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father adamant: winter growing pointless  RSS feed

 
dan long
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We live in the PNW where the weather is pretty mild. Not too hot in summer, not too cold in the winter. Nevertheless, my father insists that in his experience, nothing can be grown throughout winter. What i read online and, particularly, on these forums is that he is dead wrong.

Lettuce is the big one that i keep hearing about. Dad tells me that in winter, the leaves will freeze and then you are (fornicated). When i read about winter growing stuff that isn't written by one of you beautiful permaculture geeks, they inevitably talk about cold hoops. I don't like the idea of using unrenewable, unsustainable materials to keep my greens growing throughout winter.

Some winters here are more intense than others. Usually we dont go below freezing more than a few nights per year. This year, it got down to 20F in November. I would ideally like to be able to be food self sufficient even in these extreme years.

I am convinced that there is a sustainable way to have fresh food in winter. There are a few prmaculture practices i am aware of:

hugelbeets as wind blocks: there are a million pro's and no cons that come to mind, but will this be enough on it's own to keep us stocked with winter greens?

Raised beds: supposedly can effectivley add 10 degrees to the soil. That doesn't sound realistic to me. Anyone with experience?

M-m-m-MULCH!: Great for some plants but leafy greens in particular are something I would like to over seed the beds and thin them out periodically so that I don't have to weed. I see neighbor doing that and I have yet to see her weeding.

Hot compost under the plants: Sustainable, sure. But also labor intensive and destructive to soil micro fauna. This is not compatible with no-till.

Rocks as heat sinks: I love the idea. I really love the idea of snakes hiding in there during the summer to keep slugs down. We have more rocks than we know what to do with and i can't really think of any cons at the moment. Would you recomend rock piles, rock walls, huge rocks buried 2/3 of the way into the ground, or what?

plants planted around the hot compost pile: great in theory, but I would need a s*** load (literally and figuratively) of compost piles to warm up any significant area. and I dont imagine they would effectively radiate heat for very far.

reflective pond: my pessimist of a father assures me that we will get fined for digging a pond without a permit. Getting a permit costs a few hundred dollars just to dig one pond. Any thoughts on how to get around this?

Selectively bred plants: the survivalists dream. Plant a little bit of each in: hospitable spots, decent spots and totally unfriendly spots. Some years the weather is merciful and even the least friendly spots produce crops. Some years, Mother Nature is on the rag and takes out everything except those in the warmest, nicest spots. Every year, the survivors of the toughest neighborhoods are allowed to go to seed and get sown again. Over time, one gets increasingly cold resistant greens. This however, is very long term. On the other hand, maybe i leave behind a legacy strain of super hardy letuce. Now i need a name for it...

Which methods do you use?
How many of these methods in combination is it likely i will need (those who live in the PNW can probably give me more specific advice here)
Would simply using raised beds be good enough to grow hardy greens through terrifying winters?
Raised beds plus hugel wind breaks?
Raised beds, wind breaks and rocky heat sinks?
"All that with the reflective pond and you can grow tomatoes in January, should you so desire, sir!"
How can i get a reflective pond in without Uncle Sam having a tantrum?

Now time to give my typing fingers a break. Wheew!


 
Dale Hodgins
gardener
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Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
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I'm in a relatively mild climate. In winter, the loss of light is just as important as the loss of heat. The garden can become cold storage for what has already grown, but new growth is very slow. Kale and chard seem to be my best winter stuff.

This thread documents my garden and shows what happens to productivity as the days get shorter and long shadows are cast over the garden. Scroll down about 2/3 through it and you'll see where I describe my results. http://www.permies.com/t/27910/projects/Dale-Day-Garden
 
Dawn Hoff
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Location: Andalucía, Spain
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In Scandinavia people have been growing greens through winter for centuries. Many kinds of cabbage can survive under mulch and in a sunny spot (in Denmark health people talk about hitting the "cabbage wall" in spring - when you have been eating cabbage for 4-6 months you've just.had.enough). Kale can survive almost anything - I've seen them standing on bare fields w. snow on the leaves. Roots - potatoes, carrots, beets etc. can easily survive so long as the ground isn't frozen (actually they survive that too- but getting them up is hard).

