Spring Snow Storm

Thank goodness we have growing tunnels! We knew it was coming. We had planted spinach, lettuce, broccoli, beans and all the root vegetables under protective covers and we had our spring snow. The lowest point of the storm the temperature reached 10 degrees! Everything survived!

It’s amazing how a little agricultural fabric can increase the temperature in the tunnel up to 20 degrees higher than the outside. Especially if it was very warm when the tunnel was closed down. In this case it was.

Last year and this year the green beans were damaged even with the fabric so we’ve decided they are not good for early planting. Nursing them along last year to hopefully get some bean production was a mistake. The flavor of the beans were not good, and the plants fell to disease. They germinate so fast there is no reason to try and plant them early.

The meteorologists are not projecting any more spring snow so we can finally start planting summer season vegetables!

Indoor Transplants

This year we got an earlier start on our transplants so had to double transplant some of them. Luffa requires almost 300 days of sunlight to get fully ripened Luffa so we started them very early and moved them into 4 inch posts before we transplanted into quart sized pots and then again into their final home.

Since last year’s broccoli was phenomenal having started them early under covered tunnels, we tried it again this year. The broccoli transplants went through 3 winter storms last spring we are expecting at least one this year. It’s been said the chill from a light frost improves the flavor of cabbage family plants. Broccoli is one of them.

Of course we grew basil, tomatoes and pepper transplants. They always take a long time to get to size but once they do, they rapidly produce. At least that has been our experience to date.

We have been hardening off the plants but will not drop them into the ground until we are sure the snow is past us.

Nesting Red Tail Hawks

It’s common to see Red Tail Hawks flying through our property. Last year a mother hawk was teaching her baby to fly and was hopping tree to tree across our acreage. They are enormous birds with wing spans almost 5 feet long. They are so large the only way to tell the one bird was a baby was the funny cackling noise it was making.

This year a male hawk started building a nest in the tallest tree in the middle of our property. We believe he is the baby we saw from last year. It didn’t take long for him to build a nest and attract a mate. While we love the wildlife this means we can no longer free range the chickens until they are gone.

Our new bird neighbors are still a little leery of us. When I’m working the garden the male floats above me, checking me out. If we get close to their tree they sound like they are growling at us. We are now trying to avoid their area because unlike your standard robin attack when you get close to their nest, we have the feeling a hawk attack could be a major problem.

In the mean time, we are enjoying watching these predators and look forward to seeing a baby being raised so close to home.

Onions in the Trenches

Last year we tried this method of growing onions. We dug trenches where we planted the onions and as the plant grew taller and taller, we filled in the trenches. This caused the plant to continue growing which created a larger bulb. For us that meant a Normal sized onion.

It’s a little challenging if they start to grow outside their space which is what is currently happening. We should be covering them with more soil but small aisle ways between the rows won’t allow enough space. This is also causing the onions to flower. They stop growing when they flower. We will continue cutting off flowers and treating them as though they will continue to grow. Worst case scenario is we are just storing small onions in the ground until we can use them.

I burnt a lot of last year’s onions in the sun after harvest and previous years they didn’t grow to size. Crossing fingers we grow good onions for sale rather a loss for the 4th year in a row.

First Row Planted 2020 Early

It’s March 2020 on the high plains dessert and we finally planted our first row of the season! We expect to have another snow or two but are well prepared with our covered tunnel that will keep the plants up to 20 degrees higher than the outside. Planting has started early!

We are working from home due to the Covid 19 Pandemic so we have an extra 1-2 hours during the day to work on the garden. In addition, being home, we are able to monitor the weather. While working away from home we would take less risk in exposure to extreme heat, cold or hail by adjusting the tunnel covers prudently. Working from home we can leave tunnels wide open, closing it at the perfect time during a weather episode. The plants get more sun and light rain than they would if we had over protected them.

Lettuce and Spinach is the first planting. We are succession planting so that when the initial planting starts to bolt from the heat, there will still be a younger planting that is still crisp and green. The bolted plants are pulled out and reseeded for another young crop. We currently have 3 sections of lettuce and spinach at different growth sizes.

The goal is to see how long we can grow lettuce before the heat causes seedlings to bolt too early.

The Farmers Tramp Stamp

This happens every year! It’s my first day out in the garden, and even though I have a long tailed shirt on, the wind blows the tail up or I bend over too much. This is what I call the Farmers Tramp Stamp and It’s painful!

You’d think I’d learn year over year, but it’s not something you remember when you are wearing protective gardening clothes. You assume it’s taken care of!

Why does the man of the house not have this issue? He has a better memory! He continuously reminds me to wear my hat, etc. He’s also the first one to catch the sunburn and gets me back in the house. He really looks out for me. 🙂

So I made it through my first day slightly burned. I think I’ll put a reminder in my phone to pop up every year at this time so I don’t forget to add extra sunscreen to my lower back my first day out!

