Monthly Archives: September 2014

Garden Update and Greenhouse Tour September 8, 2014

Normally where I live, we get the first frosts around the end of September. Normally, we get the first snow sometime in October or November. This year, someone forgot to give Mother Nature the message, and we got a good 8 inches of snow on September 8th, before we even had our first frost.

Needless to say, the plants outside of the greenhouse did not fair very well, I lost three cucumber plants, two dill, five lettuce, numerous sunflowers, all of my corn, and my pumpkin. I thought the pumpkin might have been safe, but in the last few days it has become more and more mushy and it’s still dark green. I cut it from the remains of the plant today and set it in a sunny location, whether this helps or not, I have no idea, it just seemed like a good idea at the time.

September 8 Morning Corn

When I woke up on the 8th, I went out to water the greenhouse like I do every day, and I noticed a skiff of snow on the corn.

However, I still have some troopers that sat under the snow for three days and came out virtually unharmed. The carrots tops in the front square foot garden are still nice and green, but aren’t standing up too well due to the weight of the snow bending and breaking some of them. Joining them, in the west side sfg garden is the cabbage. it looks as though nothing happened to it at all (other than the damage that had already been done to it by caterpillars) and it has actually grown to be visibly bigger since last Thursday. Last Thursday being the day that a lot of the snow started melting, and I could actually see the cabbage again.

Sept 8 Early Afternoon Corn

By about 1 pm that skiff had turned into a full on blizzard. I shook the snow off after that picture was taken, but the temperatures dropped too low and that corn has since died.

Inside the greenhouse is a completely different story however, when I heard the lows would be below freezing, I went out and plugged in a small electric space heater to keep everything inside safe. Normally I wouldn’t bother taking it out, but I still have some cantaloupe, pepper, and tomato plants inside that I am still harvesting from and I didn’t want to risk losing them. I kept it on for almost a week, as even though it had warmed up, it was still dipping too low overnight for me to be comfortable not doing so. Having the heater on inside kept it about 16°C (61°F) during the day, which was aided by the sun, however little there was, and around 10°C (50°F) at night. You can get a good look at the conditions outside, and inside the greenhouse in the video below.

Even though we got a foot to a foot and a half of snow over September 8-10th, it was all gone in a few days, and temperatures climbed back to normal, and beyond for this time of year. Yesterday was about 25°C (77°F) and they are predicting it will be 24°C today, Sort of an odd predicament, but it sure makes me feel lucky that I can take advantage of these temperatures for some of my plants at least, I had a good harvest of bell peppers and a cucumber yesterday from my small greenhouse, one I would have lost all of if they were planted outside.

Sugar Baby Watermelon Harvest

It finally happened, on September 6th, I got to eat a sugar baby watermelon that I grew myself.

For the last three years I have planted sugar baby watermelon seeds, only to have the plants grow, even grow fairly well, and flower, but I never once had one set fruit until this year. It took all summer to grow in the greenhouse and ripen, and it wasn’t really that big (sugar babies aren’t a large variety) but none of that mattered as soon as I cut it from the plant and brought it in the house.

After the blow to my gardening ego that I took from the potatoes this year, I needed a big win, and this was it. Of course none of it was really as extravagant as I’ve tried to make it sound, but it really was a nice feeling to know I succeeded at something I’ve failed at in the past this season.

Sugar Baby Watermelon

That’s a pretty good sized melon, even though my oafishly large hands make it looks small.

The picture above was taken on August 3rd, the melon got a bit bigger but nothing to write home about, as you will see from the video below, it did get quite a bit darker.

I wasn’t sure when to harvest a watermelon, but when I looked it up, it said that two indicating factors were that the closest tendril will die off and shrivel up. The tendril is the part of the vine that wraps around a stick, or a trellis, or whatever to hold itself up off of the ground. The closest one on my watermelon shriveled a full week before I picked it because it didn’t sound quite ready.

“But Conrad,” you might be saying, “plants don’t make sounds.” Well, no, not usually, unless it’s a rustle of the leaves in the wind, but melons can tell you they are ripe if they sound hollow when you knock on them. When the tendril first died back, it sounded like it always had, a dull thud, nothing more. The day I picked it however, the sound had changed instead of a thud it sounded hollow, this is what made me pick it. It might have made an even more hollow sound had I left it a little longer, but I figured three years was long enough to wait!

Below is a video of a taste test I did on it, I hope you enjoy it, though I doubt you will as much as I enjoyed making it.

