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.
Every time we think winter is over we get assaulted by a freeze or snow! It’s only a couple days before Memorial Day and we had a snow storm that dropped 6-7 inches of snow!
It wasn’t really supposed to snow. A light dusting they said. Will melt as it hits the ground they said. When we came home from work it was already snowing and sticking! We frantically covered everything as fast as we could while we felt the temperatures plummet!
As you can tell from the picture we had a lot of plants to cover. Here is the laundry list of what is buried under the snow: garlic, carrots, broccoli, beans, beets, turnips, parsnips, radishes, lettuce, spinach and onions. Luckily we had already built tunnels for the broccoli and greens since they were planted early so we just needed to pull the fabric down the sides. But the remaining vegetables had just surfaced with a few leaves so we quickly laid the fabric on the ground directly over the plants.
Just before bedtime it was still snowing so hard we didn’t want the tunnels to collapse overnight. We went out with our head lamps on and tried to carefully clear 3 inches of snow off the tunnels. Since the fabric is fairly light it easily tears if mistreated. When we woke in the morning it was still snowing! We cleared off the snow again accidentally making a small tear in the broccoli tunnel, but not enough to be detrimental. The bean row was looking a little rough because of the height the beans so we pulled the fabric off and turned pots upside down between the plants and draped the fabric back over. This lifted the fabric off the plants to keep the the stems from breaking from the pressure.
The forecast kept extending the 32 degree weather causing us to have to leave covers over the plants for 4 days! Finally, on the 5th day, we completely uncovered all the rows and are happy to report the only damage was freezing of some of the bean leaves. Luckily we have plenty of collected seed from these heirloom beans so will be able to quickly replant.
In the end everything we learned over the past couple years about using row covers and tunnels saved this year’s crop. Although all of this spring’s bad weather delayed the growth of the plants this year, we are excited to say we haven’t lost the fight to get vegetables out to our customers!
See the garden rows under snow and then the reveal that shows they survived!
The snow finally made way to nice weather which mean the overgrown broccoli transplants I had re-potted because they got too big can finally be planted into the ground! With the continued cooler weather it became clear that the plants still need protection for night frosts so we went ahead and put up a tunnel over the row. We are happy we did this because we had a few days of snow and the cover kept the plants from being impacted by the cold.
We were in the middle of laying and covering the subsurface irrigation drip lines when the weather turned bad so we still have some work to do before the beds are fully ready to plant. We focused on planting the one row of broccoli first since they had gotten too big to stay in their pots anymore.
We really wanted to get an early start on the broccoli because its a cold weather vegetable. Every year we planted it later during the same week as the tomatoes. The the weather go too hot. Unfortunately this resulted in the broccoli being ready to harvest late in the fall when it started to cool down. We decided planting earlier may result in bigger yields. Let’s see how this year goes!
Now that the snow is gone we can progress again on the crops. This weekend we are laying irrigation. We haven’t purchased a hoe attachment for the Grillo yet so we purchased a rolling hoe tool to make the job easier and faster. Once the ditch was dug last year’s subsurface irrigation taped was re-laid in the bed. We invested money into good commercial grade irrigation tape so we could use it year over year. We used the Grillo’s power harrow to smooth the beds back out.
Just to confirm the tapes were still good we tested the irrigation by starting it up and making sure the water fully came through at the bottom of the row. Once we knew it was flowing, we folded and put ends on the base of the tapes. Then we turned the system on once again, leaving it run for 20 minutes, looking for moisture meeting the surface. Circular patterns appear on the top. If the pattern is interrupted there is a leak or blockage and the tape is removed to the garbage.
Over the last year we have created leaks in tapes, once by stabbing a last minute tomato stake in the ground when the plant started falling over and a few times digging carrots out of the carrot beds. We have yet to have a blockage.
Now that the irrigation is in and tested we can move to laying down fabric. Once again we will be reusing what we purchased last year, saving money. The only beds that we don’t lay down fabric is lettuce and root vegetables. The vegetation should be so thick it should prevent weeds from taking over.
We are really close to planting, but there is one more thing to put in. This will be the first time trying low tunnels in the spring to protect our plants. We installed hoops on the rows with the most concern, such as lettuce, and laid Agribon, a light protective fabric, over the hoops. The hoops were made from 1/2 EMT metal conduit pushed through a special bending frame to make hoops for this purpose. The fabric is tight up with Velcro straps until it’s needed. When it gets too cold or a storm is blowing through you just pull the Velcro ties off and pull the fabric down the sides of the rows. The ties make it a quick process for a last minute storm which are very common here.
Now we are ready to start planting!
Watch as we lay the irrigation and test it on the 5280 Artisan Farm YouTube Channel: