Category Archives: Winter Gardening

Some Cabbage Heads, Some Cabbage Bolts

It must be the crazy winters down south.  The temperature variations must throw the cabbage plants off.  This past winter started out with an early frozen blast, then was mild for most of the winter and then ended in another frozen blast.

I get my thrills starting my cabbages and broccoli from seed.  Due to lack of garden space, I planted these in the tomato bed after the toms died out for the summer.  Both of these are early cabbages.  I would like to grow late cabbage, but it takes an additional 60 plus days to grow those large 8 to 10 pound heads.  I’m planning a couple of beds in the back where I will be able to grow my winter garden and will be able to fence the beds in and pull chicken wire over the top to keep the critters and deer out.

This pic shows heading cabbage next to cabbage that is forming its seed head, called bolting.  The empty spaces once held broccoli that has already been fully harvested.

cabbage going to seed and some heading

Here is a closeup.  From the leaves, these 2 plant look to both be Copenhagen Market cabbages.  They were started at the same time, from the same seed pack and planted the same day, however one forms a head and one bolts.  Why?
close up of cabbage bolting

Closeup of a decent head forming.  This is probably Copenhagen Market, but could be Glory of Enkhuizen.  Both are early cabbage, which means that the heads are smaller (maybe about 3 pound heads) because they are an early cabbage.
cabbage heading

A nice head of broccoli.  After I picked this head, side shoots formed.
broccoli closeup

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A Final Peek Under The Hoops

Time to take the plastic off.

This pic shows kale on the left side.  My notes read ‘Vates Kale’, but I didn’t note the seed vender.  I like this kale.  A few carrots are in the very front right side.  The empty space after the carrots is where spinach was planted.  Under all 3 of my hoops this past winter, I had a real problem with aphids.  They, of course, never freeze out under the hoops – nothing freezes under the hoop.  A bit further back, with the red stems, are Detroit beets.  I don’t know if they will mature in a month – within a month I will be pulling out everything except some kale and chard so that I can plant my spring crop of squash and peppers.  These cool weather crops had their chance.  If the beets don’t mature their roots, I will at least be able to harvest the greens.

I am really having a problem trying to figure out how to grow under the hoop in Texas.  This past winter started out in October with a rough week or 2 of freezes, then it was very warm for a few months and winter finished with a few weeks of freezing weather.  This lack of consistency causes problems like early  bolting and stunting.  I’m going to have to think this thru for next winter.  I also learned this winter to NOT grow broccoli or cabbage under the hoop.  (The cabbage & broccoli grown outside of the hoops is doing great.) I also can’t grow spinach under the hoop.  I’ll also have to be more vigilant about the aphids.  Also, the cos lettuce didn’t need to be under the hoops – it didn’t do well.  I think that the main reason that I planted all of these things under the hoops was to protect them from rabbits.  Last fall the rabbits ate all of my lettuce and spinach.  This winter they didn’t even touch any of the cabbage or broccoli that was planted in the open.  The only rabbit issue I had was one blue berry plant eaten.

Some of this gorgeous kale is bolting and some isn’t.  While I like this kale, I don’t believe a few plants will be enough to save for seeds.  Also, I just don’t have the room to let this leaf crop sprout it’s seed heads – that takes a lot of space.
under the hoop

This is a close up of the kale and small beets.
under the hoop beets kale lettuce

There is no reason to show pics of the other 2 hoop garden beds – they aren’t this impressive.

Last winter this bed provided me a bountiful crop of chard that I spent weeks dehydrating in the food dryer.  Chard will be one of my main hoop crops next winter.

Again, my hoop garden is 5′ wide & 16′ long.  A 10′ length of gray plastic conduit fits perfectly from one bottom edge to the other, held in place by a 2′ section of 3/8″ rebar cut into 2′ sections with 12″ of each piece pounded into the ground.  I bought a $40 box of thick plastic.  The 100′ roll was cut into four 25′ sections.  The 12′ width fit perfectly over the hoops with a foot on each end resting on the ground, weighted down with old 2×4 pieces of lumber.  The extra 3 to 4′ of plastic on each end was gathered and weighed down with a few bricks or rocks.

I like the idea of the hoop gardens, but I need to rethink this and work it some other way next winter.

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A Peek Under The Hoop

This is a quick peek under one of my 3 hoop gardens.  This one has broccoli at the front – this is the same broccoli that had the initial problem with downy mildew.  After a few treatments – discussed in a previous post – the plants seem small, but no sign of mildew.  These plants now have tiny heads – hopefully they will grow into big, harvest-able heads.

Midway back on the right side, in front of more broccoli, is bok choy.  Then there is broccoli, and spinach behind the broccoli.  On the left half of the bed, the small seedlings are spinach and lettuce.

a peek under the hoop

The other beds are more impressive – will try to post pics soon.