Lettuce is fragile and cannot take frost - but if you only have the occasional night frost then maybe a high bed on a south facing wall might do the trick. I know people who have tomatoes outside up until the first frost and beyond because they have them on a south facing wall.
 
Jen Shrock
pollinator
Posts: 363
Location: NW Pennsylvania Zone 5B bordering on Zone 6
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Dan - are you talking growing, growing or surviving? While I have not yet experimented, I have sat in on several presentations on this (Nikki Jabbour dove into this topic). It is my understanding that certain veggies will survive, but quite growing at (if I remember correctly) about 40 deg F. The winter veggies essentially end up being in "live storage" outside, available for harvest throughout the winter season. Depending on the veggie, uncovered will work for some, but covered would be needed for others.

If you are agaist cold frames made with plastic, how about recycling old windows? Technically, the glass could ultimately be recycled and the wood burned or composted (depending upon the paint), making them a more enviromentally friendly option. I have, myself, saved a window from a vinyl slider that had the seal break and was removed from a home. I figure that it was better to repurpose it into something useful instead of just seeing it going into a landfill.
 
dan long
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You guys are amazing! You answered the question i didn't ask but was so much more important than what i did! I hadn't realized that plants would survive but quit growing. Now i realize that i will have to plant a relatively large "winter bed" far in advance of winter. I like what you said about "cold storage". That makes a lot of sense to me.

Recycled windows are a cool idea. I might consider that. I have fantasied about making a cold hoop out of just plastic bottles, cut down the center and glued together. Maybe it is something i can work on during the off season when i can't really be outside playing in the dirt. If i get some windows, though, that woudl be an even better use of my time!
 
amanda boyce
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Hi! Have you ever heard Paul talk about his "stealth pond" idea? This is the one that convinced me he's quite brilliant.
Basically, you dig a hole that isn't a hole, and you end up with a pond that isn't there! Sounds like you have plenty of rocks to fill it up! Big stuff on bottom, work up to smallest stuff on top, then cover with dirt or grass. Water will stay in the hole among the rocks, and hey, what pond?
 
Dawn Hoff
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Location: Andalucía, Spain
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But will a stealth pond reflect any light?
 
amanda boyce
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Well, the thin layer of dirt or mulch laid over the top should take care of that. I'm not sure what it would look like to a helicopter though
 
Dawn Hoff
Posts: 469
Location: Andalucía, Spain
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Oh - but the point is that it should reflects he lift so that your winter garden gets more heat
 
Peter Ellis
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Location: Central New Jersey
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dan long wrote:You guys are amazing! You answered the question i didn't ask but was so much more important than what i did! I hadn't realized that plants would survive but quit growing. Now i realize that i will have to plant a relatively large "winter bed" far in advance of winter. I like what you said about "cold storage". That makes a lot of sense to me.

Recycled windows are a cool idea. I might consider that. I have fantasied about making a cold hoop out of just plastic bottles, cut down the center and glued together. Maybe it is something i can work on during the off season when i can't really be outside playing in the dirt. If i get some windows, though, that woudl be an even better use of my time!


Don't cut the bottles. Fill them with water, cap them, and then use them like bricks for constructing your "cold frames". The bottles will still pass light, but being water filled they will also provide a thermal mass to hold and then release heat to your plants. Probably easier than having to cut them all up, plus an added benefit.

I'm reminded that there are some people who have done some work doing construction of various things (benches, sheds, etc.) from plastic bottle "bricks" where they fill the bottles with earth.

I think that a water wall might be a useful element in their projects too...

 
Burra Maluca
Mother Tree
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We have frequent frosts at night, though the days are quite warm and sunny for the most part. We have cabbage, fava beans, chard and beetroot actively growing through the winter. I suspect it's a bit sporadic, but we grow Galega cabbage and have a patch big enough so that I can pick a leaf of each one every week and the plants end up bigger in the spring than they did in the autumn.
 
Johnny Niamert
Posts: 268
Location: Colo
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I've harvested kales grown in zone 5a with no protection from anything at this time of year. Heavily mulched.
A bit weathered on the edges, but still good. Much later than this and it was too cold, even for them.
 
