted but the rains have continued. All is gray and bleak. Spring seems so far away.

The creeks are muddy and swollen. The ground is soggy and sloshes when you step off the sidewalk into the grass.

There are those who enjoy this rainy weather.  They all seem to have feathers.

The weatherman says the cold, bitter weather will be returning in a few days; but hope is on the way.  Buds are forming on the hellebores in my garden; they haven't opened yet.  I am waiting impatiently.

Every winter my Mother and I have a tradition where we both eagerly look every day for any sign of spring.  We closely watch the croci in our yards.  When the first one blooms, the winner calls the other and proudly boasts.  Even though nothing has bloomed yet in my yard this year, I did find this.  Almost opened, but not quite yet...will it count?


I win.

Additional Links:

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The World According to Scooter

Hello, my name is Scooter and I am a very important person with very important jobs. Every morning I check my blog first thing and have noticed my Mom on GetMeToTheCountry.Blogspot.com has not featured me enough.  I am, after all, the most important person in this pack, right after Pack Leader, of course, so today is all about me.

I follow Pack Leader (who smells like coffee) everywhere he goes.  Sometimes I follow so close behind him that if he stops suddenly, I run into his legs.  If he is working, I am beside him; if he goes outside, I follow; every time he sits at the table, I am under his feet;  I even sleep on the floor beside his side of the bed.  I love Pack Leader and he loves me.

Cleaning the bottom of the morning coffee cup for Pack Leader.
This is Dustin, he is another member of my pack.  He smells like computers and calls me "Scoochie."  I never learned how to play with toys when I was younger so he is happy just snuggling and talking about robots to me.  I pretend to understand.

This is Reese, he smells like outside and truck engines.  I hang with him when he is surfing the internet.  He thinks watching cat videos is funny.  I HATE them! Cats, not videos.

This is Joshua, he smells like Nana's house, which smells like fried ham.  I love it.  He calls me "Chunky" because I have gained 12 pounds this year since I joined this pack.  I am not fat, I am fighting weight.

This is Nana.  She smells like fried country ham, the world's best perfume.  When she met me for the first time while visiting my pack family, she used a beating stick to help her walk.  I was so scared, I ran and hid behind the bed.  She said, "Poor little thing" and left her stick by the front door.  She held onto the furniture as she slowly walked inside the house which is great because she will never step on my tail.

Nana is some type of a pack leader, but I don't know what type.  She decided to feed me from the table with REAL SILVERWARE.  Mom asked if she was really feeding a dog with silverware?  Nana just ignored her and continued doing as she pleased.  Nobody ignores Mom!  Then she told Pack Leader she wanted some fresh coffee made just by him since he makes the best.  He immediately got up and fixed her a whole pot of coffee. Pack Leader also does what she wants!

I quickly decided I liked Nana.  She is good at scratching bellies and knows exactly where the itchy spots are.

I joined this pack over a year ago.  My previous pack was not kind to me.  They threw me out and the local humane shelter found me hungry and scared.  They never put me in one of those jail cages with the other dogs but let me stay hidden under a desk in the back office the whole time I was there. Every day the big man with strong hands and gentle eyes would try to get me to come out.  He would talk nicely, give me food and water, but I knew how mean people can be.  I would not come out. 

One day my new Mom finally found me.  She said she had been looking for someone with special fur just like me for over a year.  She said, I have hair not fur and will not make her itch.  That makes me better than anyone else.  I am special.  But for someone who loves my hair so much, why is she always giving me baths?

To show her I don't like the blow dryer, I stick my nose up against the door asking to "scoot" out.  That is how I got my name when I first came here I kept trying to run away as fast as I could.  Even though this pack seemed to treat me nice, I could not trust anyone.  I kept "scooting" down the driveway as fast as I could run and would not come back until they caught me.  Then I would roll over and wait for them to beat me.  They never did hit me but instead, they started calling me "Scooter" and now the name has stuck.

Once Joshua asked Mom, "Why did you save a dog that was so broken?  When we first got him it was months before he was brave enough to bark.  He was never taught to play ball, chase, or fetch like other dogs.  He is afraid of everything so runs and hides.  Even though you bought every rawhide chewy in the store, he won't touch them.  He is dysfunctional."

Mom gently said, "He fits perfectly with us in our dysfunctional family."

"But Mom, he is BROKEN!"

Mom whispered, "We are all broken. The more we are broken, the more we need love."

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Can You Find Scooter?

