Tag Archives: growing

What’s growing now: a picture feature

10 Apr

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Little plants in February?

17 Feb

Despite the lack of blog posts, we have been doing stuff on our little greenhouse project. Not much, admittedly, but stuff nonetheless. For instance, during the long, slow season of winter, we discussed a long-term plan for the project and helped some middle schoolers get projects started inside for the spring.

And then there was yesterday. 39 degrees outside; 104 degrees inside. Yep, that’s right. A 65 degree temperature difference. We all rushed out to the greenhouse to bask in the heat, and then promptly opened all the doors up and ushered a cold breeze inside. Oh yeah, we also planted up 72 row feet in greens for our spring CSA program. It’s exciting to think that spring is finally here, in the greenhouse at least.


The first real planting of the season

10 Dec

Half of our greenhouse is laid out in beds for winter/spring production.

So, today was a pretty big day for the greenhouse. We finished rototilling the east half, added fertilizer, patched the plastic (poly patch tape is a school’s best friend), laid out the growing beds, and even got around to the fun stuff: planting garlic.

We all smelled like gasoline from the tiller,

And you thought you had rock problems. These came out of 480 sqare feet of dirt.

but in the end, it was a great morning.

We planted two varieties of garlic, neither of which we know the name of. Our farmer-in-residence, Andrew, says that we’ll be growing it only until it resembles a green onion. This will keep its season short, and should go nicely with rest of our “salad CSA”.

Some of our broccoli plants are growing florets!

Up for next Friday’s work day is a planting of one of our Asian greens. They’re brassicas, so they’ll do especially well in the cold. We’ll also mulch the garlic bulbs, but only if the ground freezes over night. It may sound contradictory, but we want the bulbs to grow slowly.

Learn: Vegetables Can Freeze!

2 Dec

A student holds swiss chard moments before it's planted. Photo credit: Corey Butler, Jr., northfield.patch.com

It is a common misconception in today’s culture that food can only be grown outdoors in the spring, summer, and fall. Once it gets below freezing, everything dies, right?

Wrong. Sure, by the time a good solid freeze rolls around, the tomatoes are slumped on the ground and the garden is filled with dried, dead leaves and vines that rattle in the wind. But inside an unheated high tunnel (which will be referred to as a “greenhouse” for brevity from now on), the season is just getting started when everything is freezing off.  And it’s that time of year.

Sure, the hot peppers are slime. Yes, the tomatoes will not be around until next July. But saying “Nothing can grow past the first hard freeze,” is like saying, “No one can possibly live in Minnesota, where people walk around without coats on as soon as it gets above 32 degrees in December.” Which, in case you didn’t know, is a blatant lie.

A student prepares the soil for some swiss chard transplants. Photo credit: Corey Butler, Jr., northfield.patch.com

There are actually whole families of plants who not only survive a freeze, but actually thrive in the sort of weather that makes most of us want to sit down with a big cup of tea. For instance, spinach, lettuce, and carrots actually become sweeter, more tender, and more flavorful in the winter weather. Why?

When things freeze, the starch in them converts to sugar. This is why you should never store your potatoes in your garage over the winter, and also why parsnips are best eaten after they’re frozen a few times.

Cold-hardy plants actually freeze solid, but it’s in their genes to be able to thaw out and grow some more. This makes them perfect for growing in our Northfield, MN winters, whose low for today is 8 F.

Things do grow more slowly in the winter, due to the decreased temperatures (you’d grow less if you had to thaw out before eating too) and decreased light levels. For instance, spinach planted on August 8th could be harvested September 15th. But spinach planted in the unheated greenhouse on December 12th could be harvested around April 4th. So why is growing in an unheated greenhouse (aka “cold house”) so great?

A student regards fresh brassica and chard transplants. Photo credit: Corey Butler, Jr., northfield.patch.com

Firstly, excellent flavor. Cold-hardy crops actually taste better if grown in, you guessed it, the cold.

Secondly, early harvest. The earliest, earliest you could plant spinach here in MN would be maybe the first week of April. Guess what? By that time you could be cutting it out of the greenhouse.

Thirdly, growing in a cold house through the winter provides local, delicious food in a season where not much else is available. For the market grower (or school project trying to support itself financially), having a niche like this is invaluable.

For further reading, check out Eliot Coleman’s The Winter Harvest.  Did this post help you out? Let us know in the comments below!

The first seeds to be planted in the greenhouse are here!

1 Dec

The greenhouse is noticiably warmer inside, even minutes after the plastic is secured.

Yes, it’s December. Yes, it’s only 24 days until Christmas. But the growing season inside the brand spankin’ new greenhouse is just getting started.

We recieved our $86 order of seeds for a salad CSA (community supported agriculture system) on Monday. What will the ten members of our CSA be recieving in April and May? I thought you’d never ask!

Asian greens. Two varieties of leeks. Four different varieties of lettuce. Arugula. Mache. Spinach. Extra sweet carrots (the cold weather converts starch to sugar). Radishes.

How can these things grow through the -20 degree weather? Well, I guess you’ll have to stay tuned. The next post will be about exactly that.