Frost Dates

frost-credit-_leena_holmstrom_natans_oy_finlandIt is important to plant your garden seeds and transplants at the right time and the key is knowing when your area will see its last spring frost. Some garden plants taste even better after a little frost. Cool season crops such as cabbage, broccoli, lettuce and kale can tolerate planting zonesa light frost and will grow best when sown a couple weeks before the last spring frost. Peas and spinach, are so cold-hardy they can be planted “as soon as the ground can be worked,” which means that if the dirt is not frozen and you can get them in the ground go for it! For us, that date is around St. Paddy’s Day.

Warm season crops (i.e., squash, cucumber, and basil) will be killed by frost if your seeds come up too soon. Transplants (already started plants) such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants will be lost in that last annoying frost if set out too early. Heed the warning on seed packets that say, “Plant after all danger of frost has passed.”

Finding the average last spring frost date for your specific area may take some research.There are many U.S. maps that show last frost dates however it is hard to find your exact location dates. The best source is the National Climatic Data Center web site. Frost-date-chartChoose your state and  nearest city.  The site will show your average last spring (and first fall) frost dates, based on weather data collected by the National Climatic Data Center from 1971 through 2000 from that location. You can choose to plant between a 50/50 probability of frost after the given date, or play it safe and choose the 10%date, which means there is only a 10% chance of a frost after that date.Another great tool to find your average frost dates is the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Vegetable Garden Planner web site. The Planner will send you customized planting reminders for which crops need planting based on your frost dates and location.

Our west central Ohio50/50 probability frost free date is April 16th, however, I never trust that date. I am not going to chance losing my transplants by putting them out to early. Most warm weather seeds will not germinate in cold soil so waiting a week or two will not only help with germination but lesson your chance of having to scramble for grandmas old frost-cover-msheets to throw over your baby plants. We plant our transplants on Mother’s Day; if we are having a very warm year and the soil is warm I will direct sow seeds a week before planting transplants.

Very early spring (as soon as the ground can be worked)

  • onions
  • peas
  • spinach

Early springVegi_Planting_001.60152855_std

  • lettuce
  • beets
  • carrots
  • radishes
  • dill
  • cilantro
  • cabbage
  • broccoli
  • celery
  • kale
  • potatoes

After last frost date

  • beans
  • corn
  • melons
  • cucumbers
  • squash
  • tomatoes
  • peppers
  • pumpkins
  • eggplant
  • basil

Light freeze (frost) – 29°F to 32°F—tender plants killed, with little destructive effect on other vegetation.

Moderate freeze (frost)– 25°F to 28°F—widely destructive effect on most vegetation, with heavy damage to fruit blossoms and tender and semi-hardy plants.

Severe freeze (frost)– 24°F and colder—damage to most plants.

Phenology or Old Farmer Wisdom

I love old time farm sayings like “plant potatoes when the first dandelions bloom” or “cut in June will come back too soon, cut in July will surely die.” Long before we had the internet and hundreds of gardening books to read, these sayings were handed down from parent to 34e3d30f726dfe2cab922fc448731c51child and guided the yearly planting and harvesting. It turns out these sayings are accurate much of the time and the official name for them is Phenology. Many universities have devoted years to studying the validity of these sayings.

Events in the ‘natural calendar’ can be used to guide planting times in the vegetable garden or on the farm. The study and observation of seasonal events and their correlation to plant, insect, and animal life is called “phenology,” from the Greek for the “science of appearances.” Trees, shrubs, and flowers are sensitive to temperature and day length and develop on a regular schedule based on local conditions. It only makes sense to use these natural indicators to know when the weather is right for planting. Observations made over many years have led to some fairly reliable conclusions. According to the National Phenology Network“Phenology is nature’s calendar—when cherry trees bloom, when a robin builds its nest and when leaves turn color in the fall.”

The life cycle of the comLilacmon lilac is an often used guide in Phenology studies and garden planning and planting. The leafing out and progression of lilac blooms (from bud to flower fade) can aid the vegetable gardener from year to year. For example, after years of observing the lilac, naturalists have concluded that it is safe to plant tender bean, cucumber, and squash seeds when the lilac is in full bloom.

