***PLEASE NOTE: This is the handout provided to attendees at the 2014 Organic Growers School Spring Conference class Shifting Gears to Year-Round Gardening with Jeff Ashton. While it was intended to be read in conjunction with the speaker’s presentation, we believe it can still be a great resource. Enjoy!***
OGS 2014 “Shifting Gears to Year-Round Gardening”
CLARIFICATION: If you came in here thinking we will be talking about growing veggies in heated greenhouses so we can have forced veggies, you are mistaken. The presenter has never grown food in heated greenhouses, though he has no problem with gardening folks growing food this way. This workshop is about modifying the growing environment through the use of sound planning and utilization of low budget season extension contraptions. In addition, the goal of the workshop is to shift your thinking to embrace a new awareness of growing food in the home garden.
THE BASIC TENANTS OF THE DOCTRINE OF THE YEAR-ROUND CONTINUAL CULTIVATION OF HOME GARDENS
- You should never labor so hard in the garden that you are unwilling to at least walk through your garden the next day.
- Each day, regardless of the weather, you must at least walk through the garden and pick five weeds, if you can find them, as you are passing through.
- You must consciously develop a ruthless attitude about pulling out plants which aren’t producing well, which you have too many of, or which have passed their prime for eating. Don’t squander nutrients on plants that are wasted… pull them out and have something else ready to replace them.
- Nothing must be done today (except for tenant #2). There is always tomorrow.
- Repeat the mantra “March and July until I die” one hundred times. At the end of this you will always remember to start your seeds in March and July for spring and fall crops. Focus on developing a seed starting system that you can use year after year with the least amount of effort.
- Develop an aggressive composting program. Keep trash bags in your vehicle for spontaneous compost material gathering.
- If you don’t loose plants occasionally to freezing temperatures, you aren’t pushing the temperature boundaries enough.
- Your loved ones are more important than your garden.
Five years ago… WHAT MARKET-GARDENER PAT BATTLE SAID ABOUT VARIOUS LETTUCE VARIETIES
- Tango:“most productive lettuce I grow”, “heads can get killed to the ground in winter and will come back again for cut-and-come-again harvest”, “the variety to grow if you don’t grow any other lettuces”; “in cold weather it does bolt as it warms up, but if mowed down as it starts to bolt, one can go back into leaf production if our typically capricious Spring’s shift back to cold and wet”; also can be cut to come seemingly endlessly as long as it stays cool”; “leaf structure adds loft to salad mixes”; “definitely not for warm weather”
- Winter Density: “a great compact romaine/butterhead” does fine in the three coolest seasons and it shines in the winter.
- Brun d’hiver: “great”; “can survive the winter unprotected but is not as vigorous as Tango”; “heirloom”
- Red Oak Leaf: “year-round workhorse”
- North Pole: “a great butterhead for winter”
- Akcel and Diamente: “both are forcing lettuces designed to be started after winter solstice indoors and then set out during a thaw under cover (at the very least a row cover) in late January through February for early April harvest of hefty, gorgeous butterheads“; “the one time I grew lots of these I only used row cover and they did fine but knowing how effective the combination of a row cover and an as-needed 2nd layer of plastic is…”
- Bronze Minuete: “ a hot weather favorite”; “can still be sweet after weeks of 80 plus weather”; “ I do not like Fedco’s Tom Thumb version”
- Jerico: “great drought -time lettuce, but performs poorly during a wet summer”
- Matchless Deer Tongue: “my favorite for summer although it is only moderately bolt resistant”
- Endless Deer Tongue: “it would make me a happy chap if this is all I could grow”; “this one also shines in the spring and fall; “like most lettuces with row cover and plastic, it is fine in the winter, but is outstripped by winter density and tango and in a season when all lettuces really shine its’ matchless qualities are less dramatic.
- Trout’s Back: also known as Forellenschluss, “a romaine with spectacular color on the leaves, and pretty tasty as well”; “holds quality even as it bolts in heat”; “this is Seed Savers’s Exchange’s favorite out of a collection of over 500 lettuces”
- Red Sails; “ this all American winner is gorgeous, incredibly productive ,and heat resistant to boot! (Fedco Seeds, by the way, seized the opportunity to produce their own seeds when Monsanto-owned Semenis’s patent expired”)
Pat’s Quick Lettuce Growing Tips: “you’ve got to keep them watered” ; “if it stalls out either because you took too long to get transplants in the ground or because of insufficient watering… you can often kick it back into the vegetative mode with a boost of immediately available nitrogen”; “ultimately I encourage folks to experiment because there are so many wonderful lettuce varieties”
BASIC MATERIALS AND SOURCES
- Fiberglass rods… an all-around premium solution that can be found a Reems Creek Nursery for hoops to cover garden beds with fabric or plastic. Looks good, easy to store, easy to use.
- Half-inch Electrical Conduit (called “EMT pipe”)can be found at electrical supply houses such as Consolidated Electric Distributors in Asheville(look in the Yellow Pages under Electric Equipment and Supplies), Hardware Stores, and Home Discount Centers. Connecters are required to join 10’ pieced of EMT if you want to use them to make a greenhouse frame. You will need to bend the EMT around a form to get each rib to have the same shape. Dr. John Wilson’s greenhouses are made from this material.