He is hiding from me.  He says I am miserable to be around because the boys are gone and he does not want to listen to my whining.  Then he added, don't be unhappy because it won't stop raining.  There are wonderful mud puddles everywhere to jump into.

He said he will graciously write the next blog post "The World According to Scooter" to cheer me up.  He is so kind.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Empty Nest

My home is very much like this empty nest Dustin found in the woods behind our house.  A simple home built between sharp, dangerous thorns, well camouflaged but hidden in plain sight. Ordinary, yet special.  Surrounded by a hostile world, beaten by so many storms yet enduring to protect the little ones as they grew.

The boys are packing to leave to return to their lives.  Joshua is staying with Nana in the big city until his new job becomes permanent.  Reese graduated from college in December and is beginning an out of town one-year internship.  Dustin is returning to his apartment for another semester of college.  My nest will be completely empty for the very first time.  Our home has been like Grand Central Station the last few years.  One moves out for college/job, while another is returning, then he leaves for college/job, and another replaces him;  but this time it is different.  I feel the loss.

I felt this way when each one left for kindergarten.  I collapsed then, and I feel another collapse coming.  I have called my best friend, to be here when "it" happens when the last one leaves. She was with me when they left for kindergarten and she will be here now.  Support will be necessary.

She will arrive all smiles and warmth then marvel at how much stuff can be shoved into a compact car.  When the cars pull out of the drive, my tears will start flowing.  She will sit beside me, rubbing my back until I calm. Words will not be necessary.  She will stay as long as needed.  My best friend. Then she will say the words I need to hear to cheer me up and make the dark clouds go away.

Let's go to an all-you-can-eat restaurant and pig out!

Yes, she knows me too well.

Friday, January 13, 2017

January's Garden, A Second Look (2017)

January 13, 2017 
How could five days make such a big difference?  We went from a blizzard to summer in only a few days.  As the saying goes, if you don't like the weather in Tennessee, wait twenty minutes.  Today's high was 55 degrees and tomorrow it will be up to 61 degrees.  No, that was not a typo.  It will be up to 61 tomorrow.  If this is global warming, I am all for it.

Since it is so warm, I decided to remove the coverings on the hoop houses so the sunlight could pour in, except that there has been no sunlight - only gray clouds and rain.

You could almost hear the plants sigh to get the covers off and breath again.  Many of the plants have already been harvested so there is much more empty space.

Buttercrunch lettuce is quite happy under the hoop house;  any planted outside has disappeared.

This was a surprise, some summer radishes surviving under the hoop house.  It was a mix of different varieties of radish seeds.  I did not realize they would live into the winter since this was the first time I have ever planted them late.

This is a green Chinese Luobo winter radish which I have grown during previous winters.  They usually don't make it any later than January so I wanted to go ahead and harvest it.  The hoop house did not make much of a difference for them since the other ones are not surviving.  I suppose the covering has extended their harvest for about two weeks.  Not very impressive.

Today's radish harvest.

These turnips are out in the open and have taken a hard hit by the cold weather.  The roots are still fine and you can see that they are still alive.  The ones with smaller roots are not going to make it.  They were planted late because of the drought.

This turnip was under the hoop house and is in great condition so the covering made a big difference.

Turnip harvest today.

Something with big teeth (rabbit) has begun chewing on my sugar beets.  I put a netting over them to protect them, which worked until it was blown off by this past storm.  To keep from losing them all, I went ahead and harvested most of them.  I left two, under a net, to see if they will go to seed. 

Update: They never went to seed.

This is how the onions looked five days ago during the snow storm.

This is how they look today.  Not very impressive.  The roots are still alive and I expect them to pull through.  Next year I am putting them under the hoop house between the other plants since I love cutting off the tops and putting them in salads.

UPDATE:  Puting them under the hoop houses was a success.  It was easy to stick them in the empty spots between the other plants.

These are my favorite greens, collards.  They took a hard hit by the cold weather since they were planted late also, due to the drought.  Plus, this was an area hard hit by the armadillos so they have already had to overcome that damage.  They just aren't as strong as they have been in the past years.

Five days ago this was the winter peas, something new I have planted this year.  I have been watching them closely since they are supposed to be able to handle cold weather.

They did great with the snow but all the other plants are gone, only the ones under wires or netting have lived. I think rabbits have eaten them all also. 

In addition to everything I showed above, I harvested different types of greens.  Not everything got harvested or pictured today because of the weather.  The forecast is to be in the lower 60's and rain, rain, rain for the next 7 days. What crazy weather!!!  I am not complaining except that everywhere I stepped in the garden, my feet sunk in the mud.