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Warming Your Soil in the Spring

Warming Your Soil in the Spring 5

I learned this trick for warming your soil in the spring from a very well respected gardening expert in our area. He taught it to us as part of our Master Gardening course. Warming the soil in the spring for early planting is really pretty easy. All it takes is a nice big piece of clear plastic.

Before we talk about this trick for warming your soil in the spring let’s spend a little time learning why it’s important to warm the soil in the spring.

Soil temperature is important for germination

In the early spring we are planting cool season crops like peas, lettuce, radishes, and spinach. All of these cool season veggies will have their optimal germination rate with soil temperatures of between 55 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. They will germinate at lower temperatures than that, some as low as 40 degrees, but if you really want quick and consistent germination then your soil temps need to be in that 55 to 65 range.

Buy yourself a soil thermometer!

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The only way to really know where your soil temps are is to buy yourself one of these handy soil thermometer. You can find them at many garden centers or you can buy them online.

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To use them, you simply stick the probe in the soil and leave it for a bit. I like to test in several different areas of my garden. It’s interesting to see the variation in soil temps even in my small garden. Some spots really do get more sun!

What does getting the soil warm early do for your garden?

Why do we care about getting the soil warm early? Warming your soil in the spring allows you to get your cool season crops started weeks earlier than you otherwise could. Most importantly the warm soil gets the seed germinating faster than they would otherwise!

Let’s use peas as an example

On a normal year I try to get my peas planted around the 20th of March. That is really the first date when I can reasonably expect the soil to be dried out enough to work and plant. Even before I started warming my soil March 20th was still my target. The difference is that with pre warmed soil my peas germinate right away! Before I started warming my soil I would plant my peas on March 20th but the peas wouldn’t germinate until the 10th of April or later.

With warmed soil my peas will be germinating in 5 to 7 days. Some years that is a whole two weeks earlier. That extra two weeks makes a world of difference in my crop. The peas are ready earlier, they are growing in cooler weather and the whole crop is done and out of the way sooner so that I can plant summer crops in their place in early June.

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The same advantages apply to any cool season crop. In fact if the soil has dried out, you can use this method to get many of the really hardy crops like spinach and kale planted and germinated more than a month sooner than you could otherwise.

Now for the soil warming trick

All you need to take advantage of this soil warming trick is a simple sheet of clear painters plastic. I like to buy a 25 by 5 foot roll of 10 mil plastic. 10 mil is about the thickest plastic sheeting you can find. You want the thick stuff because it will last for several years without needing to be replaced. The thinner plastics may be a bit clearer but they don’t hold up well to wind and sun and will break down very quickly.

All you do is spread the plastic out on your garden beds and secure it down with some rocks or bricks so it won’t blow away. Put the plastic out on your beds at least 3 weeks before you intend to plant. You will be amazed by the difference this will make. In my garden the beds that have plastic on them will have a soil temperature of 60 degrees while the uncovered beds will still be in the low 40’s.

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For an added boost once you have planted the bed put the plastic back on the bed and leave it there until the plants germinate. Be sure you don’t leave that plastic on for long, if you leave the plastic on as the temperatures start to rise you risk burning your new seedlings. Once the seeds have all germinated and are up about a 1/2 inch you can remove the plastic and store it away from the sun in a shed or garage. If you leave this plastic outside where it is exposed to the hot sun of summer it will break down quickly.

Remember that clear plastic is the key. Clear plastic lets the suns UV light through to the soil and then holds the heat in. You will not get the same results with black plastic, you need that sunlight to get through to warm the soil.

Warming your soil in the spring

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From the Farm Hop – February 5, 2016

It’s time for another round of From The Farm where we love to see your ideas on how to garden, homestead, or any DIY tips and tricks. Last Week’s Top 3 Favorites, as chosen by YOU:

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Container Gardening Round Up

Container Gardening

Santa brought me a little treat in my stocking this year! Sunset Container Gardening.
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Who doesn’t love a new gardening book! I know I do. Container Gardening is published by Sunset. Which is a garden publisher that has been around for a lot of years. In fact the first gardening book I ever bought was published by Sunset. I still reffer to it multiple times a year and it is more than 20 years old.

Sunset Container Gardening was full of great container gardening info!  It covers using containers everywhere from Entryways to Decks & Porches to Roof Gardens and Balconies.  It also has a great section on care and maintenance of containers.  But best of all its just a very BEAUTIFUL book.  It is loaded with hundreds of photos and great ideas for container gardening.  This book was well worth the price!

