Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Last night the temperature dipped below freezing and I worried that I jumped the gun and planted tomatoes in the hoophouse way too early.  But it was in the 70s last week!!!  Since the hoophouse is unheated, but full of tomato plants, my husband suggested that I put our small ceramic heater in to keep it warm.  I also made sure that there were no air leaks and then covered the entire hoophouse with a big tarp for extra protection.  I was afraid to look in the morning, but lo and behold, the tomato plants were green and healthy looking.  Tonight it's not supposed to be quite so cold and although I once again covered the hoophouse with a tarp, I didn't use the heater. 

As an experiment, when we were expecting the freezing temperatures, I planted a few small tomato plants on the south side of my house and covered them with a storage box.  The plants were fine when I looked the next morning.  I've been thinking about putting a small hoophouse or lean-to there as I think that is the warmest side of the house and protected from the west wind.  I think that it would be the ideal site for cold weather crops.  And if I made a lean-to against the house, the wall would be a thermal mass.  I need to think about it and decide whether or not I need even more garden to take care of. 

So the conclusion is that unless the temperature dips down below freezing, my unheated hoophouse does the job and protects my plants.  The tomatoes appear happy and green and like being out of the restraints of their pots. 

As an extra precaution, I threw an old sheet over the early lettuce to keep the frost off of it.  That seemed to work.  Although I did notice that the primrose planted in the windowboxes were a bit frost nipped, but perked up the next day.  The extended forecast predicts cooler temperatures, but no nights below freezing.  So I think that we are 'home free' from here on out!

Friday, March 23, 2012


Hoophouse tomatoes
Against my better judgment I planted my tomatoes in the hoophouse on March 19th.  The warm, sunny weather was like a siren's song luring me out to the garden, shovel in hand.  So I moved the hoophouse off the greens pretty confident that they will do just fine without any protection, probably better because it was getting a bit too warm in there.  I deeply planted the heirlooms, romas, beefsteaks and cherries in the warm soil, with a handful of oatmeal and eggshells, for good measure.  The extended forecast is for temps in the 70s for the next week.  Even if it does cool off a bit, which I'm sure it will, the hoophouse will keep the tomatoes nice and warm.  And if I am making a huge mistake and the plants die or languish, I have more starts on the windowsill, just in case.  Some of the tomato plants are getting pretty big and I'd rather have them outside, than inside leaning over the freshly started herbs and flowers.  So we shall see!  While I was out in the garden I noticed that the lettuce that I seeded in the open bed is sprouting and the broccoli and cabbage starts that I planted last week are doing OK out in the open.  I bought netting at Joann Fabrics, sewed it together lengthwise and made a cover for the broccoli and cabbage.  And just in the nick of time!  Cabbage moths were out flittering around the garden today. 
Netting tent
Today, the 23rd, I planted onion sets and asparagus.  Hooray!  I've always wanted to grow asparagus!  And although we won't be able to start eating even a little bit of it until next spring, it is worth it.  It has it's own little dedicated raised bed filled with compost and year old manure. 

This year I've learned that it is easier to start vegetables inside on the windowsill than to direct seed into the garden.  This may be because of the very warm weather that we've been having and the timing of everything is off.  But the spinach, broccoli and Swiss chard that I sowed directly into the garden hasn't come up yet.  I'm not counting it out just yet, but it's been a month and -- nada.  On the other hand, the lettuce, mesclun, turnips, peas and kale are up.  The tomato plants in the hoophouse look very green and happy and unless we get an Alberta Clipper, I think that they are home free.  My windowsill starts are doing well.  All the flowers up are (marigold, coleus, zinnias) as are the tomatoes for friends and family, herbs (parsley, marjoran, chives, basil and rosemary).  I'm waiting for the peppers to pop any day now. 

The front flower garden is in bloom with daffodils, and forsythia.  It's very yellow out there.  It must be spring!

It's weird though. I was looking at old pictures of last year's garden at this time and notice that I was picking a ton of greens (I'm starting to cut lettuce, but not the bushels like last year) from the garden because so much had wintered over. Not so this year. My timing was totally off for a fall crop of anything.  So I marked my garden chart and hopefully will get the timing right for this year's fall crop.  Live and learn! 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


The hoophouse is in full swing with all kinds of things sprouting.  It's been warmer here so I've been opening it up every day once the sun hits the plastic.  I've been watering it every other day, just to keep the soil moist for any unsprouted seeds.  March gardening in the hoophouse is just like gardening in April --- just earlier.  Of course, the weather has been very weird and I haven't had to contend with any snow blocking my way out to the garden.  It seems as though most of the hoophouse seeds have sprouted except for the Swiss Chard, and peas.  I think they need just a little more time. 

Nothing in the uncovered garden is coming up, but I think that after a few warm days that we are expecting, things should start popping.  So instead of sitting there in anticipation, I've been sowing seeds inside and putting them on the heat mat.  I just sowed the tomatoes (heirlooms, Better Boys, cherry and Roma) for my friends and also sowed a tray of flowers, such as zinnias, marigolds and coleus, for the garden and window boxes.  Last year it was so nice not to have to buy trays of flowers at $25 a shot!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


My garden chart is an indispensable tool for knowing when to seed and transplant.  With just a glance, I can see what needs to be done in the coming month.  When the task is complete, I mark the numeral date under the month and use colors to denote whether it is in the hoophouse (orange), sown inside (pink), or directly sown into the garden without covering (green).  Although I use a calendar for more descriptive notes, the chart also notes germination temps, growing temps, days to harvest, succession planting, fall crop and whether it is a candidate for the hoophouse.  There is also a small area for notes such as a reminder to 'ruffle the tomato seedlings'!  March, April and May are the busiest months since by June, the garden is pretty much running on it's own.  But then there are reminders to seed at the end of September for the fall crops.  I can't imagine vegetable gardening without the garden chart. 


Mar. 6 Hoophouse - 75 degrees
Broccoli starts in hoophouse box
Well, it happened.  I ran out of room in my one and only hoophouse!  Last year, I had two hoophouses, but the flat-topped hoophouse ripped and I had decided not to replace it.  Over the last two weeks I have been seeding and transplanting seedlings into the hoophouse and now it is finally full.  So what to do?  Well, in the past, I have used clear storage boxes turned upside-down over the soil to protect the delicate seedlings until the weather is warmer and they can go 'free range'.  And that's exactly what I did.  I planted the broccoli sprouts today and they are looking cozy in the box.  The temperature in the hoophouse hit 75 degrees today and they are calling for temps in the 60s tomorrow, so I'll be unzipping the sides so it doesn't cook in there.  The seeds are germinating in the hoophouse and the lettuce that I transplanted on Feb. 17 is growing and looking promising.  I seeded some kale today but probably will have to cover it for the night.  It's still a little too nippy out there for that!  The tomato plants on the window sill are about 8" tall and will be transferred into the hoophouse in early April.  There will be a ton of them and I just might regret not having another hoophouse.  Maybe I'll get a clear painters tarp, drape it over some PVC hoops and see how that works.  
Storage box hoophouse