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Still Eating Lettuces from Your Garden in January? Or not?

I hope you’re still eating lettuce out of your garden no matter what cold temperatures your area has experienced.

If you’ve tried to winter garden and haven’t been successful I encourage you to keep trying.

Methods of Protection

As much fun as it is to see what a wonderful set up Eliot Coleman has for winter growing on his farm in Maine, I for one am not able to have that exact same set up with the large walk in hoop tunnels and the smaller/lower tunnels inside.

Up until this year I had the popular pvc hoops (anchored with pieces of rebar that had been driven into the ground). Plastic (uv resistant greenhouse film) over that anchored with clips.

And although this is a pretty good system it had some flaws and not all of my lettuces made it through the severe cold and heavy snow last year. Also it’s more complicated and time consuming to put up than I like.

The system I used this year, concrete reinforcing wire (bent over the bed to make a tunnel) and then covered with row cover fabric and then covered again with uv resistant greenhouse film (plastic) is very easy for me to set up.

It doesn’t collapse under the weight of the snow.  I can remove a little of the plastic and reach through the big openings (squares) of the wire and harvest.

And the concrete reinforcing wire is much less expensive than the pcv and clips necessary for the other method.

For lots of pictures and more details see my previous post: Winter Gardening – Making It Easier.

My garden under a blanket of snow and ice - January 27, 2016.

My garden under a blanket of snow and ice – January 27, 2016.

The Principle of Air Circulation

Quite a few readers have written to me saying that their tunnels got too hot for the lettuce when the sun finally came out. This is very common and something you can learn to work with.

When I closed up my tunnels in anticipation of the blizzard that hit the Mid-Atlantic last weekend, I left small places where the plastic was not pulled tight at the base of each wire tunnel for air to circulate. That way when the sun comes out again and heats things up, there is a place for the heat to escape. And it will since air goes from hot to cold.

This is something you just need to get a feel for and you can only do it by doing.

When temperatures start to rise even more, I remove the heavy plastic and sometimes all or part of the fabric so that the bed can breath. This goes a long way towards preventing aphids and other problems caused by poor air circulation.

When temperature are forecast to go down again, I close everything up once more.

Mache

Mache of course, laughs at the cold. In spite of that it frolics when it has a little protection! (And you get to eat a lot more that way.)

I have it everywhere. Some with the lettuce under the tunnels and other spots under a blanket of snow that I can’t get to yet.

I picked a huge bag of mache before the two storms. Although I had to ration I ate for 10 days on that one harvest. Then I did without any thing green for two days. (It was rough! 🙂 )

Harvest in the Snow

Yesterday I harvested again and what I saw looked great. Today I’ll get out there and open another tunnel and harvest lettuce and mache.

Lettuce (winter density) harvest January 27, 2016.

Lettuce (winter density) harvest January 27, 2016.

I used the plant stake on the right as a "walking stick" to help steady me in the hard icy snow. The arrow and the circle indicates where I harvest the lettuce. Today I'll go to another tunnel.

I used the plant stake on the right as a “walking stick” to help steady me in the hard icy snow. The arrow and the circle indicates where I harvested the lettuce. Today I’ll harvest at another tunnel.

Final Thoughts

Again, I encourage you to keep trying. As it turns out, my latest winter garden set up is easier to put up and has proven more successful so far than ones used in prior years.

If you depend on your garden for food as I do, it’s well worth your time and effort. And when it turns out that the most simple way is the most successful — well, it doesn’t get any better than that!

Tomorrow I’ll talk about starting your seeds for spring crops.

_____

Addendum: PICTURE and notes added 1/31/16
I finally got into all the tunnels except one.. My lettuce that I had picked on for months and that was looking poorly before the cold really looks bad now. Voles came up in it also. Need to trap.

The younger lettuces have grown a bit and look really good. They’ll be my first to eat in March.

The endives look a bit shabby but will perk up in no time.

The larger brussel sprouts plant looks really good. Russian kale looks good. Mache is fantastic.

Here’s a picture of my harvest today.

My harvest of January 31, 2016. Various lettuces but mostly mache.

My harvest of January 31, 2016. Various lettuces but mostly mache.

 

 

_______

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14 comments to Still Eating Lettuces from Your Garden in January? Or not?

  • Oh geez T – now you are just making me feel like a big lazy slug!!! I am so worn out by fall, I don’t have the energy to focus on winter gardening. But I am really missing the greens….I have an old window sitting in my office that is on my list to make into a cold frame. Maybe this weekend.

    Also, love your use of bricks – we have piles and piles of them from the former owner and use them everywhere!!!

  • FrankG

    By golly, Theresa, if you can do it, I can too!
    Thanks for the winter update.
    Frank

  • Ray Kent

    Happy days for lettuce if only my tunnel was not frozen in. LOL Looking through the plastic, it has good color. I had some beets and chard seeds I planted last fall to see what would happen in the spring. They germinated just before first snow and while they don’t seem to be growing still look good. One day I’ll get tunnel open and make sure it doesn’t freeze in again. You never know what will work if you don’t try.

