The rollercoaster ride of spring at Red Wagon is in progress! We had a glorious day potting up perennials last week outside in the sun. Fortunately the plants are oblivious to the chilly weather this week, putting up lots of new leaves and enjoying the cozy conditions in our greenhouses. And you can too! Come to our open house this Sunday, April 1st from 9am to noon and soak up some sun, pick up some adorable plants for your table or windowsill, check out the calves next door and talk to our great staff about your gardening goals! Check out the photos below to see what we've been up to...
Sunday, April 1, 2012 9 am to noon
Red Wagon Plants Open House
We welcome you to visit our greenhouses on Sunday, April 1st, from 9 am to noon.
We will have coffee, tea, and snacks for you as you peek around the greenhouses and see what it looks like when we are in full swing. Feel free to bring children, see the calves next door, and come armed with garden stories and questions!
We will have some plants for sale as well as Johnny's Selected Seeds. Come by for cold hardy flowers, herbs and veggies. Bagged compost will be available for feeding your garden beds and, best of all, our staff will be on hand to meet you and talk shop!
We look forward to seeing you,
-Julie and the Crew
It is finally that glorious time of year when work in the greenhouses begins. Our first cuttings have arrived and we have started potting them up, giving each plant new room to grow in wonderful Vermont Compost Company potting mix. (See note below) We can imagine that they feel the same way we do upon first entering the greenhouse, as they shed their cardboard boxes and we our many winter layers. At first the sunshine pouring down dazzles us, and we squint in the brightness. But soon we are all reveling in the lovely feeling of the rich soil, the moist, 85 degree air on our skin, and the intoxicating scent of rosemary. Within a few days this greenhouse will be filled to bursting with vigorously growing young plants.
Note: "Cuttings" are plants that can only be started from rooted stems. Instead of the plant producing seed and being propagated from a seed, plants that are 'vegetatively propagated' (as it is called) are only true to type from the stem cuttings. In some cases, this means that they are cloned hybrids - a cross between two plants and they would revert back to looking like one of their parents if you planted the seed. Another reason plants are propagated this way is because they are too slow to germinate and in our climate, they would be hard to establish. We buy in our rooted cuttings because making them ourselves would require heating a greenhouse all winter long and for now it is more efficient to buy in these beautiful cuttings from growers in Quebec and Massachusetts who specialize in this kind of greenhouse production. And just to be clear, this is old-fashioned plant breeding and propagating - these are not test tube babies or genetically modified organisms.
It might be 5 below, but we've got plants to grow! We put new plastic on our third greenhouse last Wednesday, a cold, but beautifully sunny morning.
We are busy preparing for the 2011 season and this includes counting everything in sight such as seeds, pots, trays, tags, and signs as well as ordering seeds, cutttings, pots, trays, tags, soil, and anything else we may need to make everything tick. But the most exciting preparation is the new grading and gravel in the greenhouses. When we first built the greenhouses 6 years ago, we had to cut some corners (that money thing, you know) and it meant that we did not spread and compact gravel before building the greenhouses. Well, over time, the native clay sunk and became a wet, weedy mess which unfortunately can harbor pathogens and pests. This fall, Linda Gionti of Gionti Stone Works, and Parker Excavation have been working together to bring us brand new, beautiful gravel floors which we are covering with brand new landscape fabric. This will keep weeds down and create a clean surface that can be swept and kept clean. It feels just great to have such team work (thanks to Eric, Jonathan, Allison and Buddy) hauling everything out of the houses and then setting it all back up again. Here are a few photos to give you a taste of the job.
It's kind of like getting a spa treatment for the buildings.
We are busy happily working in the greenhouses! Early spring is an active time for seed planting. Some vegetables need to be planted in a greenhouse and nurtured along as the Vermont summer is just not long enough for them to be planted directly in the garden. The germination of the earliest vegetables is a thrill to us and we know that they will thrill you in your gardens. With a few simple strategies for season extension, Spring can be a rewarding time to see a few early flowers and even to grow some cold tolerant greens. Containers are a great way to do this. They can be kept indoors on the coldest days and nights, covered up with row covers, blankets or plastic sheeting on the mildly cold nights, and left out all day and night once the weather permits. Any crate, or large pot with holes in the bottom can be filled with good quality potting soil such as Vermont Compost Company?s “Fort V” and then planted with an array of salad greens and edible blossoms such as pansies that you can cut from once they reach a few inches high. You can cut and harvest these plants and allow them to re-grow for multiple harvests, allowing you a gorgeous salad while it is still too cold to be out in the garden.