Garden Plan 2020

We finally have the final Garden Plan for the 2020 season!

This picture is our West Plot. We have reduced the number of rows and combined items within the rows to take advantage of companion planting such as Basil between the Tomatoes which is known to deter pests.

We will have a bigger variety of vegetables with a number of herbs and flowers mixed in to assist in pest control and theoretically increase yields. For instance, Radishes among Cucumbers is said to increase Cucumber yields. Dill by Broccoli deters Cabbage Beetle and Cilantro is peppered in the lettuce and other rows and considered a yield increaser.

We’ve also decided to try our hand at going vertical. Hog panels will be lining the Cucumber section so we can hopefully pull the cucumbers hanging from the panel instead of stepping over piles of vines on the ground. This should reduce plant damage and result in cleaner Cucumbers.

We are also going vertical with Luffa. We successfully grew a Luffa last year in our test plot so are undertaking tall arched hog panels that will be high enough to walk under! A little fun having squash hanging overhead.

The East Plot was the Pumpkin patch last year which will be expanded with multiple squash types and 2 rows to test our ability to grow Watermelon and Cantelope. We will also add Sunflowers to this area which are considered a good cover crop.

We can’t wait to start!

Empty Hives

It was a weekly feeding of the bees during winter.  The first year is always the hardest while they are building their honey combs from scratch. The fondant we fed seemed to be working and the hives seemed fine……until today.

We knew there was an issue when there was still food left from our last visit. We didn’t want to fully open the hives to investigate because of the cold temperature outside. There were dead bees on the outside ledge but not a lot. We waited until a warm day to pull open the hives.

Unfortunately our worst fears were founded. The bees were gone and the hives were being raided by another swarm of honey bees who took all the food and honey to where ever they came from.

Unlike previous years where we lost a single hive due to cold or swarming, we lost ALL 3 hives all at once, in a single week.

We were baffled! What had happened?!  All 3 at once is a very suspicious situation. Did a neighbor spray a pesticide or herbicide? Did it really get cold enough over the winter to kill off all the honey bees? The bees purchased locally are usually born and bred in warmer states. Our dry, windy and variable climate is not very hospitable. Temperatures occasionally swing up to 60 degrees in a single day! From freezing to 80 degrees within 24 hours.  40 mile an hour winds, hail and snow storms in May are fairly common.

So what’s next? Since all the bees purchased in our state aren’t truly local, we set up swarm traps with scents that lure honey bees in hopes that local bees who have hardened up to our climate will move in.  

A lot of money has been invested in our bees and hives over the last 4 years and we have only been able to draw honey twice.  We will try to catch a swarm and wait until next spring to determine if we will potentially buy any again.

Please consider this when you are getting ready to use any chemicals.  Honey bees are dying at an alarming rate in our state and they are needed to pollinate and grow our vegetables! What may seem like a light weight harmless spray to kill weeds, spiders or other insects may eradicate colonies of bees within a day! Please help us save our bees.

Beets Overwintered

It worked! It’s almost Christmas and the beets are still being harvested in great condition! A little hay and a fabric cover hooped over the row of beets have kept them just the right temperature through multiple snow storms.

The cold snaps the root vegetables experienced under the covered hoop tunnels actually made them taste even better! The carrots were so sweet and even the beets had a brighter flavor. Also, the texture of the beets were not as hard as they usually are during the summer.

The extra beets were eventually pulled just before a multi-day near zero temperature spell. We did not want to potentially lose them to the freeze. Are finishing the harvest, the beets lasted in the fridge into February!

Since there were so many beets we tried our hand at pickled beets which is something my mother used to feed me when I was growing up. This too was successful.

2019 was the best year to date for successfully storing and preserving excess vegetables!

Garlic Strings

We still have a lot of garlic left from harvest so decided to come up with a culinary gift our customers couldn’t refuse! The Garlic Braid!

Garlic Braids are usually made during harvest, not after the garlic is cured. Once the garlic is harvested but before it’s hung to dry/cure, the greens on top of the garlic are braided together while they are soft. We can add as many heads of garlic as we want into the braid but fewer is better. No more than 6 from what we understand. Garlic needs lots of air circulation to keep it dry stored successfully. Too many heads on a braid will reduce air circulation and increase chances of rot. Garlic should be stored in a paper bag at room temperature to stay dry.

Since we had already cured the garlic, the greens had already dried and were too brittle to braid. I did some online research and found it is possible to braid hard neck garlic if you save enough of the neck when you cut the dried greens off.

So we tried this method which started with a series of strings in the center and then folding the necks around the string in a stacking manner. The end result is a nice looking ornamental piece for the holiday that you can also use for cooking!