My First Fall Garden

Over the last four or so years, my gardening strategy was simply to plant in the spring, harvest when ready, or just before the frost came. It’s how I remember my Grandfather doing it when I was a kid, how it was done by the rest of my family when we used to rent a garden space out in the country again when I was a kid, and how many people around the world do it.

There’s nothing wrong with growing that way, it’s nice and simple and reminds me of my soccer and futsal coaching days where the team motto was always K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid – not that I thought any of the teams I coached were stupid, just that it’s how I learned the acronym) focusing on winning through fundamentals over fancy plays that are easily messed up. Growing from spring to harvest is gardening fundamentals, you can win championships with it, and it works great, but to get the most out of the game, a little razzle-dazzle can come in handy.

That’s how I view things in gardening like fall planting, or early spring planting, growing under cover, etc. All of the fundamentals are involved, conditioning the soil, proper watering, trimming, harvesting, etc. but the razzle-dazzle comes from the plants getting extra heat from a hoop house, greenhouse, plastic tent, or whatever it is that extends the season beyond that of the fundamental gardeners are doing. It’s a strange analogy, but it makes sense to me, hopefully it does for you as well.

My plans for my fall garden, which I hope will extend into the winter, are pretty simple:

  • First I will be putting some cardboard down on the greenhouse “floor” (it’s still just that tarp) for a little extra insulation from the frozen ground that I will set the containers on.
  • I will then place some jugs or buckets of water near to the plants so that they can be used as heat sinks inside each tent to keep the temperature that much warmer overnight.
  • Next I will be putting two small plastic tents overtop of the containers, one I used in the spring to start radishes early, you can read about that here, the other is a bit bigger and is made to go overtop of one of the planters in the new garden spaces I put in back in June.
  • Last, I want to disturb the spaces as little as possible, checking only when necessary in order to water and harvest from it in order to keep as much heat in as possible. Though we do get Chinooks where I live, so sometimes the temperature outside spikes well above freezing, and I may actually have to vent the tents and greenhouse.

That’s it. I am confident that it doesn’t have to be anymore complicated than that. I have mixed good soil with worm castings and some left over potting soil, so the plants will get a good start. I may at some point add a bit of fertilizer to the soil if I feel it needs it, but I don’t even think it will come to that.

Fall Garden

The fall garden freshly planted on September 1, our front step is not its permanent location. That would be a hazard.

The picture above shows the containers I have decided to use, originally I was going to plant my fall garden in the raised bed that will be in the greenhouse one day (next year), but I was unable to get it finished, as I went well over budget on the gardens this year. I think these containers will work out fine, everything I’ve read said that just having something planted in the greenhouse over winter should bump it from zone 3 to zone 4, and inside the little tents should be closer to zone 5.

In the containers I have planted 14 “Grand Rapids” green leaf lettuce, two in each of the seven containers behind the radishes, in the containers down the step, I have planted one “Matador” spinach each. I also have an unknown number of “German Giant” red radishes planted in the white planter (I think it’s somewhere between 20-30 plants). I have planted all of these before and they have all grown well during the spring, so I hope the fall and winter garden can lead to some extra fresh greens and radishes into the dreary winter diet we have here of seal meat and snow.

That last bit is a Canada joke, but it stems from a bit of truth, the vegetables we get here in the winter, while good quality, just can’t touch anything picked fresh from the garden in the taste department. I am sure it is like that most places where growing year round isn’t generally an option.

I don’t know if I can make this continue to grow all year long, if we have a week or two of -30 C temperatures with clouds, it might be impossible without adding in a heater out there, which I have access to (it’s out there right now so that my watermelon, cantaloupe, and peppers aren’t affected by the cold nights we have been having), but I don’t really want to use, as I want to see how far I can extend the season by just putting plastic domes over everything.

My reasoning for doing it this way is that putting plants under plastic is something that most gardeners will have access to. They might not have a greenhouse, but hoop houses are much cheaper and easier to make, so hopefully someone reading this will see how it goes with the rest of the upcoming posts on the progress of it all and can try it out with a couple of hoop houses at their place, or in their greenhouse next winter.

UPDATE: As of today (September 4) the radishes have already started to sprout. Check out those little beauties. I am also particularly proud of how that picture turned out, I think it’s an interesting angle… But then again, I might be biased.

Red Radish Seedlings Sprouting in the Fall Garden

They haven’t all come up yet, but they’ve started already!