Matu Collins
Posts: 1976
Location: Southern New England, seaside, avg yearly rainfall 41.91 in, zone 6b
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I have had success with using straw bales for the walls and an old glass door for the roof. All I did was keep lavender and rosemary alive outside, but I think every year about expanding the potential of this idea. I happen to have collected a number of glass doors.
 
dan long
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I am digging the plastic bottle brick idea. even more so when filled with water. I am having trouble imagining how i would make a cold frame from whole bottles. The idea of cutting them down the center was to make some rectangle shapes that could be glued into the shape of a frame. If they are whole, I cant imagine being able to make much of a barrier with them.
 
Matu Collins
Posts: 1976
Location: Southern New England, seaside, avg yearly rainfall 41.91 in, zone 6b
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I like to work with what I have, if you've got lots of plastic bottles you should experiment. I wonder if a stack of them on their sides would need to be reinforced with anything. Around here plastic bottles would freeze and thaw and fall apart by April I think.

It would be cool to put a hot compost in there. Do you have access to manure? What other materials do you think you could put together? If you can think of the stuff you have to work with, maybe we can help you synergize them into a plan that will satisfy your father.

He sounds like a skeptic. That can be a great attribute. You sound like a visionary. Also an indispensable member to have on the team!
 
Ce Rice
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Location: Zone 8-9
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Okay, if your only question is about growing greens during the winter, there have already been some helpful answers.

If your question is about being prepared and having food in case 'the system shuts down' then one suggestion is in preserving food.

IF you preserve food, your garden surplus, then you know it's healthy. If you ferment it, then it has some added health benefits. If you can it in vinegar, it holds some of its nutrients, but isn't as good as FRESH. But preserving food should be part of your plan. Squash and sweet potatoes do well, as is and without preserving, for extended periods(3-4 months) of time as long as their storing location isn't too hot or too cold.

That's my two cents.

Now my nickel; to the growing during winter question, not entirely new/different from what has been said already, but:
plant your greens rows about 2 1/2 foot wide, then pile up greenish lawn scraps (road side weeds, lawn clippings, chopped up garden plants at end of summer/fall growing season) .... pile these up in 1 to 2 foot wide rows between your rows of greens. These will slowly compost and release a little bit of heat. Add to them when you can, especially as you get deeper into winter and the chance of low low temperatures increase. When those cold nights hit, put the recycled windows, or doors, or salvaged plastic sheets over the rows. Rest them on the row piles of greenish scraps, or lift them up with bricks/rocks, small piles of dirt. If the piles are putting off a minor amount of heat, and the area is covered by glass or plastic that doesn't let the warmth escape that quickly, then it should give you a good measure of protection and security through short stints of cold nights(F in the teens).
 
Bill Ramsey
Posts: 86
Location: SW Georgia, zone 8b
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I'm in Georgia so my experience might not apply but I like the long term option that you mentioned. I plant lots of varieties at first and let the genetics get mixed up. What grows best gets the chance to procreate. Of course I can never tell what the seeds will produce but that's a part of the fun. My mustard greens currently have both big stem, very mild types and some narrower stem spicy ones. They both survive the freezes okay with little damage and the rabbits loves those leaves that I cull out after the cold spells. My summer squash was the same way. Those mixed genetics originally produced a lot of hard useless squash but you only need one good plant to get next years seeds with better odds for good results. I figure that as long as I cull out the ones that aren't what I want, before my seed saving efforts start things will improve. (And I save more than I plant in case it didn't work out well.) I like the mutts that I have right now but it's difficult to decide which way to go sometimes. With those squash for instance, there are long narrow green ones that I love to use in some things and what I call my "big warty" light yellow ones that I like for other uses so they keep stirring up the mix because I don't want to cull out either one. Those spicier mustards will probably turn into pesto this weekend.
 
leila hamaya
pollinator
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gardening in the PNW is actually a lot trickier than it could seem. on the northern coast of cali is much the same as the rest of the PNW, even though we are much further south. actually i am east now cause i just moved, in a whole new microclimate, but for the last seven years i lived and gardened all year round in the odd microclimates of the coast, in rainforest.

