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Winter Greenhouse Notes

November 30, 2015

We’ve been having a bit of a cold snap for about a week now, so it’s do or die for vegetables outside and in.  While we are protected from the harsh Columbia River Gorge winds that bring the cold air from the Columbia Basin to the east, our farm is located in what the local weather forecasters call an “outlying area.”  That means usually in these cold snaps we need to deduct about 10°F from the weather report when we are trying to decide what needs covering, harvesting, or forgetting about.

We did take the covers off the big greenhouses for our peace of mind and to let winter weather rejuvenate the dry soil.


But we’ve been keeping close track of the winter greens we planted in one of the chicken brooder/greenhouses.  Kale survives the winter here for the most part, but gets pretty rag-tag sometimes.  I planted some inside to see if a little weather protection would make much of a difference in quality and in quantity too since once in a great while, it does freeze down to the stalk.

We have various thermometers around the farm, but the manual min/max that we used a lot for brooding chicks and poults really comes in handy for plants as well.  I usually know how cold I think it is, but it’s nice to really have a solid number.  An unheated greenhouse is only a tiny bit warmer than outside, however the plants have some wind protection, and will be protected from any rains that we get when this cold spell breaks.  Many times, it’s the freeze, thaw, repeat, add cold rain for days that turns the vegetables to slime.

I had only wanted to plant kale and some semi-hardy mustard along with some lettuce that I knew wouldn’t last long in the short days.  But we had extra broccoli transplants that were a little stunted and some spigariello leaf broccoli that I picked up at a field day so we threw those in too, not really expecting anything.  The broccoli actually has made some heads although a few buttoned from the stress of being left too long in the pots.  The spigariello is doing fine also, although I have seen a few aphids on those plants, again stressed plants, so I’m not really surprised.

As usual once I do something, I immediately see something I could improve for the next time.  This time is was my planting order, I blindly planted the transplants by type of plant instead of taking into consideration what I already knew, but forgot.  Air circulation for winter plantings is fairly important, so I should have interplanted my tender greens in rows between the hardy greens, which would allow for instant air circulation once the lettuces were either consumed or rotting from the short day growing conditions.  So as it is now, all the kale and surviving semi-hardy greens are in two-thirds of the greenhouse somewhat crowded and I have empty lettuce rows that will remain vacant until spring.  Ugh.  Next year.

Spigariello leaf broccoli, and Winterbor kale

Spigariello leaf broccoli, and Winterbor kale

I’m looking forward to the rest of this winter experiment.

24 Comments leave one →
  1. Tim W permalink
    November 30, 2015 3:35 pm

    The eternal optimism of the gardener, “Next Year”. We have several kinds of (supposedly) winter-hardy greens out in the field and a bunch of stuff under cover all by way of experimenting to see what survives.
    We’ll encourage promiscuous flowering come Spring and see what combinations develop.

    • November 30, 2015 4:11 pm

      Tim, can’t wait for spring already! I’ve got a weird kale plant that was in the hybrid cauliflower seeds, it’s suffering a little but boy did it resist flea beetles this summer, and got huge with little water. When the freeze abates I’ll take a snap and post it and see if anyone knows what it is.

  2. Barbara permalink
    November 30, 2015 3:44 pm

    Oh yes, on the spacing. I followed the space directions on some starts I bought, and they were terribly crowded. They still are, though I’ve tried to thin when harvesting, and re-planted some kale. It took them a long time to recover. Now we’ll see what’s left when things warm up! Your hoop houses look great. Do you have a fan for sunny winter days? I got spigariello at a field day too — were we at the same one?! Down in Aurora?

    • November 30, 2015 4:13 pm

      Barbara, yep same field day. I took 2 six packs and planted one outside, well actually in the greenhouse with no cover, and one six pack in the small greenhouse. No fans, just sides that roll up and big tractor doors, ventilation is not usually a problem they are not very tight.

      • Barbara permalink
        December 1, 2015 4:42 pm

        Too bad we didn’t recognize each other there! Internet acquaintance is kind of weird that way…

        • December 1, 2015 8:22 pm

          Too funny, I was equally surprised to see my photo in the Capital Press, lots of folks taking photos, I didn’t notice reporter…

  3. barefootfarmflower permalink
    November 30, 2015 7:46 pm

    I’m going to put some Ever sweet strawberries in my hoop house in a few weeks. First time growing strawberries under cover. I seem to remember that you grow some like that, too. I’m hoping for an earlier harvest. And…I just miss messing around in the soil already.

    • November 30, 2015 9:17 pm

      BFFF, you won’t be sorry, we just quit picking before this cold spell. Berries all season!

