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Season Extension Techniques and ColdFrames

Spring 2008

Seven feet of snow fell on Toronto between December 2007 and March 2008. This page documents seeds planted that fall, when we pulled out the heat-loving vine crops to make room for produce to eat through autumn and the winter. With the very mild weather throughout April, we were hardly able to keep up with the growth of the fall seedings, and we planted pea seeds that, on the first of May, are more than two inches tall.

While the following two winters were, comparatively, mild, the months between December 2010 and March 2011 were back to being "Canadian" -- with deep snow drifts and plough-produced piles in parking lots and along sidewalks; with river-flood warnings, and spongy-turfed park playgrounds...

Winter 2011 through the end of March 2012 was positively balmy -- a real anomaly for Toronto, with some record-breaking highs of 26 C, followed by freezing and snow warnings as we reached April. Leafy greens overwintered in ColdFrames have threatened to bolt to flower and seed; while seeds planted in late February reached two inches high by the end of March. Perennials like sorrel are up and abundant. Other leafy veggies that self sow are showing colourful growth, and it's good we have extra frames with which to cover them given the wide swings in weather conditions.

Planting outdoors early IS both possible and probable -
and it's relatively easy, wholly enjoyable,
and my Hundred Footstep Diet is a great use of existing garden spaces!

 

 

Legal Notice:

 

All photos on this website are protected by copyright laws.

 

This intellectual property is for viewing purposes on this website only.

 

Do not lift or copy any images or text without first receiving written permission.

 

 
 

7 April 2008: Mache (vert de cambrai),
planted in fall 2007, over-wintered in a Tall Raised Bed.
photo by Kyla Dixon-Muir

 

 
 

Garden Sorrel (rumex acetosa), a perennial, over-wintered without shelter,
securely covered for two weeks in late March / early April.]
photo by Kyla Dixon-Muir

 

Garden Sorrel, same species as above, open to winter's wrath since last fall,
not covered at all, so growing minimally,
only feet away from that sheltered under a simple ColdFrame.
photo by Kyla Dixon-Muir

 

More on Garden Sorrel: the same sheltered patch from the first sorrel photo,
(not the unprotected patch directly above), growing rampantly; Monday 28 April.
photo by Kyla Dixon-Muir

When unseasonably warm temperatures suddenly plunged and frost threatened, an improvised cover was erected.
Pictured at right --->

 

 

Radishes and Bulls' Blood Beets,
(along with some 'volunteer' chickweed - also edible)
photo by Kyla Dixon-Muir

These radishes & beets were frost-sown in October 2007 intended for a spring head-start, but mild fall weather caused them to sprout last autumn.

This shot is early April 2008, after they had over-wintered in a hastily-improvised shelter.

 

Digging out those radishes and beets
photo by Kyla Dixon-Muir

Both radish and beet leaves are edible - and delicious - so we had an amazing stir-fry for dinner, in preparation for planting spring's peas.

 

Using a soil thermometer
photo by Kyla Dixon-Muir

Here, measuring the temperature in dry, over-wintered warm soil after digging out the beets and radishes.

 

Sodden, uncovered soil, along the plot's perimeter:
Here, only a few feet away, the temperature was remarkably lower.
photo by Kyla Dixon-Muir

Why do soil thermometers come with a green knob on top?

Don't manufacturers know that what grows in the garden is green?

Is this some strategy designed to make us lose them?

I tie a big red ribbon around the top of mine so they're readily evident.

Note well: If soil thermometers freeze, the mercury separates, and they become irreparably useless.

 

10 April 2008
Foreground: Four kinds of peas planted, each with different maturity dates,
and cages covering each varietal's row.
photo by Kyla Dixon-Muir

 

Blanketed peas, Thursday, 10 April 2008
photo by Kyla Dixon-Muir

 

4 May 2008 -- Sprouted successfully, heading to succulence!
photo by Kyla Dixon-Muir

Even through the radically changing temperatures this spring, the results make mouths water and stomachs rumble.
Peas are a great way to get an early starting the garden, providing ample opportunity for successive crops in hotter months, and nourishing first the soil and then the compost heap in the process.