    Happy gardening in all weather – at least you can always day dream or plan

    Ray Kent

  • I had lettuces and kale up until almost mid-January, but I didn’t protect them from the freezing weather and they’re gone now. Constructing a tunnel or two like the ones you’ve done are now at the top of my gardening to-do list!

  • Sandra

    Alas, Theresa. Although I am doing the exact same thing, I’ve had problems. I probably should’ve brushed the snow off my tunnels because they sagged to the side under the weight of the snow. We probably got around 16 inches of snow with much drifting, but I was surprised to see that the panels had sagged. All of them. And all the way to the ground. Up until then, I had great carrots, lettuce, kale, mache and parsley. The variety of lettuce surely makes a big difference to me in how it handles those bitter cold temps. we had before the snow.

  • Toni Brock

    What a lovely walk through your beautiful snow covered garden. That lettuce looks so delicious. What do you ask for at the hardware store to purchase the metal frame you are using now?

  • Theresa

    Kate, you’d like this new way I’m using for the tunnels. It’s easy as can be to set up.

    Frank, you are definitely correct! If I can do it, you most definitely can do it. 🙂

    Ray, I hope you’ll get the warm temperatures we are expecting. Then you’ll get to pick some lettuce!

    Betty, I’m so glad you’re going to get this ready now. They’ll be great to use this spring with a covering to protect your brassica plants. Once you get them cut to size, everything is easy.

    Sandra, I don’t know what your cattle panels look like, but somehow I thought they’d be sturdier. The concrete reinforcing wire is very sturdy. You can bend it to make the tunnel, but I really can’t imagine having it ever sag. And yes variety of lettuce makes a big difference. What varieties did you plant?

    Toni, concrete reinforcing wire is what you want. It is not galvanized so will probably be already rusted when you get it. That doesn’t matter. Bill got our in a 25 foot roll and then cut it in the lengths I wanted it. I like it too because I can reach through the square to harvest. It’s very inexpensive.

  • Sandra

    Well, my husband just corrected me – we got two feet plus drifts in places. Also, I’ve been thinking – since we are on a slope, the snow settled to the uphill side and pushed the panels sidewards. They’ve all slumped in a downhill direction! Toni, I have that exact product. Because I live in a very small house and don’t have much space, I also use these hoops as tomato cages in the summer. I put the ends together in several places with string or thin wire to hold them in a circle and they bounce into a hoop shape when I’m finished with tomatoes and snip these wires again.

  • Theresa

    Sandra, when you say that you have that ” exact product” – do you mean concrete reinforcing wire? I thought you had cattle panels which are made of galvanized wire. (shiny at least when new)
    The concrete reinforcing wire would probably be rusted.
    Please clarify. Thanks.
    Theresa

  • Sandra

    Maybe I used the wrong word, this stuff IS concrete reinforcing wire and it is rusted. It’s strong, but it still bent.

  • Maryethel

    I waited until our warm day of in the 60’s here in Gloucester, Va. to uncover and to see what was left. I’d know the lettuce with only one layer of insect cloth was long gone but the kale with two layers is doing very well. Picked a big bowl full. The spinach under plastic is also looking pretty good. Not growing a whole lot but certainly not dead. Will pick some next time I open it up. I’ll try your way with the lettuces next year. You are an encouragement and inspiration. Thanks for all your advice.

  • Theresa

    Interesting Sandra. Wish I could “see” it so I could really understand.

    Marethel, congrats on the kale harvest. Good eating I’ll bet.
    When you said that you’ll try my way with lettuces next year, do you mean the concrete reinforcing wire or something else? Want to make sure I understand.
    So glad I inspire and encourage you! Thanks for letting me know.

    I finally got into all the tunnels except one. My lettuce that I had picked on for months and that was looking poorly before the cold really looks bad now. Voles came up in it also. Need to trap.

    The younger lettuces have grown a bit and look really good. They’ll be my first to eat in March.
    The endives look a bit shabby but will perk up in no time I’m sure.
    The larger brussel sprouts plant looks really good. Russian kale looks good. Mache is fantastic.
    I’ve added a picture at the end of the post above so you can see my harvest today.
    Theresa

  • Toni Brock

    That harvest looks sooo delicious Theresa. I planted Mache per your recommendation last year and now I have some volunteers. I just love that. Back to the concrete reinforcing wire ~ man, I am having a tough time finding some….. I found some supposedly at home depot (it said online) but it is a hundred and five dollars. That is going to have to wait. I went to all the farm and lumber supply stores and even a concrete supply store but nothing… I will keep looking because that looks like a very wonderful way to extend the season and possibly isolate for seed saving.

  • Theresa

    Do keep looking Toni. The stuff you want should not be all that expensive. I’ll bet the stuff at home depot was the galvanized wire which is bright and shiny and expensive. Keep me updated. Hope you find it.
    THeresa

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