- 1-1/4” EMT pipe (found mostly at Electrical Supply houses) will fit perfectly inside 1-1/2” schedule 40 PVC pipe. Twenty foot lengths of PVC pipe are generally only found at plumbing supply house such as HOJOKA on Swannanoa River Road in Asheville. A 20’ piece of PVC that slides onto the EMT at each end will create an even hoop without further bending. Jeff Ashton’s greenhouse is made of this combination.
- ½” rebar stakes can be purchased at Home Discount centers and they fit perfectly inside 10’ x ¾” PVC pipe. Two re-bar stakes driven into each side of a 4’ span will create a perfect the termination points of a perfect hoop when the ends of the PVC pipe slides onto the rebar.
- A 20’ piece of ½” rebar will span a 14’ area to create a low hoop such as that found in Jeff Ashton’s Stoop House. You can find 20’ lengths at masonry supply outlets such as Cemex in Asheville.
- A 10’ piece of rebar will span a 5’ area in high hoop shape.
- Block Ladders come in 8’ lengths at span a 36” area to create a nice hoop. They are used to reinforce cinder block walls on each mortar course and can be found at masonry supply outlets or at home discount centers in the masonry supply aisle. Gardeners Supply sells units which look similar to block ladders… these are smaller and more expensive than what you can find right near where you live.
- Hog Wire Panels can be bent into a hoop with excellent structural integrity for homeowner greenhouses. It can be found at farm supply outlets such as Tractor Supply Company.
- Concrete re-enforcing wire comes in rolls 5’ wide and looks similar to hog wire but the gauge of wire is lighter.
- Locust 4×4 lumber can be found in Maggie Valley at Powell Wholesale Lumber 828-926-O848.
- Staples for holding down floating row covers can be purchased in small amounts for a lot of $. You can get a lifetime supply of 1000 for about 35 bucks at the Parker Farm Supply… just off Hiway 19 on the way to Burnsville. Also Ray’s Bags carries staples.
- The ASAP List Serve, is a good place to score materials.
- The IWANNA and Craigs List often lists very useable building materials cheap.
- Harmony Farm Supply is very comprehensive in season extension materials and comparable to Peaceful Valley Supply. Better to buy locally though because it supports local businesses and you don’t have to pay high shipping costs. Great resource for getting good ideas, though.
- 5th Season is the supply wing of Asheville Agricultural Systems. It is a good place to find stuff especially on-line.
- Coats Used Building Supplies, Asheville… large rolls of foam insulation for frost insulation.
- Biltmore Iron is a good place to find oddball metal
- Used drip tape is an excellent source for attaching plastic onto greenhouses with staples. A more secure method is to sandwich greenhouse plastic between the wood of a frame and sticker wood (slats of wood layered in stacks of wood at a lumber yard and generally left in piles that go to the dumpster unless picked up by wise and frugal season extenders.
- Floating Row Covers: Tough Bell lasts forever but is pricey. The lightest of the spun bonded types is intended for protection against insects in warmer weather. Agriband 17 is the medium weight and Agriband 19 is a heavier protection.
- Floating Row Cover alternative: sheer curtain liners found at thrift shops are used by some frugal, high performance gardeners.
- ATTRA (Appropriate Technology to Rural Areas) website: great information of all types including season extension
Details to note on the cold frame seen above:
Semi-permanent install with growing area lowered inside frame. Ground burmed around the perimeter to insulate and keep water from penetrating. Interior growing surface angled to benefit from solar gain. Sash covered with floating row cover rather than plastic or glass to create an enhanced environment that won’t overheat when you are aren’t nearby to open it for venting.
HOME-MADE SEASON EXTENSION CONTRAPTIONS
Using 1×3 pine, and making panels using bent framing plates… and covering it with plastic or floating row covers… gives you endless possibilities for making season extension contraptions. Remember, you want to make sure you allow for venting hot air in some manner (the simpler, the better)… it is easier for plants to recover that have been chilled than for plants to recover that have baked from inadequate venting.
CONSIDER THIS WHEN ASSEMBLING A COLD FRAME
The two frames shown below are exactly the same size. The cut edge of the side pieces is marked with an arrow in both illustrations. It is easiest to assemble the frame as shown on the left on a flat surface. But when it is assembled, turn it upside down as seen on the right . This achieves:
- a flat surface for the sash to sit on (without requiring a difficult bevel cut along the entire length of the top and bottom piece),
- a little bit more surface area on the growing plane, and
- an entire interior that is angled more to the south so less shade is created on the surface area at the south side of the frame.
Note: the presenter, posing as an illustrator, was unable to draw a reasonable-looking perspective view of the coldframe in the drawing below, that would include sides which are appropriately angled as the right side illustration shows below. And another thought: studies show that white is the appropriate color to paint the interior because more light is reflected inside to enhance plant growth… a coat of exterior primer on the inside is perfect for this application.
