Cold-hardy vegetables, carrot harvest, maybe snow on the way.

 

Wintry garden beds. Credit Ezra Freeman
Wintry garden beds.
Credit Ezra Freeman

For some years, I have been keeping a list of temperatures at which various crops get killed by cold weather. I update it each winter, and with two nights in the past week below the 14F we experienced on Saturday 11/15, I’ve started on this year’s update.

You can download a pdf here: Winter-kill temperatures 2014

See my 2013 posts about what survived when:

What’s still standing after two nights below 0F?

What’s alive at 14F?

Cylindra beet. Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Cylindra beet.
Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

After the night at 14F (10F degrees colder than any previous night this season), the Cylindra beets were still OK, the Danvers carrots too. Our Tribute and Kaitlin cabbage were OK. All our broccoli shoots were rubbery, and knowing colder weather was coming soon, we went ahead and did one last harvest. We also harvested all the beets (we didn’t have many this year).

On the night of Tuesday/Wednesday 11/18-11/19 we got a brutal 10F. As often happens, our cold-weather low was 5F degrees colder than our nearest weather forecast station at Louisa Northside. After the 10F, there was a lot of damage. Some of the Tribute and Kaitlin cabbage had freeze damage. We made a big batch of kimchee from the cold-damaged cabbage. The Melissa savoy and the Deadon cabbage looked OK.Some of the senposai leaves have frost-killed patches, and most of the bigger chard stems got frozen. None of the plants are dead though.The Ventura celery under thick rowcover sustained quite a bit of damage. The Morris Heading collards are fine.

China Rose winter radish. Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
China Rose winter radish.
Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

The winter radish (daikon, China Rose and Shunkyo Semi-long red-skinned radishes) were all OK, and we decided it was time to harvest them anyway, rather than risk forgetting them.

We have one bed of outdoor lettuce left, with thick rowcover. The Outredgeous was a slimy mess, the Olga romaine damaged but good inside. Still looking good were Salad Bowl, Red Salad Bowl, Red Cross, Winter marvel, Sylvesta and Pirat. Add those to your list of cold-hardy lettuce varieties.

Rouge d'hiver lettuce. Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Rouge d’hiver lettuce.
Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Various patches of oats sown in August and the first half of September as winter cover crops have all suffered some damage. Not a complete kill, but some bleached downed stems. For many years, I mistakenly believed 20F was the kill temperature for oats, and repeatedly forgot to track what actually happened.  Now I’ll think of 10F as the beginning of the end for oats.

Our biggest worry was the carrots.We had 5 beds 180′ long with 5 rows in each. 4500 row feet of carrots, with one every 3″ – 18,000 carrots to dig by hand. We considered what to do during the day on Tuesday, before the cold night. We had cancelled the shift on Monday due to rain, and Tuesday was very cold and windy. If we harvested some on Tuesday, it could only be a small percentage of the total. and then we’d have to deal with them on Wednesday. We considered putting a load in the truck and driving the truck into the garage for the night, where there is a woodstove. (Meanwhile we were part-way through planting garlic). I didn’t want people to be outdoors for longer than necessary on Tuesday. The forecast was calling for 17F, meaning 12F was likely here. That’s the temperature I expect carrots to die at. But rowcovering them all in windy weather didn’t seem like an option. Overhead irrigation was almost unthinkable, as we’d stored away all the hoses and sprinklers. I watched the forecast. It crept up one degree. I decided to do nothing except cross our fingers, hoping the foliage would protect them for one night, and that the forecast might be “warming” slightly. But by 7pm the forecast was for 16F. I felt quite stressed. Losing all our winter carrots was an awful possibility.

Were the carrots frozen? After the 10F night, the leaves were very flopped over. I pulled a few carrots and sliced them. It was hard to tell. They did have a glassy margin around the edges. It takes a bit of time for frozen plants to “declare themselves”, so I looked again on Thursday. Many leaf stems showed bleaching caused by the cold temperature, and the leaves remained flopped over. I consulted with two of our main crew people, and we decided to wait till Monday, by when it should be obvious. We considered and discounted various versions of trying to harvest them in a hurry and finding a use for so many frozen carrots before they started to rot.