 

 

West Hillside's new Low Raised Bed
photo by Kyla Dixon-Muir

A place to experiment with planting peas, seeing how micro-climates within a small space affect growth.
(Note the snow outside the chain-link fencing)
Within a garden as small as this 50' x 50' space there can be significantly different microclimates.
This Low Raised Bed, on our West Hillside, receives significantly more warming sun than the beds on the level where individual gardeners' plots are situated.
This newly-placed shelter shed its snow more readily and dramatically than any other space in the garden over the 2007-2008 winter.

 

Peas, planted early April, under shelter
photo by Kyla Dixon-Muir

After weeks of unseasonably warm weather,
when the summer-like temperatures suddenly plunged and a Cold-Alert was broadcast, the peas, offered shelter in the Low Raised Bed were cozy, sturdy, and secure.

 

The earliest peas planted!
In a Low Raised Bed on the West Hillside -
a magnificent microclimate.
photo by Kyla Dixon-Muir

I had left these peas soaking in a jar, unfortunately, for many days, while I pruned the entire raspberry patch - a three-day job in and of itself - and then there's the weeding still to be done...
The peas swelled greatly, but through chilling in a cold, dark garage, they were as determined to wait patiently to come to life as I was to plant their ultimately stinky orbs.

 

May 4 2008
Even through the "Cold Alert" at the end of April, these peas have continued to grow - and to flourish.
photo by Kyla Dixon-Muir

 

 

Another gardener's peas started indoors, transplanted out just before the "Cold Alert"
photo by Kyla Dixon-Muir

It seems, from my experience, that produce planted directly in the soil outdoors is hardier.

I've met the challenges of applying and removing covers, and of keeping seeds strategically watered, only to see others spend way more money to put in fancy greenhouse seedlings that, when initially transplanted, looked just as nice as my seeds had grown to be.

In the short term the seeds and the seedlings were at par, but in the long term the seeds started in the ground seemed to have developed heartier root systems and they produced significantly larger yields.

 

A few days after the Cold Alert
photo by Kyla Dixon-Muir

These peas, started indoors then transplanted out, experienced several unseasonably warm days, then the shock of the Cold Alert's plunging temperatures (one step less than a "Frost Warning").

Though they survived, they are less than vigorous; and based on past experience with other gardeners, will produce a significantly smaller yield.

 

 

An improvised shelter
photo by Kyla Dixon-Muir

After weeks of unseasonably warm weather
falling frost threatens
as the saying goes: "any port in a storm",
so a quick cover to keep the rampantly growing greens from receiving the savage onslaught of overnight frost is essential.

 

Another improvised cover,
once food plants, seeded in the Tall Raised Bed last fall
had almost bolted, just before the "Cold Alert"
photo by Kyla Dixon-Muir

Note the wire rack used to adjust the height of the south (low) end of the Light (the top, the cover).
The plants can still breathe by day, so further bolting is minimized, but frost cannot settle directly on the plants' foliage.

This raised bed contains spinach and two kinds of mache, originally planted according to height - though, of course, once they start to bolt, height becomes a moot point.

Leafy greens planted in the fall and over-wintered outdoors are far sweeter than the same seeds planted to grow in warmer weather.

 

 

Successful spring harvests from late fall's plantings!
Our Tall Raised Bed on the level part of the community garden
photo by Kyla Dixon-Muir

Spinach, and two kinds of mache, from which several meals were harvested in the fall, are growing again far earlier than anyone else has foods planted in this community garden.

The cost of a packet of seeds brings far greater value -- and the sweetest, most succulent, freshest meals -- incomparable to anything one can buy in any store.

 

Legal Notice Reminder: All photos on this website are protected by copyright laws. This intellectual property is for viewing purposes on this website only. Do not lift or copy any images or text without first receiving written permission.

 
 

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Content last modified on March 30, 2012, at 08:09 AM EST