THE MANY USES OF SEASON EXTENSION CONTRAPTIONS
- hardening-off seedlings
- forcing bulbs in winter
- starting seedlings in flats
- seeding directly for later transplanting into garden beds
- seeding directly for later harvest under cover
- transplanting maturing plants from beds into cold frames before hard frosts arrive
- over-wintering tender or potted plants
- growing cool season crops in the summer
- using shade cloth
- growing tender crops in the summer in colder zones from seed to harvest
- starting tender crops early in a controlled environment
- creating the illusion among friends that you are a fabulous gardener
ESTABLISHING A PERPETUAL LETTUCE BED
- Buy three 6-pacs of old-time, open pollinated lettuce, all different varieties.
- Plant all 18 plants into an 8 to10 square foot area of raised bed that has been amended and set aside for this project, keeping the varieties separated for your convenience.
- As the lettuce matures, harvest the first three plants of each variety as it becomes ready and eat it.
- Pay close attention to the remaining nine plants and mark the plant in each variety that is the last to go to seed.
- Destroy the six plants that were the quickest to go to seed. By saving the plants that were the slowest to go to seed, you are insuring that the seeds from those plants will produce plants that last longer in the garden before going to seed. You have just selected these plants to be slow-to-bolt.
- Allow these three different plants to mature to full seed heads. When the seeds are mature, birds will begin feeding on the seed heads which in turn will spread the seeds everywhere across the bed you have prepared.
- Remove weeds that might appear and wait as the lettuce seeds germinate. Thin seedlings in this “seedbed” to 2” apart and transplant into rows or open spaces in other beds when the first true leaves appear… or thin to 10” on-center and allow them to grow right there.
BUILD YOURSELF A COLD FRAME USING OLD WINDOW SASHES
Sometimes a gardener is able to procure old used wood windows. Old wood window sashes from large double hung windows or old wooden storm windows are often the perfect size for cold frame sashes. The problem is that you want the frames of those sashes, but you DON”T want the glass in them. Glass on cold frames has a long history in season extension, but it is also a dangerous material in the garden when there are other options available. IT’S NOT A MATTER OF IF A CHILD, OR A PET, OR A SLIGHTLY INEBRIATED ADULT WILL SIT OR STAND ON A COLD FRAME IN THE GARDEN… IT IS SIMPLY A MATTER OF WHEN. It is for this reason that you want to remove the glass. Three sashes are sometimes the perfect size to put on one cold frame. Three 34” sashes will give you a cold frame that is roughly 3’x9’… a really serviceable size. Note: Make sure all the sashes are the same size.
Decide how many sashes you want to use. Before you remove the glass from the wooding window sashes you need to reinforce the corner of each sash. Buy four 1”x18” framing straps per window sash, along with a small box of 1.25” sheetrock screws. At each corner of the sash you want to screw the frame to the sash as shown in the three photos below. Wrap the plate around the corner of the sash (making sure you are spanning two pieces of wood, rather than one piece. When you are done, put on a pair of gloves and a pair of safety goggles and lay the window sash flat on the ground. Use a shovel with a long handle to knock out the glass; makes sure all the shards are cleared off the sash.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
Winter Gardening in the Maritime Northwest (1984), Binda Colebrook, Maritime Publications. Though this was written for the Northwest, the principles are applicable anywhere. It was the first book that inspired both Pat Battle and Jeff on their paths to seeking out-of-season gardening excellence.
The Four-Season Harvest (1992), Eliot Coleman, Chelsea Green Publishing. Written by the Warrior God of season extension. Inspirational information from a Zone 4 market gardener who produces food for his local market from September until May, in Maine!
Gardening for Profit (1886), Peter Henderson, American Botanist Booksellers. Terrific information by a market gardener who grew food year-round , outside NYC utilizing season extension contraptions. Recently reprinted.
American Gardener’s Calendar (1806), Bernard McMahon. A classic, available as a reprint. Fascinating reading about this Philadelphia seedman’s methods of growing all sorts of veggies out-of-season. McMahon reputedly was Thomas Jefferson’s primary source for seeds.
The 12-Month Gardener (2001), Jeff Ashton, Lark Books. Solid season extension advice for home gardeners in the Carolinas. Clear details for the construction of low-budget greenhouses, re-bar stoop-houses, cold frames, and cloches. Out-of-print .
Getting the Most From Your Garden (1980) Rodale Press. An editor’s compilation of information from lots of folks including home gardeners, from all parts of the country. The subject matter focuses on “Using Advanced Intensive Gardening Techniques
French Market Gardening (1909) John Weathers. This Englishman spent several decades working with and observing French market gardeners; he wrote this book of “Practical Details of Intensive Cultivation”. One of the several outstanding ideas I adapted from this worthwhile tome is the use of cloches to start seedlings. A terrific view of Western World market gardening when horse manure, harvested daily in enormous amounts from city streets, was the fertilizer fueling year-round, local food production.
Jenn Cloke, originally from Atlanta, has lived in Western North Carolina for since 2006 and wears her Appalachian mantle proudly. Jenn was the Communications Coordinator for Organic Growers School from 2012 to 2014. She and her family run a small farm at the foot of Cold Mountain.