Thursday, November 18, 2010

Gardening Greens--in Mid-November

Last night it got down to 24degrees (F), but my lettuce, carrots, beets, and spinach all survived happily. Why? The miracle of row covers. In this case, I used a simple doubled over sheet of heavy black plastic.  While I don't normally suggest plastic for row covers as it can actually backfire (the plastic doesn't breathe), I couldn't find my normal heavy row cover last night.

As some background, I planted most of the fall/winter garden in mid-September by just sprinkling the seeds over the row. I was too lazy to try rows again, and my seeds were old, so I knew that many would not sprout at all. The big reason that I even planted was that I had an open garden bed, and still had time before snow and freezing settled in.

Now that it is mid-November in the middle of New Mexico we are getting temperatures that make any leafy plant want to curl up and freeze. I have been lucky so far--low temperatures normally above 28F, which means I don't need to cover the plants. Yesterday though, I checked my trusty NOAA site and saw that the temperature was not going to be that warm. In fact it was supposed to be down to 24F and windy--bad news for uncovered plants.  Right after I saw that I hopped outside and scrambled to cover up the row. This morning when I uncovered the row, the plants were wet, and slightly squished, but very happy and not frozen.

So here is my recommendation for anyone trying to extend their garden season:
  • Check the forecasted low--if it is going to be below around 27-28, your leafy greens may suffer
  • Cover your garden plants before dark if possible--it holds the heat better--but any time is better than none
  • Covering options:
    • old sheets
    • towels
    • light blankets
    • plastic sheeting
    • for long term storage: thick layers of straw (it will cause seeds to sprout later)
    • purchased row covers
    • milk jugs with the bottom cut off (keep the lid)
    • glass jars
    • pretty much anything that you can put on before it gets cold and take off once it warms up
  • Make sure to take off the covering in the morning (if it is going to be above freezing)
    • if you have cloth covers it should be fine to leave it on a few days
    • plastic should NOT be left on any longer than necessary because the plants will sweat, and could get too hot--or that extra plant sweat could actually cause worse freezing
  • Water deep during the day before especially cold nights
    • the water helps to hold heat from during the day
  • If the plants look shriveled and sad in the morning, don't pick the shriveled leaves
    • either they will bounce back and rehydrate, or
    • they will act as a mini blanket for the plant next time it gets cold
How long till my garden dies? Who knows. High desert winter and fall gardening is never a sure thing. I don't think that I can keep my garden alive outside if it drops consistently below 20F, or if it stops warming up during the day (probably early to mid December if I am lucky).  On the other hand, there is always the option of rescuing some of the plants and bringing them inside to grow over the winter and ignore the frigid temperatures.

Growing in the high desert means that there is a long growing season, but finicky growing conditions. Temperatures swing wildly every day--24F low followed by a high of 62F is what today's forecast was, tonight's low will be 36F with no need to cover the garden. Aah the fun of gardening in the middle of nowhere!

How do you extend your garden or  do you? Do you live somewhere where you can plant a fall garden--or do you hibernate and move inside for fall and winter?

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