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!

What’s still alive after two nights at 4F?

Recently I reported on which crops were still alive after two nights at 14F (-10C) and several others in the teens. We’ve now had the Arctic Vortex, which in our part of central Virginia, meant two nights at 4F, last Monday 1/6 and Tuesday 1/7 nights. How did it go?

Before the Prelude to the Big Chill, when we got 9F, I harvested the odds and ends of small cabbages left in our main patch. Quite worthwhile, I got two 5-gallon buckets. Between the 9F and the 4F nights, I decided to gather the Deadon cabbage, which we grew with January harvests in mind. There was some freeze damage, so in future I’ll say that Deadon is good down to 10F, but not lower. I got two full net bags and two more buckets of small ones. I left one smaller and one larger cabbage as sacrificial victims in the cause of better information for next year. When we got 4F, the smaller one died and the larger survived.

Deadon cabbage Credit Johnnys Selected Seeds

Deadon cabbage
Credit Johnnys Selected Seeds

One of the other gardeners harvested the last of the outdoor senposai. Another couple of buckets of tasty food.

Senposai, the Thousand Wonder Green, Credit Kathryn Simmons

Senposai, the Thousand Wonder Green,
Credit Kathryn Simmons

I took another walk round the frozen garden after the Big Chill, to see what is still alive. We have Tyee spinach under rowcover, and Vates and Beedy’s Camden kale without rowcover. They are all still alive! There’s some freeze damage in spots on the spinach leaves, but plenty of good meals still to come!

Our hardneck garlic tops suffered some damage but didn’t get killed back to the mulch level. The Polish White softneck tops are considerably smaller and they too are still alive. They will grow back if they have died. 

Garlic planting in November. Credit Brittany Lewis

Garlic planting in November.
Credit Brittany Lewis

We had the remains of a lettuce nursery bed, still holding surplus transplants from September sowings that we didn’t need for our greenhouse or hoophouse. A good chance to see which ones are hardiest! Here’s the scoop:

Still alive in the centers – Winter Marvel, North Pole, Tango, Green Forest.                  No longer alive – Salad Bowl, Red Salad Bowl, Winter Wonder, Red Tinged Winter, Merlot, Red Sails, Outredgeous, Roman Emperor, Revolution.

At nearby Acorn Community, the home of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, they had some young but mature heads of cabbage outdoors. The Late Flat Dutch, Early Flat Dutch and Chieftain Savoy all survived one night at 6F. (It’s usually two degrees warmer there than at Twin Oaks on winter nights).

Meanwhile I’m tracking the Blue Ridge kale grown by Clif Slade in his 43560 project at Randolph Farm, VSU. The Blue Ridge survived. It got down to 9F there. Not as cold as Louisa County! Blue Ridge is taller than the Vates we grow, and I’d like to try it here, if it can survive our winters. Otherwise not!

In the hoophouse, we covered all the beds with thick rowcover on Monday afternoon, and didn’t roll it up till Thursday, after the warmer weather returned. There was a tiny bit of freeze injury on some turnip greens that poked out the side of the rowcover, and some on some stems of Tokyo Bekana. I think the rowcover saved the crops! Also, a bad thing happened. it was very windy Monday night and the west window blew open. Argh! Of all the nights to have an open window. Memo: fix the latch to make it stronger.

I didn’t enjoy the really cold weather. I was anxious about the crops and the plumbing! But I can see two silver linings: I now have more information about cold-hardiness of various crops, and hopefully some pests will have died. Now we’re getting ready for another two cold nights, tomorrow and Wednesday.

When we placed our seed orders we gave up for this year on our quest for a reliable red cabbage of at least medium size and fairly speedy maturity (90 days or less). We’re having a red-cabbageless year. We’re still open to recommendations (OP or hybrid) – please leave a comment. 

What’s still alive at 14F?

Winter garden scene. Credit Ezra Freeman

Winter garden scene.
Credit Ezra Freeman

One of my ongoing topics of interest in the garden is how cold-tolerant various vegetables are. We’ve now had two nights at 14F (-10C) and several others in the teens. I took a walk round the frozen garden this morning to see what is still alive. We have Tyee spinach under rowcover, and Vates kale. The senposai is still alive, but some of the midribs have brown streaks. Sadly we don’t have any leeks this winter, as we lacked enough workers to tend them in late summer. We have a nice bed of Deadon cabbage, and I notice that some small heads of Melissa savoy that missed the bulk harvest are also alive. The Gunma cabbage stumps have some leaves and tiny heads still alive, but the Tendersweet are done in.

Our ongoing quest for a reliable red cabbage of at least medium size and fairly speedy maturity (90 days or less) yielded no success story this year. We grew Super Red 80 happily for many years, but then it stopped working for us – variable heads, slower maturity. If you have any recommendations (OP or hybrid) please leave a comment. We are working on our seed orders now, and this would be a great time to have some suggestions.

Back to today – our chard had all the leaves cut off in November, and seems to be dead. Some winters it hangs on later, if we leave some foliage to help it regenerate. We have also some years deliberately kept it alive for spring by using rowcover on it. We do that if we go into winter short of spinach beds.

The oats cover crop we sowed in August and early September look pretty much dead. All the broccoli looks dead. That’s as expected for the temperatures. Often we don’t get nights this cold till January – the cold came early this winter.

Our hardneck garlic tops look to be in good shape. The Polish White softneck tops are considerably smaller and look like they are suffering. They will grow back if they have died. Some of our Chandler strawberry plants look dead. Either that or they are extremely dormant! The deer were killing them off by eating the leaves. Too many deer!

Garlic shoots emerging through the mulch in November

Garlic shoots emerging through the mulch in November

The hoophouse is still bursting with great food. Plenty of salad greens: lettuce; various kinds of mizuna and ferny mustards like Ruby Streaks and Golden Frills and Bulls Blood beet leaves. And for salads or cooking we have spinach, chard, tatsoi, radishes, scallions, baby Hakurei turnips and their tasty greens, Red and White Russion kales, and more senposai. Soon we’ll start on the heading Asian greens: pak choy, Chinese cabbage, Tokyo bekana and Yukina Savoy. The first sowing of tatsoi (9/7) is starting to bolt, so we’re clearing that. The second sowing (11/15) needs thinning to an inch. The first round of baby lettuce mix (10/24) is ready for its second cut. In a few days we’ll make a second sowing of that. I love working in the hoophouse on sunny winter days. This afternoon I plan to complete the transplanting of an 11/9 sowing of spinach. We just love the sweet nuttiness of winter spinach!

The hoophouse winter crops are an important part of feeding ourselves year-round

The hoophouse winter crops are an important part of feeding ourselves year-round