its not so much the cold, as it is the overly wet, with the cold to exasperate it. and its lukewarm, not hot enough for heat loving plants, not cold enough for cold loving plants/fruit trees. BUT there are some plants that love it here, while a lot of common stuff just doesnt fly. like tomato, melon, squash....that kind of stuff doesnt work all that well, its the funks that get them not the cold. and the grey.
they might seem to do ok at first, but its rare i got to harvest any tomatoes, or squash because the plants get easily too wet and dont produce....to the point where i gave up on most stuff like that really quickly.

brassicas (kale-cabbage- mustard) and greens do really well, any cool season kind of plant does well (carrots, beets, potatoes, garlic, onion, peas)

i have rocked some pretty good winter gardens here though, lots of chard, beets, cabbage and kale, and yes, lettuce year round, nasturtiums, onions, garlic....ooo etc =)
and even pushed the climate some.
and have been successfully growing lemons, loquat, figs, passionflower (particularly the banana passionflower likes the lukewarm climate) guava, and some other things that are close to tropical but hardy. though some of those are NOT happy with the move!
also plums, grapes and kiwis

anywho i have tried most of the methods mentioned, and got good results mostly. except making a pond, or trying to trap water, its been more the issue of trying to get water to run off for the overly wet times. so textures, levels, and vertical gardening ...making little and big hills .....have been more of my strategy, and dug some channels right through the gardens so the water keeps moving.

i have also done hot composting, using layers basically lasagna style, and that also helps to create those channels of water flow/levels. i suppose you could say it is not compatible with no till, though i dont see it that way. just keep going up on top higher, keep adding sh!t to it, though i will occasionally do something like tilling, within it. but only rarely, gently, and mostly just of the stuff on top layers that i added.

it does disturb the soil microbes, but you can add in local soil/IMO into the layers, or other things, and it will create microbes, find a balance, bounce back once its in place and weathers a bit.
 
Terri Matthews
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Location: Eastern Kansas
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Why don't you buy a bunch of kale from the grocery store? If you like it, then grow it! My kale was damaged at 20 degrees but it came back just fine. Kale is one of the hardiest greens that I know, and it just LOVES cool and overcast weather!

I eat it for my health: some people like it but I find it rather harsh-flavored. Still, it makes my multiple sclerosis less irritating, so I buy it and I grow it and I do eat it.

It does make an awesome veggie pizza! Though, when I eat it in quantity I make a salad and I use a very flavorful salad dressing. Eating too much pizza is not healthy.

Oh, yes. Have you heard of "microclimates"? That is a fancy way of saying that the ground to the south of your house will be rather warmer than the north side. My folks in California used to take advantage of this to keep their bell peppers alive during the winter: as long as they were withing a few inches of the house they would winter over even though they get weather of around 30 degrees, more or less.
 
leila hamaya
pollinator
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it's true kale is a miracle plant.
grow it anywhere, hot cold wet dry, it does it all.
lots of bang for yer buck as it starts being harvested a few weeks after planting and just gives and gives for years.

at least out here, kale is perennial ish, they turn into large sprawling bushes =)

plus it got mega nutrition, really great for the huge batches of kale soup, and good for chopping into stir fry.
 
C. Letellier
Posts: 225
Location: Greybull WY north central WY zone 4 bordering on 3
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2 liter pop bottles filled full of water make great thermal mass. Slightly under fill them and they will often take hundred of freeze thaw cycles. Suggest using clear bottles filled with mildly colored water(tea, food coloring, and so on (reduce algae growth with a few drops of bleach in each bottle)) buried about 1/3 in the soil. The bottle acts as thermal mass but it also acts as a window to let you push heat deeper in the soil. For tomatoes, plastic green house and pop bottles of water will add a month or 6 weeks on each end of my season with no heating. Where your weather is milder it should help you keep things growing through a solid chunk of the winter.