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Brassica Seedlings

Time to get the broccoli and cabbages started and in the ground.  This is usually a difficult thing for me because it is usually so hot until about the end of September and then it can cool down quickly and I just have a hard time trying to get cole crops started when it is so hot.  This is just something that I have to work on, having the discipline to start seedlings when the charts say to.

Today I started planting the largest of my cabbage seedlings.  A few days ago I started planting broccoli in a bed that will be covered with plastic on hoops this winter.  I have found that cabbage is more likely to survive our mildly cold winters, but that broccoli is best sheltered during freezes.  I will also plant cabbage in it once the beans and basil are harvested.  I like to rotate crops, but this can be difficult when I have to scatter crops here and there in my limited raised beds – as one crop finishes the next can go in.  Oh, if I only had plenty of room to plant stuff together in an organized manner!

broccoli and cabbage seedlings

After a few weeks the tiny seedlings above grew into the larger seedlings below.  These are red and green cabbage seedlings.
cabbage seedlings

Broccoli is on the left and cabbage on the right, below.  Once the seedlings get this big, it is easy to tell them apart.

I fertilize my seedlings with either mild miracle grow or fish fertilizer – one or the other, constantly until I put them in the ground.
broccoli and cabbage seedlings

More seedlings.  I started several batches of cole seedlings during the course of several weeks.  The seedlings in the back right are vinca flowers.  Vinca is very hard to start during the cool spring – when flowers need to be started for spring planting.  During the hot summer, however, they sprout all over the place as the vinca flowers turn to seed pods that mature and pop all over.  I dug a few up from the base of the larger vincas.  It would be cool if I could keep these tiny seedlings alive during the winter – that would give me a giant head start on the spring flowers – unless they stunt during the low light and cool winter.
seedlings including vinca

I actually start my seedlings in small propagation trays and then transplant them into these larger pots before they finally go into the ground.  I really don’t know if all that work is necessary on my small scale garden.

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Swiss Chard

Last October, I planted Luculus Swiss Chard. (The seeds were from 2009 – still germinated very well).   It didn’t grow particularly well thru the very cold winter.  This spring it took off and for the past month or so I have been drying a load or 2 each day.  Swiss chard is a cooler weather plant and I can see some of the plants starting to bolt.  I can see different styles of leaves and have chosen the plants that I want to let go to seed – plants that have very large, wrinkled leaves, shorter stems are preferred.

wide shot swiss chard

These are dried swiss chard leaves.  It only takes about 2 to 2 1/2 hours at 110 to 115 degrees to dry a load.  After doing a few loads, I realized that I can lay leaves right up next to each other, touching along leaf edges.  This means that I can pack about a third more in the dryer that I first thought.
dried swiss chard leaves

These dried leaves are what is left after laying them out before drying – leaves touching – across the sheet.  You can see that 2 leaves actually dried together.  Not a problem – they are totally dried.  These are leaf halves – I rinse them off, lay them flat and slice along each side of the main vein – it doesn’t dry quickly – and dry the leaf material, not the main stem.
dried swiss chard leaves in food dryer

These are just a few of the leaf shapes from the same batch of Luculus Swiss Chard seed packet.  Some leaves grow to almost 24″ long.  I like to let them grow large to dry.  Smaller is better for eating raw.  At this point in the season, I am just working on letting the best leaves grow as large as possible before cutting and drying.
assorted swiss chard leaves

I am carefully culling the leaves.  I cut and dry the largest and most wrinkled leaves – a personal preference.  I have picked the plants that I want to allow to go to seed. For those chosen few, I am leaving the small leaves and some larger leaves – cutting off only the largest leaves.   Some of those chosen plants are starting to bolt, as is expected as the days warm.  I will be removing and drying the ‘other’ plants as they start to bolt, eventually leaving only the bolting chard as it goes to seed.  I have never before let swiss chard go to seed so I really don’t know what to expect.
carefully harvesting swiss chard

I have already planted squash, tomatoes and peppers around the chard.  They are growing, waiting their turn to expand into the space now occupied by the swiss chard.  This picture shows some of the chosen plants – they have strong, large, wrinkled leaves – just the way I like them.
carefull harvesting swiss chard

The little plants in front of the chard are pepper seedlings.  You can’t see from these pics, but all of the chard plants have lots of cut off stems at their base.  Standard instructions usually say to cut all of the chard leaves off a few inches from the ground and let it grow back. I don’t do that – I cut the largest leaves to dry and allow the baby leaves to grow. The chard will be gone when they need that space.  I don’t have all of the room that I would like so I am working on figuring out how to work the planting as I go from spring/summer to fall/winter gardening, and back again.

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Chard, Chard, Chard – What To DoWith All This Chard

Time is running out on this chard.  It will probably still be good for another month or so until it gets too hot.  I have been drying 2 batches of chard a day for the past few weeks.  When I cut out the thick stems, it only takes about 2 to 2 and a half hours at lowest temperature – about 105 to 110 degrees – to dry the leaves.

garden chard

This bed of chard was planted last fall and lived under a plastic greenhouse covering – the gray supports can still be seen (they have since been removed and put up for the summer).  I am now carefully harvesting leaves because I am selecting certain plants to let go to seed.  I am selecting plants that have giant, wrinkled leaves – the kink that I like.