Here are some of the most common sayings

Vegetable Garden Crop Planting Phenology
Beans: Plant beans when lilac is in full bloom, also cucumber seeds and squash seeds.
Beets: Blooming crocus are your cue to plant radishes, parsnips, and spinach.
Broccoli: Plant broccoli when lilacs first begin to leaf out and dandelions are in bloom.
Brussels sprouts: Plant Brussels sprouts when lilacs first begin to leaf out and dandelions are in bloom.
Cabbage: Plant cabbage and cabbage family crops (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collards) when lilacs first begin to leaf out and dandelions are in bloom, also beets, carrots, lettuce, and spinach.
Cabbage for spring: Plant spring cabbage in fall when mock orange is in full bloom
Collards: Plant collards when lilacs first begin to leaf out and dandelions are in bloom.
Corn: Plant corn when apple blossoms begin to fall and when oak leaves are the size of a squirrel’s ear.
Cucumber: Plant cucumber seeds when lilac is in full bloom and when the blooms just start to fade, also bean seeds and squash seeds.
Eggplant: Transplant eggplant when irises bloom and daylilies start to bloom, also melons and peppers.
Hardy, cool-season spring crops: plant hardy crops when plum and peach trees are in full bloom.
Peas: Plant peas when daffodils and forsythia are in full bloom.
Potatoes: Plant potatoes when the first dandelions bloom.
Squash: Plant squash seeds when lilac is in full bloom and just as the blooms fade, also bean seeds and cucumber seeds.
Tomatoes: Plant tomatoes when day lilies start to bloom or lily-of-the-valley plants are in full bloom or flowering dogwood are in bloom.
Perennials: can be planted when the maple trees begin to leaf out

Vegetable Garden Pests Phenology
Apple maggot moths are at their peak when Canada thistle blooms; protect apple fruits.
Mexican bean beetle larvae appear when foxglove flowers open.
Cabbage root maggots are active when wild rocket blooms.
Japanese beetles arrive when morning glory vines begin to climb.
Squash vine borers are at their peak when chicory blooms; protect pumpkin plants.
Tent caterpillars are hatching when crabapple trees are in bud; begin caterpillar controls.

While not totally foolproof, following nature’s clock helps us tune in to the rhythm of life around us. Accumulating notes on insect indicator plants in new-pages-of-worlds-most-mysterious-book-are-seen-for-the-first-time-27281-1-590x812your own garden over several seasons paves the way toward being a much more effective manager of pests that plague your garden year after year. This can help eliminate time wasted looking for pests that have yet to become active, and remind you to check plants closely when they are scheduled to be a certain insect’s next main course. As we wait on spring, we are wise to keep our eyes open and pencils handy to better understand the Phenology of our one-of-a-kind gardens. Consider the Chinese proverb, “Spring is sooner recognized by plants than by men.”

What are some signals where you live? I know that I am going to plant a lilac bush this spring so I can start being more cooperative with my natural world!

Resources
Growveg
Farmers Almanac
Harvesttotable
usanpn
Beineke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

The Low-Tech Approach to Mulberries

Spring will be here before you know it and the first season on our homestead is Mulberry season.  The purpose of this post is to go through the process we use to use to juice our berries.  It was a messy process, but not too difficult.  This is what we consider the low-tech approach.  We have started using a food mill, but if you want to process berries on the cheap, you can do it with almost no tools.

We normally juice the first few sets of berries that come out of the tree due to all the debris that drops with the first few shakes of the tree.  Because of the way juicing works you do not use any of the pulp so if there are a few little leaves and things still in with the berries that’s OK you will not use that stuff anyway.

First we fill the tub with the berries with water.  This will cause most of the gunk to float.  The really good berries will sink.  Next we skim the floating berries off of the top of the tub.  Then picked out the big sticks and gunk.

Mulberries 1

We used a frying skimmer for this process

After you have the berries you are going to juice ready to go, put together the rest of the juicing gear. You will need gloves, this is very very important unless you want to look like Barney.

 

Mulberries 2

The smashers!  Yes, I understand this is kind of a creepy picture…

 

Next set your splatter screen on top of a big pot like so

Mulberries 3

Then lay out your cheese cloth folded over a few times

Mulberries 4

Now it is time to squish some berries! Put a scoop of berries on the center of the cheese cloth and pick up all four corners. Then start to squish out the juice thought the mesh screen and into the pot.

 

Mulberries 8

This is why we use the mesh strainer.  As you continue to squish seeds will start to get loose.

 

 

After you have squished all the juice out throw away the pulp or give it to your chickens.

Mulberries 9

Then put the juice in a container for storage in the fridge until you need it. We made all of our juice into jelly. I like using Mason jars to store the juice.

Mulberries 10

Now sit back and admire all of your hard work! It takes four cups of juice to fill a jar and about 12 cups of berries to get that much juice!

Mulberries 11

Our current process has not changed much, but now we use a food mill to juice and separate the seeds, pulp, and leaves from the juice.

Fall Garden Prep

The weather is quickly turning cold and wet now that fall has officially arrived and we lost our garden to a hard frost 2 weeks ago. Now we are in full gear putting the garden to bed for the winter. To help the spring planting run as smooth as possible, there are some things that we try to do every year before the snow starts. It takes us a few weekends of work to accomplish everything however we are happy to have put the work in once spring arrives.

