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What I've learned so far about the 4-season thing ....

Posted by raisemybeds SouthernCT (My Page) on
Fri, Feb 4, 05 at 21:05

I've had Fall and early Spring veggies in past seasons, but this was the first Winter that I tried to make it all the way through with salad greens and the like. I am half-way done with Coleman's book. So far I've figured out that I planted about a month or so too late for my zone, I failed to add extra layers of protection on the really bitterly frigid days, and I wasn't diligent enough about keeping snow off the various coverings I'm using on my raised beds. Even with all that failure I had fresh vegetables through the holiday season. A serious blizzard here recently blew frigid air and snow into the apex vents of my cheapie cold frames and most everything is frostbitten now. Still, there is a lot of itsy-bitsy salad greens that look like they will grow again if we get a warm spell, which is likely since this is New England.

So in summation I'm amazed that anything grew at all, and I can see how I will make a much better effort next year. What you have to do, it seems, is get used to paying attention to air temperature, wind factors, bright sunshine, and the forecast for the day for guidance in how to accomodate the growing environment. You have to assess this EVERY DAY to avoid plants being unnecessarily cooked or frozen. You have to have a plan and materials at the ready if you need to double-cover your beds (mine are all raised) in the event of severe snow and cold, and you need to remove accumulated snow regularly. Since I have seen that blizzard winds blew upwards and into my partly-sheltered vents, I will know next year to have something ready to reliably seal those. I am also beginning to entertain the idea of smaller cloches set inside the bigger frames.

Over the summer I will firm up on which crops to plant and earlier planting dates. This has been a lot of fun in general, and well worth doing!

Anyone else about where I am on this?

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: What I've learned so far about the 4-season thing ....

No, but it was interesting. I'll be moving from a coastal, warm-temperate (some might say almost sub-tropical) climate to the mountains with four distinct seasons, long frosts, and periodic winter snow, so reading this has been very instructive. What do you think of Coleman's book? I've been eyeing it as a possible purchase, to help with the transition!

RE: What I've learned so far about the 4-season thing ....

After five or six years of growing winter salads here in zone 5b, here's what I've learned. I use a very simple system--plastic stretched over low hoops--about two feet high in the center, 4 feet wide and 12 feet long. I open the ends on very warm days, but even if I don't, it's not a catastrophe. I sow the area near the end of the first week in September. Plants that do the best for me are upland cress, Mache D'Etampes, Erbette Chard (I do this as cut and come again greens), and spinach. Winter lettuces like North Pole generally last only until Christmas. Sometimes I supplement the salads with a head of leaf lettuce from the store. But I enjoy the mix as it is also.

RE: What I've learned so far about the 4-season thing ....

Everything you said is fimiliar! Except the blizzard stuff. But one night with the top open to the elements can set you back. I have two 7' x 3' coldframes made from doublepane patio doors. I tried some vent openers but they are not strong enough to open them despite my rather igenius counter-balancing. But the spinach has been soooooo good. Radishes did poorly. I think I left the top open once too often. Bunching onions also bite the dust. Coleman's book is very good. It is the sole reason I've attempted winter gardening. Coldframes in a greenhouse I'm planning is next!

RE: What I've learned so far about the 4-season thing ....

11 years ago when I first put in my vegetable garden, I planted a fall garden of spinach, beets, and carrots, covered them with a hoop frame, covered the hoops with remay and plastic (the remay is to difuse the bright winter sun and keep the greenhouse from overheating during the day), and had baby spinach all winter, beets until Christmas, and carrots until Christmas and again from March until they were gone. I knew then I had started my plants too late for optimum harvesting, but it was an interesting experiment. Since then I haven't done much vegetable gardening due to drought, but this past fall I decided to try again. And instead of puting the winter garden back in the side yard/vegetable plot that is so hard to get to when there is snow on the ground (I was thinking positively), I finally cleared out a 4x4 plot in the overgrown flower bed right next to the front door and put my hoops there. As secondary layers, I have 2 umbrella cloches set up over some plants, and also bottomless gallon jugs set over a couple of individual plants (cabbages).