 
C. Letellier
Posts: 225
Location: Greybull WY north central WY zone 4 bordering on 3
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Multilayer greenhouses can help you keep the inner green house warmer through short cold snaps.(long term they will both eventually freeze) Have thermal mass like bottles between the layers so the inner is protected by the outer. For example a wall of water inside a green house will protect a plant short term even if the inside of the green house is reaching freezing. Or a glass window green house inside a clear plastic cover green house. Mass between the layers matters. Water works really well here since it takes a lot of cold to freeze and until it does the inner layer is not exposed to air colder than the freezing line.

 
C. Letellier
Posts: 225
Location: Greybull WY north central WY zone 4 bordering on 3
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Ground source heat is another possible. A straw bale and plastic sheeting greenhouse built around a vent from a tiled drain field will hold down to about 0 Fahrenheit for a month or so. They build a labyrinth of bales like a maze on the high side of the green house to let the air out so more warm air could rise from the ground vent. The tiled drain fields are large thermal sources so this might not apply in a yard system. But would it work on a smaller scale? So maybe an 8 or a 10 foot stick of pipe buried vertically in the ground might help warm things slightly if you are close to freezing? If you built it as a U-tube in the ground could you raise ground temperature by putting some sort of solar thermal siphon on one end of it during the summer to suck summer heat down into the ground to store for winter?

Then a question. Would a thin layer of biochar spread on the surface darken the ground and improve heat absorption from sunlight?

Second question. Both shorter days and temperature push most plants into dormancy. So would grow lights run a few hours a day maintain both warmth and growth for a portion of the season? They would add light but they would also add a small amount of heat so if you are close they might kick you over the line. Both the survival line and the production line at different points in the cycle.
 
Tim Malacarne
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Location: South central Illinois, USA
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I'm thinking your father is wrong on this one!

BUT, as mentioned upthread, W/O bottom heat, a winter garden in a coldframe is mainly a way to "hold" stuff... We use what used to be called a "Solar Growhole," I think. Essentially a walk-in coldframe, 8' X 16' inside dimensions. Allows for raised beds and a center walkway. Have spinach, radishes, and lettuce out there now. We are near St. Louis, and have had several below freezing nights, some in the single digits. The coldframe stuff looks OK to me.

The past 2 winters, we've bought around 2 or 3 lettuce heads from the store. All the rest came from the coldframe, and mind you, in an area where it can get really freakin' cold sometimes! Brrr...... IMO, one big key, is choosing the proper variety to grow. A woman from Arkansas mailed me some lettuce seed, she calls it "Winter Lettuce." I've no idea of the true name, but that stuff is very hardy, yet still tatstes good...

A great many folks online are suspicious about giving out addresses, etc., and rightfully so, I think. My e-mail is Bongo3@onemain.com if you'd care to send an e-mail, I'll fish you out of the Spamblocker. You could possibly send along the name and address of a local business friendly to you, and I'll mail the seed there... That way, no worry about gaaaaa Intertoob Stalking, ! It is definitely cool season lettuce, and may possibly work for you... I guess the same goes for any others reading this. Send me an e-mail, and an address, I'll put some seed in an envelope and mail...

Best, TM
 
Tim Malacarne
Posts: 226
Location: South central Illinois, USA
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Forgot to mention.....

We also "winter over" spinach. Bloomsdale Long-standing, usually. Sow in late August, get a few leaves in Fall, allow to winter over in bare garden. Will re-sprout in Spring, and you'll be eating it when what you sow in Spring is just peeping through the soil. An old trick, taught to me by a neaighbor!
 
Bill Ramsey
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Location: SW Georgia, zone 8b
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I'm kind of excited about what I saw in the garden this week. My two rows of mustard have been hit by pretty cold temps this winter with one row getting a little help from a plastic sheet during the worst nights and the other being left to it's own devices. The protected row is doing okay but the other one is what has me excited. The weather has been right at the limit of what they can take, it seems... and beyond what most could tolerate. While most have withered and died a few are green and happy and I'm thinking they will be the seed producers for next year. I think it is so cool how genetics work. The plastic assisted row might all get used before seed making time just to keep from diluting that little gene pool.

I'm calling them "rows" but that's not really right. More like patches.... beds.. whatever.
 
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