The good, the bad, and the green!

venting the hoop house on a warm spring day

With the beautiful weather lately, who hasn’t been thinking about getting seeds into the garden. In years past, I would be watching and waiting for the spring-like weather to arrive so I could get started on the growing season. In the last three years, I’ve managed to get some early seeds in the ground by the middle of April. This year it was January 28th, thanks to the hoop house!

There has been some good and not-so-good that has come with planting so early here in Maine. It requires more awareness of the forecasted weather, the daily high and low temperatures and a physical effort to monitor the growings in the hoop house whether its opening or closing the vents and windows, watering, sowing more seeds, of figuring out what insect is eating holes in the leaves of your lettuce.

I would say for the most part this new adventure has been on the good side of things. The not so-go-things have been some near misses.

One day in February , I looked out to see the hoop house door swinging open in the wind when the temperature was only 15 degrees. We quickly affixed a door clamp and bungee cord to the door to preventing it from opening accidentally.

Before the wind storm

Then on Friday, April 27, I came home to the two caterpillar tunnels completely blown over.

The wind was so strong that it ripped a couple of cabbage plants right out of the ground. Others had broken leaves. Considering the whipping these plants got, I only lost about 10 % of my plants.

wind whipped cabbage

Another disappointment has been the spinach. I’ve planted spinach seeds three times on three different dates and have yet to see any significant growth. I’m not sure what the probably is. If anyone has a remedy, let me know.

Red Russian Kale, very tasty!

I haven’t completely given up of spinach yet, I’ve planned it two times in the Caterpillar tunnels (named CAT I and CAT II) and seems to be having somewhat better results. I can’t figure out if it been the temperature, the fertility of the soil, or the daylight hours. I definitely need to read up on this problem. I love spinach and it’s driving me crazy that I can’t grow it.

Early radish, crisp and crunchy!

In the last few weeks we have been harvesting radishes every day or two, and collecting enough greens to have a salad with dinner. It is pretty amazing to be eating greens this time of year when in years past I would have just been putting seeds in the grounds.

Mesclun greens, great addition to the salad.

Last fall, the National Weather Service had predicted that the winter of 2011-12 would be a winter of extremes, and extremes it was. We had a snow storm at the end of October, a snowstorm at Thanksgiving and really very little snowfall after that. And it continued right into Spring. The temperatures have been all over the board, with dips in the twenties and highs in the 60-70-80 in February, March and April. And this weekend its been not exception. The last two nights have been in the mid twenties and tonight is predicted to go as low at 21 degrees!

These unusually high temperature for spring in Maine have confused some of the plants and trees. The warm weather has forced many crops to blossom early. Now they are in jeopardy of being killed by these very cold nights.

peach tree in bloom, three weeks ahead of normal.

Vitamin greens, by far the most prolific grower in the hoop house.

Normally, plants like kale, tatsoi and arugula love cool growing temperatures, but when temperature soar into the 70-80 outside, the hoop house was pushing into the 90’s. This surge in temperature causes these plants to bolt. The plants think the high temps are a sign of the end of its growing season and starts to produce a seed head. This shouldn’t be happening to plants that I haven’t even had a chance to harvest yet. So off with their heads!

A delicious salad to go with dinner.

I’ve been clipping back the seed heads and adding them to my salad. The plants will continue to grow but will probably not mature to their full size.

It’s hard to predict what Mother Nature will do next. She is still in charge even if I tried to out smart her this year by planting two months ahead of schedule. She can bring on another chilly night, cause I’m right on her heals. Does she wear stilettos?

row covers protecting the tender strawberry blossoms

The strawberries are under the row cover and the young fruit trees are wrapped in a trash bag to protect their blossoms. The hoop house is closed up tight and the CAT tunnels are anchored down with rocks. (We’ve got plenty of rocks around here to be put to good use.)

One thing I’m learned through this growing process is, don’t put all your growing ideas in one basket. For if one crop doesn’t grow or is killed by frost, there is another crop waiting to fill the void. Therefore, today we planted 25 lbs of seed potatoes. Another crop that just might see the warm weather return and grow an abundance of spuds. Let’s hope!

Wherever you live, I hope tonight’s polar dip won’t crush your growing spirits. Press on, for warmer days are coming.

Do you have any experience growing spinach? I’d love to hear your comments. Diane