Checking on the Cold Frames

Although we woke up to another dusting of snow this morning, the weather was actually quite nice: sunny and somewhere in the 40s. This was a welcome change after the bitter cold we had last week, and it was a great day to check on how the veggies in our cold frame and greenhouse tunnels fared during our extreme low temperatures.

First stop on the tour were the carrots near the house:

You can see a few exposed near the top. The pitchfork in the foreground was necessary for this harvest because the ground was frozen through the first few inches, even under the plastic. That's not too surprising – it was so cold last week, and this tunnel is in a corner that doesn't get that much afternoon sun in the dead of winter (it's shaded by the house now, but it's fine when the sun is on a higher path at other times of the year). Anyway, the carrots are fine, but digging them up requires some muscle to get through the soil with the fork, and then to use a trowel to whack all the frozen dirt off of the carrot. But since we ate them right away (for dinner tonight), they were no worse for wear for having been frozen for a couple days.

In another greenhouse tunnel, we had sown some lettuces, turnips, beets, and kale after fall began, to fill in gaps where broccoli didn't make it. (Side note: our unlucky streak with broccoli continues, and we didn't get any from these plantings either.) We covered the seedlings with a floating row cover in addition to the plastic tunnel that was already in place, and when I peeled back the fabric today, they all looked fine: 

These are still too small to bother harvesting (unless we open a bistro boasting salads of micro greens), we are hoping that they stay warm enough over the winter to survive. Then as soon as the daylight hours tick back up and the weather warms even a bit, they should start growing again (they are dormant right now, but not dead). If they survive, this should give us a nice jump on spring greens while we wait for new plantings to take hold.

Also doing well in their tunnel are the leeks:

Fletch likes the warm tunnels, so he was happy to inspect the leeks. Kirk dug up several of these, and although the top of the soil was also a little frozen here, the bulbs were fine. The leaves aren't much to look at, but those get composted anyway.

These photos show the successes. Not doing as well are the Brussels sprouts and cabbage, which are definitely dormant and looking pretty shabby. I'm less hopeful that spring growth on those will be in the form we want, but we're leaving them as a continuing experiment (and because we just don't feel like taking down the tunnel until we need it for something else). 

Not pictured, because it's partially covered in snow, is our kale. The kale isn't in a cold frame or tunnel at all, but it doesn't seem to matter. The snow is working like a nice, natural blanket now, and the kale is as crisp and sweet as ever, despite the nighttime lows in the single digits a few days ago. 

The snow also helps protect the kale from a major predator:

Abigail and the rest of the flock were happy to get some exercise and foraging time out in the yard today while Kirk cleaned out the hen house. I'm not sure they found any bugs in their scratching, but they got to snack on a bunch of rye grass at least. We also enticed them back into the coop with a bowl of lettuce and beet greens that we pulled – leaves that weren't great for salads anymore, but in fine shape for the chickens. Not all the ladies are as sure-footed as Abigail in the snow, though. Martha (the white one, and our most skittish bird) wiped out trying to run around the corner of the coop on her way back inside. Not a bad afternoon, laughing in the snowy sunshine in the dead of winter.


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