It’s been about a week since we had the night time temperature get down to 32*. And then the temps bounced back up into the 80s. Around here, temps can be all over the place in one day, making chicken and garden chores “interesting”. But it does look like Old Man Winter is gone and it’s time to get things ready for new crops.
Our Winter garden was a success overall. We have been getting some delicious lettuce from it. The chickens have enjoyed arugula, kale, and mustard greens. The arugula has already started going to seed, so we’re waiting for that to finish so we can harvest seeds before we dig up that section of the garden beds. The broccoli…well we didn’t get anything from those plants. They started growing the “flowerets” that most people like to eat, but then they suddenly started having flowers and never really gave us anything to eat. Although we could eat the stalks, I am thinking about just letting it finish going to seed and trying to harvest the seeds. The cabbage kept getting eaten by varmints and something else, never producing anything edible for us. We thought the carrots were dead – something ate the green tops off. But they have re-sprouted and we may yet see a few carrots. The parsnips took off finally, and I am thinking we may get a good handful of parsnips to eat soon. And just this past week we harvested a good bunch of sugar snap peas along with a few snow peas.
We didn’t get as much produce as we would have liked out of our winter garden adventure, but since it was the first year we’d ever tried to garden in winter, we’re still pretty pleased with the results. We learned quite a bit and know we need to do some things differently next time.
For one, the long sides of our garden beds had to be replaced. The stress on the boards from the weight of the hoop railing system and the high winds twisting the hoops and the rails attached to the boards, were making it very difficult to slide the hoops along the rails. We had used 1 inch x 6 inch boards, stacked on top of one another to make 12 inch high sides. The top board was just too thin and too long to take so much stress. Hubby replaced the sides with 2 inch x 12 inch boards. That made things a lot sturdier and the boards are no longer twisting and bending in the middle, no longer keeping the hoops from being able to slide out of the way so we can access the garden beds.
The end flaps of our plastic tunnels also needed to be longer. We cut them off at the ground, but that was not long enough to firmly secure them so that they could not lift up during high winds and allow freezing temperatures to reach the plants on the end of the beds. We ended up losing most of the arugula from exposure when a storm blew the end flaps back into the bed and behind a couple rows of plants. Plants in the middle of the hoop tunnels survived freezing temperatures without a problem since it was warmer in the middle of the tunnels.
We also need to plant sooner in the Autumn, so that we can have more things to eat during December/January. Even though the plants survived the abnormally cold winter we had, they weren’t growing and producing as well because of the low temperatures. If we can get things planted perhaps in October, the plants would have a better start and we might be able to have a larger crop to be munching on during the coldest winter months instead of having to wait for eating most of the things later in Winter.
Our largest hoop tunnel that was about 6 ft tall did not survive the winter. The 6 ft tall, 12 ft long plastic “sail” turned out to be no match for the gusty winds that came from the north some days, the south other days, and still on other days buffeted the plastic hoop tunnel from all directions. The 4 ft tall hoops did fine, but since we could not get long enough PVC pipe for the tall hoops and had to piece together pipe to make it 6 ft tall, the stress on the joints was just too much. After one too many high winter winds came along, the PVC pipes of the tall hoops actually broke apart and splintered like thin wood. If we want taller hoops, we’re going to come up with another plan.
We also need to reexamine our staking of the hoops. By the very end of winter weather, we actually had stakes in the ground that had broken in half from the stress put on them by the ropes trying to hold those plastic tunnels in place against the high winds. We’ll be adding more stakes to the hoop houses and also looking at finding some heavy duty metal stakes rather than the plastic tent stakes that they had at WallyWorld.
And I do need to get my end panels of “wildlife netting” put into the beds. As much as I love little furry creatures, it was annoying that the kale, spinach, broccoli, cabbage, and carrots kept lagging behind every time they took a hit from a hungry varmint. We do have bunnies that live in our dilapidated barn area and suspect they enjoyed themselves immensely, sneaking under the plastic for a warm place to eat a good meal of our greens. Perhaps we’ll need to make them their own winter garden spot so they’ll leave our food alone.
This week I have gotten the plastic off of the garden hoops and the chicken pens. Really need to get some summer crops in but with some of our winter crops going to seed, I don’t have room for everything yet. So we’re also going to need to build more garden beds. We do have one new bed built – a small one for onions that we planted a couple of months ago – onions need to grow mostly when it is cold, they don’t do well in hot weather.
It’s been interesting to learn more about different crops, since neither hubby or I had ever grown any of the items we grew this winter. We found out that potatoes do better when they grow in cool weather – which is probably why our crops never did that well when we planted them in Spring, since temps can get into the 90s in Texas even during Spring planting season. So we also built two new potato planters using the wood planks that we replaced on the long garden beds. The new potato planters are supposed to yield more potatoes in a smaller space, by giving the potatoes more room to grow vertically, adding more dirt as the plants get taller. We’ll see how it turns out. Kept having a problem with the seed potatoes getting mushy and rotten – we may need to order seed potatoes from a good online source instead of just buying them at the local garden center.
There is a ton of things still to do with the garden. There are tomato and eggplant seedlings in the house that need to be transplanted. More garden beds built, the old crops cleared out and new things planted. But we learned a lot with our winter garden experiment and we are anticipating to improve on the results we had this year. Even though we’ve gardened before, we can’t get over how neat it is to go “shopping” for dinner out in our pasture.