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New garden varieties for 2023

Experimental crops for 2023The seed rush has started! My calendar tells me to start the first lettuce outside if the ground is warm enough on February 2 (which it almost never is up here) and the first broccoli inside on February 14. But Mark asked me to try romaine lettuce this year, which seemed like an excuse to go ahead and start a few lettuce seedlings along with the first flat of broccoli seedlings on January 30. I couldn’t help myself!

As usual, we’re trying a small selection of new varieties along with our tried-and-true and I thought you might like to see our experiments. We get our seeds from Johnny’s because their plants are (almost) always both productive and delicious, so you can find all of these goodies over there if you want to follow suit. I will admit that their seeds aren’t cheap, but I find that I get so much more out of each plant that it’s worth the extra cash, especially once you factor in time spent taking care of crops that don’t bear.

So, without further ado, four experiments!

Quirk produces tiny cucumbers that were just too cute to pass by when I saw them on the website.

Sunland is a run-of-the-mill romaine, but we’ve never grown romaine before so I’m adding it to the list. We’ll be starting a few seeds every week then transplanting them the way you would broccoli, a different technique than our dependable direct-seed-a-bed-a-month technique formerly used for leaf lettuce.

Adam Gherkin looks like a similar variety to my beloved Harmonie, which has been a delicious producer for years. Yes, 250 seeds is a lot, but the packet option just seemed too small. I can often eke out cucurbit seeds for two to four years, so if this variety is a winner that will only be $5 – $10 a year for our main cucumber crop.

Menuette is a new kind of parsley with very small, ferny leaves. We like to use parsley in tuna salad, but the bigger leaves tend to get tough in the summer. We’re hoping this variety will stay tender all year long.

How about you? Which new varieties are you most excited about trying? (I’m assuming your seeds are ordered, right?!)

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Freeze tolerance of fall crops (18 degrees Fahrenheit)

Broccoli after a hard freeze

I’ve written a lot in the past about critical temperatures of spring crops (especially flowering fruits), but I realized I don’t say much about what fall crops can handle. Usually, we’re down to the hardiest vegetables by the time we get a hard freeze. But this year, a very dry late summer meant some fall crops were running late, which was okay because we enjoyed a very long lingering autumn. Then the forecast suddenly called for the better part of a week below freezing with lows around 18 Fahrenheit, leaving me struggling to figure out what to harvest early and what to cover up. In case you’re ever in a similar situation, I thought you might like to see the results.

The image above is from the morning after the first hard freeze, broccoli I harvested early on the right and broccoli I chose to cover with a caterpillar tunnel plus row-cover fabric on the left. Everything looks pretty good, right?

Caterpillar tunnel protection vs. unprotected broccoli

Not so fast! Freeze damage usually doesn’t show up that first morning.

A couple of weeks later, the results are clearer. Uncovered broccoli pretty much bit the dust while broccoli under cover was damaged but kept growing in the warmer spell that followed. I’m not holding my breath about getting a crop from those last few plants though.

Recommendation: Harvest the broccoli early.

Winter lettuce

Elsewhere in the garden, I had two beds of lettuce, both under caterpillar tunnels plus row cover fabric. Both got nipped, but the younger lettuce (shown above) has since regrown. The older lettuce, which was starting to bolt, is now rotted down to nothing.

Recommendation: Age of the crop makes a different. Lettuce in its young prime can bounce back from a hard freeze if it’s protected but it’s probably a good idea to harvest anything that’s ready just in case.

Dewy kale

My darling kale, of course, did pretty well both under cover and in uncovered beds. Some leaves were slightly nipped; others weren’t. We’re still happily consuming a couple of meals of kale per week, often in the form of Kale Pesto.

Recommendation: Kale is our most cold-hardy fall crop if it’s moderately mature. If you’re low on row-cover, you can wait to cover this one up.

Winter hardiness of cover crops

Not that I was going to do anyting to protect my cover crops, but I thought you might like to see them after the hard freeze too. On the left — rye and vetch are thriving. Center — the oats are half-dead. Right — oilseed radishes are pretty nipped too. Of course, I wanted the oats and radishes to die and rot into the soil before spring, so this is actually good news.

Winter carrots

What about carrots? I got spooked and harvested the rest of ours because we had so many and they were so beautiful that I couldn’t bear to risk it. But our new friends from Trouivalle Farm put theirs under a version of a quick hoop and are still harvesting as needed out of the ground.

Recommendation: Be brave! Try leaving at least some carrots in the ground under row cover.

(Stay tuned for next week — we have a fascinating interview from Trouivalle Farm’s proprietors coming your way once Mark edits it into shape!)

 

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Pros and cons of gardening on top of a hill

Last harvest before frost

Frost pockets are real (and so are anti-frost pockets)

Harvesting tomatoes and peppers

Mark and I picked the last tomatoes and peppers today in preparation for what might be this fall’s first frost. But will it be?

Back when we lived at the bottom of a hill in Virginia, we could count on cold temperatures dropping least as low as the forecast, sometimes five degrees colder. Up here on a hilltop, in contrast, the opposite is true. A week and a half ago, with a forecast low of 33 F, we only got down to 38. Driving out that morning, however, I saw frost a mile and a half away as soon as I reached the bottom of the hill.

So will this week’s forecast low of 28 freeze our crops? Only time will tell.

Water — the downside of hilltop gardening

Of course, hilltop gardening has its downsides too, the primary one being water. In the summer, I can feel the groundwater dropping out from under us. No matter how much water I add to our garden beds, the soil is always thirsty. The ground cracks. Plants are slow to grow.

I used to say that you can always add more water, but you can’t take water away. While that’s true, I’ve yet to figure out how to add enough water to keep our garden happy without spiking our monthly bill out of sight. I’m hopeful that continuing to boost our organic matter will increase the water-holding capacity, but there’s a lot of truth in the saying “high and dry.”

Bookkeeping note

This looks like our very first post, but it very much isn’t! We just hopped over from an old blog to a new blog to make our lives easier. If you’d like to enjoy old gardening posts, you can find hundreds (thousands?) here. If you’re an old faithful subscriber, be sure to update your RSS feed!