Solstice Night is the traditional time to set goals. On that night, we sit by the fire, review the year, and plan for the next. I’ve been thinking about the goals for the garden already; two are building upon existing systems and the third is new. Once I am clear on my goals, I am going to post them in the greenhouse, so I will see them almost every day!
I want to harvest a few cabbages in the late winter from my back yard. It is not an impossible goal; the winter weather will not kill an over-wintered crop, if it is protected. The key is in the timing. I need to find a variety that will grow large in the heat of the summer without splitting and bolting, and then hold through the rains and slug munch of December and January.
I have some small cabbages in the garden right now from this year, which I planted in June, but I’d like a big, glorious head on Candlemas. I will be closely reading the Territorial Seed catalog when it comes!
This is always a trick. I start out strong and fade in the flurry of June and July. What I really need is a five-year system to track planting dates and weather patterns. I am good at the big picture; I plan out the bed rotation every January based on a system I designed ten years ago. Then I draw the garden plan, hang it on the fridge, and mark all of the planting dates.
By harvest, I am down to about 50 percent. I bought a notebook last month and I’ve been practicing every week: prep, plant, harvest, preserve, weather, chicken notes, and miscellany. Close record-keeping would improve my planting systems and eliminate arguments over old weather patterns.
Last summer, we built a greenhouse with solar panels on the roof in the last sunny spot of the backyard. It is not huge. It has a clawfoot tub at one end (set up to water the surrounding garden beds in summer), two garden beds that reach down into earth, one three by eight and the other a funky triangle, and some large pots that held tomatoes this fall. It will have a shelf to hold seedlings by February.
It is a “cold” greenhouse; we do not heat it. But, my scented geraniums survived a week of nights in the low twenties a few weeks ago, so it provides some protection. I grew some salad greens in the small bed this fall and hauled the longkeeper tomatoes inside in mid-September, when the rains started. They produced until mid-November.
This year, I will begin exploring greenhouse management. Will tomatoes sprout inside, or will I still need to start them in my classroom? Will I need a little heating pad for the first round of kales and mustards in early February? Can I direct seed salad greens without slug munch? Can we finally grow a few eggplants? Come fall, how early will I have to start greens to eat them on Winter Solstice? Would the cabbages do well inside? What about pests and mildew?
I plan to sow a six-pack of lettuce and mustard seeds each week to watch germination and growth this spring.
Charlyn Ellis has been growing vegetables since she was five years old, when her mother bought her her first rake and pitchfork. She and her family are urban homesteaders and have a large organic vegetable garden, fruit trees, a beehive, four chickens, one rabbit, and two cats on a small urban lot in the center of town, surrounded by college students. Charlyn considers permaculture principles when she makes changes in her designs, especially the idea that the problem is the solution. Find her online at 21st Street Urban Homestead, and read all of Charlyn's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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