As soon as the soil can be worked in your garden, it is possible to get a jump on our seemingly late warm weather by building a simple shelter out of Number 9 gauge wire and some row cover or even old blankets and plastic sheeting. If you cut the wire into 6 foot lengths, plant each end into the ground (making a hoop) and repeat every few feet, you now have a very quick and easy tunnel frame upon which to drape your fabric. This creates a lovely shelter for some very hardy greens. With this type of simple tunnel, a version of a cold frame, it is most important to cover it at night and uncover it in the morning. The plants can get very hot unless you use special row cover designed to stay on night and day.
The most cold tolerant food crops we can grow here are things like kale, spinach, collards, arugula, mustard greens, mache (corn salad), and many herbs such as cilantro, dill, sorrel, and chives. Certain lettuces are very cold hardy, but they cannot take the frost quite as well as the plants mentioned above--good cold hardy varieties include the French heirlooms, “Reines des Glaces” and “Merveiles des Quatres Saisons.” These most tender and delicate looking lettuces can take quite a beating when it comes to cold weather. Overall, early spring is a great time to satisfy the need for green, fresh foods that are grown locally after a long winer of leafy foods trucked in from far away. The difference in taste and the level of satisfaction you will experience is well worth the effort.
With these colder days also come a chance to produce a few more late season greens in the vegetable garden. These include lettuce, kale, parsley cilantro, arugula, mustard greens and spinach. Here is a simple system that can be followed by anyone wishing to extend the fall and winter harvest.
Here in Vermont, we can count on just a few frost-free months. But with a little bit of planning, strategic planting, and getting the right tools, you can harvest through a bit of frost and snow. But by planning out crop planting so that crops are mature before the short days and cold weather hits, you can then protect them and harvest them well into winter.
Row covers such as reemay are usually used with hoops made of #9 gauge wire so that the fabric does not rest right on the plants. These covers breath and come in various weights. They allow light and water in, but raise the temperature of the soil and air inside the cover.
Cold frames are simple boxes that are filled with good quality soil and are covered with windows (called "lights") or clear plexiglass or sometimes plastic. They are used for season extension, plant protection, as mini-greenhouses, and as a place to overwinter tender perennials. The covers are closed at night and opened on sunny days. Lettuce, spinach, hardy greens, and herbs can be grown most of the winter in a hot bed with a south facing light. "Hot beds" are deep cold frames that hold a thick layer of manure below the soil. As the manure decomposes, it lets out a tremendous amount of heat which keeps the frame very warm at night even in the winter. Cold frames can be made out of wood, straw, stone, concrete with old storm windows on hinges. The windows must be small enough that they can be opened and closed easily by raising them up and propping them with a stick.
Straw mulch is a great way to extend the season for vegetables such as kale, spinach, carrots, beets and other root crops. Once the crops are matured, a very thick layer of straw around the base of the plants will keep the ground from freezing so that the roots may still be harvested. The straw also keeps the top of the crops from freezing in extreme temperatures. Spinach can be overwintered under straw so that an early spring crop can be eaten. Kale lasts well into winter and is also helped by a deep straw layer so that the cold wind does not completely dessicate the leaves.
Every home garden has microclimates. It is a good idea to take advantage of these when planning the fall garden. A south-facing foundation wall is a great place to prep a small area for greens and herbs that will be well sheltered from cold, northern winds. It's a good place to situate a cold frame as well and to plant it with radishes, greens, and other crops that will benefit from the micro climate.
Containers are another great way to extend the season. Herbs, greens and lettuces can be planted in pots, apple crates, milk crates, or window boxes and moved inside when the weather gets too cold. While they might not last all winter long, they will certainly give you some fresh eating for a few months longer...all you need is a sunny spot or some simple grow lights. Thyme, parsley, rosemary, and sage all do well in containers in the home and will last all winter. Kale and lettuce will last up to 5 or 6 weeks longer than they would outdoors.
Photograph by One Green Generation . Creative Commons license.