What a beautiful, giant, wrinkly leaf! These leaves all came from a batch of Luculus Chard seeds.

giant chard leaf

These giant chard leaves are a bit less wrinkled, but still have nice, thick leaves.
closeup of giant chard leaves

I also planted this red stemmed chard, Ruby Red, an heirloom variety. Only 2 plants survived and grew to large plants – possibly because these were 2009 seeds. This variety also has nice wrinkled leaves. I can’t, however, let both varieties go to seed because they will cross and I will have an inbred mess.  Both of these varieties are heirloom.

red stem chard

A few posts back I posted pictures of the food dryer and drying kale.  I will be posting of the dryer full of chard as soon as I get the pics uploaded.  I can crunch up 2 dryer loads and stuff them into one wide mouth quart canning jar.

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Carrots – Which Variety Do I Prefer?

This past winter growing season, being my first time to grow crops under a hoop garden, I tried 2 varieties of carrots – Scarlet Nantes and Autumn King.

Scarlet Nantes are on the left and Autumn King are on the right.  The Autumn King grew larger and looked more orange.  The Scarlet Nantes were a paler orange and overall the carrots were smaller.  There was not a discernible difference in taste between the 2 varieties.  They are both heirloom varieties.

autumn king carrots vs scarlet nantes

These carrots were planted in beds that were just filled with composted horse manure.  I had read that planting carrots in such a rich compost would result in lots of small hairy roots all over them – this did not prove to be true.

I have a mountain of carrots to finish harvesting.

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Drying Kale

I grew 2 varieties of Kale, Blue Curled Scotch Kale and Dwarf Blue Curled Vates Strain.

Blue Curled Scotch kale has larger, softer leaves and dried in a few hours with the dehydrator set between 105 and 110 degrees.  You can see the leaves on the dryer shelf.  The stems, however, do NOT dry.  The stems remained soft and moist,   so I crumbled the dry leaves off of the stems.  The few thin stems that dried were stiff like thin toothpicks – I don’t really want that stuff in my kale leaves.  You can see the stripped leaf stems on top of the dryer.

blue curled scotch kale

This mason jar is holding about 3 dryer loads of crumbled kale leaves.  Those leaves really dry to nothing.  Dried kale is very good in soups and other dishes that some dried green pieces look good in.

dried kale

I tried to dry some of the Dwarf Blue Curled Vates kale, however it just doesn’t seem to dry in a few hours.  In fact, none of the leaves every fully dired.  Most of it ended up in the compost.  Stay with Scotch Kale if you want to dry it.

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Under the Hoops

This is the first winter that I have had a covered hoop garden.  A few posts ago, you can see the garden beds with the hoops in place.  The hoops are 10′ under ground gray conduit.  About a dollar and a half each, not bad. They are secured into the ground with a 2′ section of 3/8″ rebar, cut to 2′ sections and pounded half way into the ground.

The tent is a 24′ section of thicker plastic from Lowes.  It was a 100′ roll that cost $40 something.  I cut it into 4 sections, allowing about 4′ to hang over the ends and be gathered and secured.  I did not nail the plastic on – I simply weighed the long sides down with pieces of lumber.  Seemed to work OK.

Since the plastic is only on the beds for half the year – about October thru March – and not the hard summer sun, I am hoping that the pieces will last several years.

I was surprised at the amount of heat under the plastic on a cool winter day.  The greens seemed to like it.

under the hoop

You can see a few garlic scattered about.  The greens in the front are luculus chard.  The greens on the left side, mid way back are kohlrabi, which we are eating for the greens.  On the front right side, out of view, is Parris Isle cos lettuce.  (Some of it seemed to freeze to death – unusual because I have never had it freeze to death before).  Scarlet nantes carrots are growing in the far back right side.  They seem to be happy.  They better fill out in the next month because by mid-March when I plan on pulling them to make room for some of my summer squash to get an early start.  They prefer warm weather, but I am going to see if I can start them early under the hoops with the plastic sheeting protecting and warming them.  The yellow flowers on the back left side are bok choy going to seed.  It won’t be any good because no insects were in the tent to pollinate them.  They took a beating when the outside temps reached down to the mid-teens – the white stems died but the green leaves seemed to survive just fine.  Every thing else – except possibly some lettuce – survived the seriously freezing temps.

This was my first winter to experiment with plastic covered garden tents for winter hardening.  Next winter I need to get some serious production since I now have an idea of what’s going on.  I also found out that to protect my winter crops from the rabbits and deer, I need to grow everything except the turnips and curly kale under the hoops.  All of my lettuce and spinach that I planted outside the tents was eaten.

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