First we do some general clean up; putting away tarps, looking for any lost tools, folding up row covers, and pulling up stakes. We do not remove the dead plants unless they are diseased. Bean roots are fantastic nitrogen fixers; tomato plants get 20151017_125259pushed over and then are left to breakdown over the winter; and our ducks help clean up the garden by enjoying a smorgasbord with most of the other plants. We do flame weed any patches that are particularly bad to help kill them off for next year.

Second we sheet mulch the entire garden. This is a huge task and takes quite a bit of time however saves us from many weed issues in the spring. This coming spring we are changing the sizes of our growing beds. We are going from a 4 foot bed width with 4 foot walk ways to 2 ½ foot beds with 2 foot walk ways. This will allow us to have more growing space in the same garden and 2 ½ feet is a standard industry

The clean up crew

The clean up crew

size for row covers and equipment. Because of this change, we are laying down a very thick layer of much over the entire garden to kill any weeds that have popped up in the rows and to give us a healthy blank slate to work with next year.

Small-bed backyard gardeners can do the same thing. Lay a good layer of mulch, compost, or leaves over the entire area or just the beds if you do not have a lot of material to work with. It can be quite thick because organic matter breaks down quickly and anything left over in the spring can just be raked to the side.

We are friends with a local tree trimming company and they dump truck loads of 20151101_131038wood chips for us to use. If you do not have that much room, try calling a local tree company and see if they would be willing to drop off a half load next time they are near your house. If you see a tree trimming truck in your neighborhood working, stop by and ask if you can have the chips, most companies are happy to help out.

The third fall garden task we do every year is plant garlic. Planting garlic in the fall is garlic-hardneck-drawingfantastic because it over-winters beautifully and takes one thing off of the spring to-do list. We are going to do an entire post on our garlic planting process in a week or two so stay tuned. You need to put garlic in before the ground freezes hard however after the temperature is consistently cold at night, otherwise the plants can sprout early. Fall garden prep can easily be put off after a long harvest season however the effort will make life so much better in the spring.

For the Love of Carrots!

Every year I look through seed catalogs trying to find the best fruit and vegetable varieties for our climate and needs. One of my favorite vegetables to choose are carrots. There are so many fun varieties and home grown carrots taste absolutely fantastic!  There are five basic types of Carrots.

  • Chantenay develop stocky roots that become sweeter as the soil cools in the fall.
  • Danvers make great juice and the sturdy roots store well.
  • Imperator are long and need deep, sandy soil to thrive.
  • Iniature have small, shallow roots that are often quite sweet and are good for heavy clay soil.
  • Nantes are fast and easy to grow, and adapt to a range of climates and soils.

This spring I am going to plant three different varieties from Baker Creek.

carrot-cosmic-purpleCosmic Purple – 80 days germination. These Carrots have bright purple skin and flesh that comes in shades of yellow and orange. This is a spicy and sweet-tasting root. These carrots are not only pretty, but purple carrots also are higher in antioxidants than orange carrots and they contain anti-inflammatory properties.

carrot-danvers-126Danver Half Long – 70 days germination. The original Danvers Half Long dates back to the 1870s. This is the old standard American carrot that is adaptable, dependable, and productive. Thick 7” roots have good flavor. I grow this carrot for its smaller size and ability to grow in harder soil.

11117St. Valery – 70 days germination. The Vilmorins of France mentioned this variety in 1885 and said it had been grown a “long time.”A large carrot with bright red-orange roots that are sweet and tender. St. Valery is smooth, 10”-12” long, and 2”-3” in diameter. This is a rare variety and will be a new Heirloom for us this year. It is a traditional carrot that receives great reviews.

We live in Zone 6a where carrots can be grown in the spring and fall. Using a greenhouse or hoop house will mean a third crop can be harvested though the winter.  To plant, begin sowing seeds directly in the garden three weeks before the last expected frost; plant again every 2 to 3 weeks after that. Most cultivars take 70 to 80 days to mature, so sow the last planting 2 to 3 months before the first expected fall frost. Sow seeds about a quarter inch deep and 2 inches apart, in rows spaced at least 10 inches apart; carrots do well in double or triple rows. Thin seedlings to 4 to 6 inches apart, depending on the variety’s mature size. Carrot seeds are very small so they can take some time to plant. They also take longer to germinate than other vegetables so do not worry if they take awhile to come up.

For Zone 6a, the frost free date is April 14th so you should plant carrot seeds around March 24th.The reality is that in our area, there is usually a frost right before Mother’s Day. I do not put out any of my starts until after Mother’s Day for that reason. However, because carrots are stared from seed and are quite cold hearty, I feel comfortable planting these in late March is ok.