Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Frost Dates

I know...your wondering why, now that it is hot outside, I am already speaking of frost. Seems silly doesn't it? And before we get into this too far I would like to offer up the most accurate ,for my area, sites that I found for frost dates. The first...which I could not see (computer problem?) is from NOAH and probably is the most accurate. I say that though without actually seeing it so if you find it to be grossly incorrect please pardon me. Set up by state it is graded in scales of 32 degrees, 30 degrees, 28 degrees etc. So, it seems like it could be very helpful. Another is at USA gardener.....and seems to be correct. It does not have my first fall frost in the middle of November as some sites do (when that used to occur I don't know!) but at the first of October as it usually is.

So, back to the reason for frost dates at the beginning of summer. We decided with the advent of the poor economy and higher fuel prices that we needed to be more pro-active about growing MOST of our own food---besides I am staunchly organic so we'll eat better anyway.
We have decided to be even more serious than we have in the past. Yeah, yeah, we have grown fall lettuce and had a few kale plants make it into winter etc etc. We also have started tomatoes 8 weeks early and were the first in our neighborhood to bite a home grown tomato, however that was always just "fun" food.
Serious food growing and stocking requires, I realize, a completely different thought process than I have been taught or know how to do. I figure it will take me a few years to really "get it right", but every bit helps and all things are learning tools. And really its not only just about how to grow it either---it's also learning what to grow and how to store it AND keeping it all organized so you eat it before its bad and in a timely manner. I mean..no one wants to eat everything and find out all they have left are 25 cabbages and a few rotten potatoes. :-)

So not only will we put a few more tomato plants and maybe some other summer harvest items in the ground soon----to keep the harvest going you know----but we are also going to get organized to plant our fall and winter garden when the appropriate time comes along. Some of this "organization" is actually useful items that will take time to acquire ..like more grow frames. Some of the organization, though, is just a matter of learning and assimilating ideas I may never have known or practiced previously and then becoming comfortable with them and their use.
One of the things I find the hardest and "oddest" about trying to supply in season year round food is that you have to "think" summer in winter and winter in summer. Which means that now, or within the not to distant future of the next 3 weeks, I NEED to order my fall seeds so that they will be ready to start. Seeds of things like: cabbages, broccoli, kales, chards, celery, some onions, garlic (of course---thats an easy one though!), lettuce, spinach, beets (never have grown or eaten), turnips (same as beets), parsnips, and winter grains. Many will need to be transplants to make it in time for winter and there for need to be started in my house at the first of August at the latest. Of course some will be straight sown right into the garden but they will need to be planted in August or by the middle or end of it to have time to make it, with enough size, into winter.
I guess that is part of the reason why I have never been serious. Planting in August is...well....weird. It's HOT. And it's often DRY. So, to help with this I am for the first time going to grow my own starts in my house for things like cabbage and broccoli. For those things started outside, like carrots which can not be transplanted, I will experiment with shade frames to help cool the soil while they sprout. Maybe some of the seeds will also be "pre sprouted" the day or two before planting. These are all things I have heard that work well for late summer plantings and so I will try and stay organized enough to use them.

For shading the plants my favorite tool so far is one I have used for years to help tender plants in the spring not quite ready for full sun but must, for whatever reason, be planted into the garden. The planting of 200 lavender slips comes to mind here ---though they definitely weren't food. (Almost all died by the way with the above average, almost flooding rains, we had the winter after planting them. Very freak.) However, right after planting those small rooted guys it immediately went to the 90s and they needed help ---they were doomed from the start I personally believe. So out came some rolls of galvanized wire. Grids of .....2x 4 maybe? Not floppy, but not the stiffest most expensive wire either. If you choose a 3 or 4 foot tall roll you can just cut off how wide you want each section to be and all will be the same length---easy to work with in a row for whatever length bed you have. Bend them slightly into an arch and viola----instant, easy, movable and long lasting, light weight frame to lay shade cloth over. Because of the grids you can tie to it or pin the cloth down easily. Also, because they are bendable you can use them in other areas for other things and then re bend them to put back over your garden beds again. They also stack fairly well since they are the same length and all about the same width. I drive a piece of rebar into the ground, out of the way, and just stack them up it when I am finished with them. Another use for them is to set them over beds with new seedling in them....so the "maintenance" workers in your family don't weed eat the new seedlings down before they actually look like some worth keeping. Or so that you remember you planted something there and don't pull it yourself or forget to water it.
By the way.... I buy "shade cloth" at home depot or Lowes. They sell burlap in rolls and it work FABULOUS and is cheaper and easier than poly cloth. I usually cut most of it up the center, to halve it, since I find for shade cloth I don't need it to be 3 foot wide. At least not for my beds anyway. It's not a problem if low sun sneaks in at the bottom...your mostly trying to keep the high, hot sun off them. And if the plants are very tender or its very hot...I put two layers of burlap over the frame and then over time as it cools or the plants establish I work one layer off then the other when appropriate. Another great thing about burlap is that it is natural....not made from petroleum as the poly fiber is. Not that poly doesn't have its place but....
I have had my burlap for 4 years now. I don't use it much so it may not always last that long. However I am good about laying it out on the drive to fully dry and then folding it up and storing it in a rubbermaid bucket. So I always know where it is and it is safe and dry until the next need. Mine is still in very good shape too....so I do believe even with more use than mine gets it would last a fair bit of time.