I have to admit Container Gardening is one of my weak spots (Mrs. Stoney knows this, I think that’s why I got the book). I’m very excited to have a little help with growing in containers.  We do okay most years with flowers in containers but I have always struggled with herbs and veggies.  So I’m hoping the things I’m learning from this book will help!

I’ve been all the way through the book already and it has really got me inspired to add a bunch of new containers to our yard and garden this year.

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I’ve got all kinds of plans you will get to see happen this year, starting with dressing up this front doorway to our house!  You can see from the photo that I’m only moderately successful even with flowers!

All this thinking about containers got me searching the web for more ideas. I also asked all my blogging buddies to pass along some of there best container gardening posts.  Below are some links to all of those great posts I found about growing both flowers and veggies in containers:

Planting a Salad Container Garden
http://farmfitliving.com/container-salad-gardening/

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18 Gallon Self Watering Containers
http://growagoodlife.com/constructing-18-gal-self-watering-containers-swc/

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5 Best Container Vegetables
http://brownthumbmama.com/2014/02/5-best-container-vegetables.html

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How to make an Earth Bucket
http://www.littlebigharvest.com/2014/06/making-self-watering-planter-earth.html

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5 Ways to Protect Potted Plants in Winter
http://www.growforagecookferment.com/5-ways-to-protect-potted-plants-in-winter/

5-Ways-to-Protect-Potted-Plants-in-Winter

Tower Garden
http://northernhomestead.com/introducing-tower-garden/

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How To Grow in Bags
http://northernhomestead.com/grow-grow-bags/

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How to Sew a Grow-Bag
http://northernhomestead.com/sew-grow-bag/

How-to-Sew-a-Grow-Bag

 

I also set up a Pinterest board on container gardening you can go follow that board here.

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From the Farm Friday – January 29, 2016

It’s time for another round of From The Farm where we love to see your ideas on how to garden, homestead, or any DIY tips and tricks. Last Week’s Top 3 Favorites, as chosen by YOU:

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Growing Carrots for Winter Harvest

Growing Carrots for Winter Harvest

The dark winter months are always pretty lean in the garden, but our favorite, never fail, winter crop is carrots!

Every winter for the last 7 years we have had at least one cold frame full of this wonderful winter time treat! If you have never eaten a fresh harvested winter carrot then you have missed out on one of the sweetest garden treats there is! Growing carrots for winter harvest couldn’t be easier.  Carrots are one of the wonders of the winter garden. Cold freezing temperatures change the starches in carrots into sugars! This makes them soooooo delicious!

It’s hard to really give you the full picture of what a fresh winter carrot tastes like. You know that strong underlying “carrot taste” that you get when you are eating most carrots? Well that strong carrot flavor almost completely disappears and is replaced with a very sweet yummy flavor! Elliot Coleman describes them as “Candy carrots” in his book Four-Season Harvest and that is a very good description. They are just sweet, tasty and delicious! Winter carrots are perfect for eating raw! In fact it would be a travesty to cook them in my opinion.

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Plant 60 Days Before The First Fall Frost

The key to growing carrots for winter harvest is to get them planted 60 days before your first frost! That 2 months of development is crucial to a good winter crop. For us that planting date is August 1st. There is only a little wiggle room in the planting date when growing carrots for winter harvest .

If I want a good harvest of winter carrots then the latest I can plant is August 10th. You only have about a 10 day window to get them planted. Remember the target is 60 days before your average first frost so figure out your planting date for your area based on that frost date.

I want you to think about what the weather is like 60 days before that first frost?

For most of us August is one of the most brutal months of the summer. It’s hot and dry that time of year. That means your newly planted seeds need a lot of extra attention! Until the new seeds sprout and get established it is important that you water at least once a day. On a hot windy day I might even water twice. You need to keep that top inch of soil moist (but not soaking wet). Those seedlings need all the help they can get when they are getting started.

Other suggestions to help get those carrots germinated well include; adding a shade cloth over the bed or covering the entire bed with moist burlap until the seeds germinate. I have never tried using burlap, but my good friend Jessica over at The 104 Homestead has a great little post that you can find here, that will give you all the needed details.

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We like to plant at least one 4 x 8 bed of carrots every year. A bed that size will yield around 20 pounds of carrots over around a 3 month time frame. We tend to hunt for the biggest carrots first, leaving the smaller ones to gain a little size.

Plan on a Cold Frame or a Hoop House

I also think it is very important to cover your carrots with a cold frame or hoop house. Many people just cover the bed with straw or leaves but I think the cold frame just makes things so much easier.