  4. December 1, 2015 5:57 am

    I am so hoping for a green house of some sort next year. Or the following year. We are so busy trying to get everything going I think it will be later rather than sooner. I did however sit down and do my seed list! Then a dear friend gifted me a pile of seeds she got at an ag show. Cut a good 10 dollars off of my buy it list. Can’t wait to order them! And your broccoli looks amazing! I am still irked with the deer eating my entire crop of that cabbage and cauliflower. I had high hopes for it.

  5. Bee permalink
    December 1, 2015 6:11 am

    Nita, I just love it when you make a comment about something like broccoli being left too long in the pots. When I compare your system to mine, I always feel like I’m a day late and a dollar short — transplants getting oversized, seeding late, crop failures… yeah, yeah, I know that’s part of being a gardener, but yours is the perfection toward which I strive:-) I’ve never heard of spigariello — is it something like purple sprouting broccoli?

    • December 1, 2015 9:04 am

      Bee, ha ha, perfection? With Ruthless selling starts we always have extra, and it’s a good insurance policy to have extra starts because of the different growth rates throughout the summer. If I have extras I can select the best to plant, and throw the rest to the hens.

      I had never thought much about Spigariello either except seeing it in Johnny’s catalog and I for sure couldn’t pass up free plants to try from the field day. It’s supposed to be prized for it’s leaves, so we’ll see how it does, it’s pretty hard to beat kale for productivity and hardiness in my location.

  6. December 1, 2015 9:55 am

    As much as I envy your long growing season….,I’m almost relieved when mine is done until spring and I don’t feel obligated any more to cover and save as it’s just not feasible when the temperature drops and stays.

    • December 1, 2015 1:19 pm

      Linda, I hear you on that, it’s a relief when the season is over. Just too long doing the same thing 😦

  7. December 1, 2015 4:06 pm

    As usual, major greenhouse envy…..

  8. December 3, 2015 6:34 am

    I love to see what people manage to grow through the winter. We don’t have a farm and just grow for ourselves, but are enjoying experimenting to see what we can produce this winter at our home in Maine. So far, it’s been quite mild and we still are harvesting kale, spinach, carrots, and leeks from the garden. Our tiny cold frame is producing winter greens like gangbusters. But, unfortunately, the broccoli that I planted for late fall harvest, which is in a little hoophouse, didn’t produce as yours did. We only got little baby heads. On to next year!

    • December 3, 2015 8:42 am

      Next year!! Mild is the name of the game here all the time, but I still get challenged every single year, it keeps gardening fresh 🙂

  9. December 3, 2015 6:54 am

    We just discovered a green house warehouse in a neighboring town!!! We are so beyond excited, as they sell everything from total set ups to individual components! We are looking at doors and a cover to put on the frame we have. Looking at only a couple hundred to get started, I am so eager to get down there in the spring and take a look!

  10. December 11, 2015 5:02 am

    Beautiful kale. I’ll admit to being envious of your winter greenhouse (we don’t have one) but the way this year is going we haven’t needed one. Today’s forecast high is 70 and the high for tomorrow and Sunday is 72! That’s 20 degrees above normal. So our outside crops are going strong. We’ll just keep enjoying it while we can.

    • December 12, 2015 6:35 am

      Yes, each warm day is a gift! We decommission our large hoophouses for winter to refresh the soil, but one little one is nice. Ironically, we need the hoophouses more for ripening warm weather crops in the summer, I am envious of your growing season. We have mild winters, and cool summers.

  11. Heather permalink
    January 26, 2016 9:55 pm

    One question – you mention the importance of airflow for winter greens in the greenhouse – what do you mean? Why is airflow important/spacing

    • January 27, 2016 5:46 am

      Heather, they will mold and mildew in the low light, high humidity temps of winter. I don’t even have to water in the winter time it’s that moist in there.

  12. Barbara permalink
    February 7, 2016 9:11 am

    Our hoophouse lost most of its cover in the December wind (!) so now we’re trying to learn how to fix it. I want to ask you what anchoring system you use for your plastic, since you take the cover off regularly for the winter? And how many people do you need to take it off and put it on? You have finessed the usefulness of these things wonderfully!

    • February 7, 2016 4:25 pm

      B., we use the spring lock system that is a aluminum channel and spring lock. Some people call it wiggle wire…
      It is reusable many times as we can attest to.
      The three of us can do it on a calm day, five works better though if you can find a couple of folks to help until you get a few pieces of the springlock in place. That’s with a 72′ length, shorter than that is a piece of cake with two or three.

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