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."

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

They're Back

They are home.  I think they look tired, hungry and annoyed because I wanted to take pictures.  They wanted to unload and get into the warm house.  I hugged them then rushed inside to post this picture.  I conveniently forgot to help them unload.

Life is about to change.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Scooter, Where No Dog Has Gone Before

Scooter, The Great Explorer after he scaled the massive heights of a tree stump
Pack Leader said he needed to do some work in the field and since the ticks are frozen and gone, I could travel with him to the great unknown, the other side of the fence.  We were going into outer space!



Sniff, Sniff, Sniff.
Sniff, Sniff, Sniff.
Sniff, Sniff, Sniff.
I was fearless in my explorations.  Nothing stopped me from searching and smelling everything.

I was relentless in my pursuit of excitement and only paused when Pack Leader offered a drink of water from his personal canteen.  I don't mind drinking out of his dirty hand.  We are explorers and must be willing to rough it when necessary.

When we arrived at the furthermost reaches of the universe, we discovered aliens!  Pack Leader befriended them with honeysuckle twigs.  Aliens eat strange things.

The biggest one is named "Billy" because I have heard with my super-sonic-radar-detecting hearing his Pack Leader calling him for dinner.  She will come out of the kitchen door and yell in a loud soprano voice, "BILL...EEEEEEEEEE!  He obeys and comes running.

He attempted but could not breach the forcefield.

Huge Alien Sniffer!
This is a black hole and is the entrance to a wormhole.  Water seeps down and disappears deep into the dark crevices of a spacial anomaly. To the untrained eye, it appears to be a sinkhole caused by rainwater eroding the limestone.  I know the truth.

It is a deep, dark dangerous hole.

This is the very bottom and Pack Leader watched me and would not let me go close.  He is overly protective sometimes.

The very, very bottom.
Pack Leader cut pine branches and Mom collected pine cones to make winter decorations. 

These are decorations?  Why?

By this time it was late afternoon and Mom said we had enjoyed enough excitement for one day.  There is more to investigate later, like the spot where someone dumped roofing shingles years ago, a dried up pig pond and the deep, dark woods in the back.

It was time to return home for a bathtub decontamination and dinner rations.  Beam me up, Scotty.  I am ready.