We love to cover our carrot patch with a cold frame. Cold frames keep the soil thawed and make digging the carrots very easy on all but the coldest winter days. That makes harvesting the carrots so much easier! But I know many gardeners who simply cover their carrots up with straw or even just leaves. This protects the plants but doesn’t keep the ground from freezing hard. So harvesting is more of a chore as you have to pry those carrots from the frozen ground.

Carrots love soft, loose, deep soils. Raised beds full of soil composed mostly of compost and peat moss are awesome for growing nice straight carrots. But those same raised beds pose a problem when growing carrots for winter harvest.

Even with a hoop house or cold frame raised beds freeze quicker and “harder” than normal garden soil, this can cause your carrots to go through too many freeze-thaw cycles during the winter and ruin your crop. If you have a choice then plant carrots right in your garden soil for the winter. If you only have raised beds then consider adding an extra layer of protection from the cold by covering your carrots with a fabric row cover and a cold frame.

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Don’t forget to thin your patch!

An important thing to remember when growing carrots for winter harvest is to thin your patch. I like to thin my carrots about 6 weeks after they germinate. The problem is that the time to thin your carrots lands right I’m the middle of September, which is peak time for our summer harvest. I know everyone is busy at that time of year canning tomatoes and green beans but it is super important to your future carrot crop that you get out there and thin. If you don’t, your harvest will be full of smaller crowded carrots.

Thin your carrots to give each remaining carrot about 1 square inch of its own space. I know thinning hurts but if you want nice sized carrots to harvest then you need to give them space to grow!

You should also choose a small or medium variety of carrot to grow. Look for a variety that has a mature length of around 4 to 6 inches. Larger carrots just don’t have the time or the sunlight to develop in the fall.

We love the variety “little finger”. This variety grows a nice 4 inch root which is perfect for our heavy clay soil, but there are many great varieties that do well in the winter.

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Winter Care

The care of your carrot patch during the winter couldn’t be easier. You will need to water the bed occasionally until late November. But beyond that there really isn’t much required. Simply head out on a sunny day and harvest! Make sure you get out and consistently harvest your carrots.

You don’t want too have many left when the weather finally starts to warm up as spring approaches. The warm weather and longer days that start to arrive for us in late February are a trigger for our carrots to start setting seeds. So if you have many carrots left by the first of March I would suggest you go out and dig them all up. Leaving them too long will mean the tops go to seed and the roots will get bitter and woody.

Cold frames, once they are emptied of carrots, have that added advantage of providing a nicely tilled and warm bed for early spring planting. Most years the cold frame that had our winter carrots becomes the bed where we plant our early spring planting of potatoes!

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Growing carrots for winter harvest really couldn’t be easier. It just takes a little care and extra attention in the fall to give you a fantastic harvest all winter long!!

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Monday Harvest Report – January 25, 2016

We have had strange whether for the last week. Lots of rain and temps in the 30’s and even 40’s! That is really mild for January! You won’t hear me complain because it has been nice to have a little time off from driving in the snow!

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The mild weather also makes it easy for me to get out to the cold frames and harvest! It is very muddy though, I hope some day to have gravel or wood chips in our path ways so they are easier to maneuver in when things are wet!

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This week’s harvest was pretty standard for January.  Around 2 pounds of carrots.  I’ve dug up about a quarter of the total carrots in the cold frame. We have harvested right around 8 pounds from this winters cold frame. That is actually a little light but you will notice many of the carrots are on the small side! That’s what happens when you don’t get around to thinning you crop in the fall!  I was a bit busy and never got around to it so now I’m paying for it with lots of smaller carrots.

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I also pulled off all the larger leaves from our Swiss chard plants. I only planted a small row this year.  There will be more to harvest in February and March when the sun shine comes back for the season.

So our total for the week was 2 pounds of carrots and a little bit of chard (not enough to weigh). That brings our annual total to 4.25 pounds!
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The seedlings I planted last week are up and looking good!  They had all germinated in only 4 days thanks to the seedling heat mat!  I seriously don’t know how I ever got along without one.  They make germination so much quicker, especially this time of the year.

Newspaper Seedling Pots

Don’t forget my Seed Staring Simplified course is on sale all this month for only $15.00! Learn more about the course and where to buy it by following this link!

Happy Gardening!

From the Farm Friday – January 22, 2016

It’s time for another round of From The Farm where we love to see your ideas on how to garden, homestead, or any DIY tips and tricks. Last Week’s Top 3 Favorites, as chosen by YOU:

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