Meanwhile I went to the fridge and got some carrots we’d had in storage since the summer. When I sliced them, they looked just the same as the ones outdoors – translucent edges are normal!! So we decided to start harvesting as soon as possible (Friday). We’ve had crews on the job for three afternoons now, and we have harvested about three-quarters of them. They look great! Very little bug damage. (For some years we’ve been wondering whether we have carrot rust fly). No rodent damage. And happiest news yet – our soil has improved enough that we rarely needed to dig them. Mostly we could pull them, which is so much faster.

We’ve been debating the relative efficiency of several methods. My favorite is to pull the carrots, put the handfuls straight into carts, haul them to the washing area. Then snip the tops off with scissors and wash the carrots. Others favor laying the pulled carrots in piles in the field, cutting the tops off there, and bringing the trimmed carrots to the washing station. We have been timing ourselves. It’s a question or reducing how many times we handle them versus hauling the carrot tops away then bringing them back. (We spread the tops thinly over the beds to protect the soil from heavy rains, as it’s too late to sow cover crops now).

danvers-carrotNext, we may get snow tomorrow night. But I’m not worrying. A cover of snow won’t hurt any remaining carrots. I’m done worrying for this week!

Harvesting carrots, covering spinach

Hope those of you in the US had a good Thanksgiving holiday. We had a lovely meal here at Twin Oaks, and followed our tradition of going round the room giving each person a few minutes to say what they feel thankful for or appreciative of this year. Naturally, with about 90-100 people in the dining room, that takes a while! Many people appreciated the efforts of the garden crew and other food producers.

Since then, back to work! We stop having garden shifts for the year on December 6, so we are focusing on the tasks we really want to get to done by then. One big one is harvesting all our fall carrots.

One of our long carrot beds earlier in the year.
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

So far we have dug 15 bags (about 50 pounds each), and are about a third of the way up the plot. We reckon we need at least 30 bags for the winter, so we are in very good shape, looking at getting maybe 45 bags, if we keep moving. The carrots have a great flavor, thanks to the cold nights we’ve been having. And they are in good shape. Not many voles in evidence this fall, or tunneling bugs.

This year we didn’t manage to finish the second thinning, so we started the harvest at the unthinned end of the plot. They are a surprisingly decent size for carrots that only got one thinning. After sowing, we flameweed the carrots before they emerge, then as soon as we can see them we hoe between the rows. It really helps to have evenly spaced parallel rows. Next we weed and thin to one inch, taking away the weeds to the compost pile. Leaving broken carrot leaves and roots can attract the carrot rust fly (root fly), and we don’t want those! After a while we hoe again, including using our Valley Oak wheel hoes in the paths. Then we weed again and thin to 3 inches, saving the bigger thinnings for salad carrots. After that we leave them to size up. It takes about 3 months from sowing to final harvest, with carrots.

Young carrots after their first thinning.
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

Another of our main jobs now is weeding the seven spinach beds and covering them with wire hoops and rowcover. I do like to weed first, as weeds under rowcover grow so well, hidden from sight. We use double hoops for our overwintering spinach. The inner hoop is thick wire with an eye made at each side at ground level. the rowcover goes on top of this, then the thinner wire hoops which hook into the eyes of the inner hoops. (I have a drawing in my book, but I can’t seem to copy it here.) The hoops hold the rowcover in place when it gets windy, and the rowcover can be pushed up between the hoops while we harvest. In our climate (USDA winter hardiness zone 7a), spinach not only survives the winter; it grows whenever the temperature is above about 40F, which happens quite often under the rowcover. So, provided we don’t over-pick, we can keep the plants going all winter into spring. The hoops also hold the rowcover away from the leaves, preventing abrasion damage.