So, I have decided that for the next few weeks I will occasionally post on this forum about fall/winter veggie gardening. I also have some articles from some of those old Organic Gardening magazine I spoke of that are about this topic too.
Another topic I will also address are the plants that we will grow (or hope to grow!). I noticed as I read the only book I could borrow from the library on cooking with grains (not a very good book) that most of the recipes called for the same three ingredients over and over. How boring. I realized, as I had already to a small extent previously, that most of us have a very limited "pallet" of food to choose from which also hinders our ability to grow out of season. Maybe a better way of saying it would be: In season. However it is grains and many veggies are "uncomfortable" to me. Not that I think they taste bad but I did not grow up eating them and so coming up with an off the cuff dish that will taste good is difficult at best for me. I cook a bit out of my head...just knowing what I like and what I think will taste good together ....so experience with flavors of things helps a lot when deciding what to eat for dinner each night. I do not like monotony in my food. No meatloaf Tuesday for me thank you.
And beyond taste, if the majority of the food you eat and serve is tomatoes and peppers....then it's darn hard to grow them year round even with a greenhouse. Stocking up becomes your only option---and really fresh picked food is the healthiest over all and the least energy intensive.

One last thing if you haven't read the Elliot Coleman books I highly recommend them. Even though his climate is miles different than my own the ideas on movable greenhouses and cold frames are well worth the cost of the books.
Another to learn quite a bit from is Solar Gardening by the Poissons. Another "pick their brain" book to gain ideas from.
And lastly if you like me have not grown up eating lots of different foods but are open to trying new and unique varieties that may do very well in your area, then get a really good vegetarian cookbook. They are amazing to help you work out different ways of eating unfamiliar items. One I recommend is How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman. Not only does it have recipes but it also has "extra" suggestions for changing and altering recipes and going "off the cuff". Yes, there are other good ones too...but if you don't know where to start there is a suggestion.
Lastly...does anyone know of a really good Grain cookbook? That seems to be my nemesis.....how to use grains without everything being similar in taste.


BurdockBoy said...

Thanks for the info and book tips. I'm not used to gardening here in North Idaho, but I quickly realised stretching the season is a must (the last 2 days we have had highs in the 50's lows in the 30's- my beans are not happy). I plan on making a big attempt at an autumn harvest.

MrsBurns said...

Hi Monica:
We are right there with you. Planning for a fall/winter garden that we'll actually eat, plus putting the summer's bounty away in a manner that we'll actually want to eat in January.

One of my fav vegetarian cookbooks is Deborah Madison's "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone". It's a James Beard winner and it has over 1000 recipes in it for every possible scenario. Good soups, too.

Her "The Savory Way" is also good and I found it used for a great price.

Beets are the bomb, btw. Good luck with those. What you don't eat I'll buy from you! We can't grow enough.

TOCCO said...

good post... it got me thinking... we do a bit of winter gardening.... but nothing like summer. This year we are going to dry some of our harvet. Thanks for the lightbulb!

farmer, vet and feeder of all animals said...

Good luck burdockboy....I realized as I became more serious it wasn't just the knowledge of spinning and training oxen that was being lost, but our very own ability to sustain ourselves by completely (or almost) growing our own food.

Hi MsBurns....(sorry...I forgot about having you come until I saw your comment! Forgive me please!!)
Anyway...I do have that Deborah Madison book and like it...but I haven't tried the other. I will check it out.

Tocco...yes, more winter gardening. As they say..that's the easiest time since the bugs don't get part of it :-D
Drying...we do that. I still am working out what we like best dried (like jalepenos---very easy to use that way) and those we end up not eating like...tomatoes (for some reason we like them other ways better).

Nancy Chase said...

Hi Monica! My favorite book (so far) to teach me to cook with grains is "The 20/30 Fat & Fiber Diet Plan" by Gabe Mirkin and Barry Fox.

We bought it as a diet book, but it has an excellent chapter about cooking with all the different types of grains: wheat berries, kamut, spelt, rye, triticale, oat groats, barley, brown rice, wild rice, millet, quinoa, amaranth.

It also has a nice selection of high-fiber, low fat recipes (most of them using some type of whole grain) that are imaginative and tasty.


farmer, vet and feeder of all animals said...

Thanks Nancy! I will try that...and I think I found another one that must have been checked out the last time (at the library) that may be good too. Nice to have a library that can loan me books or borrow them for me...then I get to try them for free :-D