Again, I planted too late for optimum growth--in fact, my carrots are barely pencil-thickness, and I haven't really harvested any for eating. (Okay, for Christmas some of my thinnings made it into the salad, but no one but me knew they were carrots. ) I didn't try beets this time, mostly because I didn't have any fresh seed, but this time I tried some of the winter lettuce varieties I have read about. I also tried some cabbage.

Anyway, the spinach has been great all winter, if small. It was great for baby greens in salads, but I only once harvested enough at one time to have a mess of cooked greens to serve 4. During the January thaw, though, I noticed that the plants are shooting up (no, not bolting yet, just making adult-sized plants). The lettuce lasted until Christmas, and I harvested more than enough salad for 8 people. Since then it has mostly frozen back, although I have great hopes for it coming back as the weather warms up this spring. The carrots have been a great dissapointment, although the last time I looked (again, during the January thaw) in they seemed to be growing. The cabbage was a great dissapointment--planted much too late, obviously, and now IN THE DEAD OF WINTER they have aphids!

I'll be doing this again, that's for sure.


p.s. I had intended to have a big pot of sorrel soup last November, but the day I intended to make the soup I discovered my sorrel had been eated to the ground by deer. I covered the plant with a bucket to keep the deer away from it, but that was all. The other day I needed that bucket to carry water to the chicken coop, and I found the sorrel leafed out and growing strong when I uncovered it. Now it's under a white bucket instead of blue, so it is not being accidentally blanched so much.

RE: What I've learned so far about the 4-season thing ....

I find the timing of fall planting to be the trickiest aspect of the 4 season garden. It's hard because the light levels in Sept and Oct are dropping off so quickly that plant growth slows way down, especially the further north you go. You have to factor that in when you time your plantings -- not rely on the "days to harvest" on the seed packet.

Timing isn't a big deal for cut and come again greens but if you're trying to get good roots to form on radishes and other watery root crops or heads to form on cabbage/lettuce etc., then timing becomes more critical. Maybe that's not so much the case where winter temperatures are milder but here in Z4 those root and heading vegies are best harvested in Nov/Dec before the deep freeze sets in.

In answer to Raymondo -- I highly recommend Eliot Coleman's book. The 4 season harvest technique really helps you get through the winter!

RE: What I've learned so far about the 4-season thing ....

I am so glad for your posts and so anxious to try this. I've just put up a greenhouse and will put hoops inside. Please keep posting info. I'd rather learn from your mistakes than commit them over again myself! Anyway, I'll keep you posted on my progress

RE: What I've learned so far about the 4-season thing ....


I'd say my experiences have been similar to the above posts. I planted about 1/2 of my seeds too late to get big enough to a) survive the cold or b) harvest. Most of the plants don't grow much at all during the winter.

I suggest Corn Salad / Mache (Same thing, two different names) if anyone is having problems with cold weather killing off spinach. The Corn Salad seems to be freeze proof. I had some growing outside of the grow tunnels all winter. (I cut the plastic a little too short for one tunnel.)

Good Luck


RE: What I've learned so far about the 4-season thing ....

I put up a mini hoophouse on a 4' x 12 'raised bed. I did it
a bit late (about mid October )and just wanted to experiment
with the winter temps inside. I planted winter rye inside to see how
much growth I'd get during winter.
Anyway, its remained very moist inside , and the ground
inside the hoop hasn't frozen. The Rye is about 7 inches
high, It didn't grow much in december, january, but it's starting to
take of now. Next year I'll try it with edibles, but gotta
start earlier.


RE: What I've learned so far about the 4-season thing ....

I also have raised beds in Connecticut and have a couple of them (4 x 12 ft) covered with low tunnels, 4' high, made from 1/2" PVC pipe. I've used them for many years but only as season extenders. I was never able to get any crops to reliably grow during Jan and Feb because of the single plastic cover and no heat. I found that spinach is one of the hardiest crops to winter over if it is about 2 or 3 inches tall in November, but it didn't actually grow much until early March, then it took off like a rocket. I also used the tunnels to start seeds in early March of cold-tolerant vegetables. There was no provision for automatic venting on sunny days and that caused big temperature swings by the time April rolled around. Very heavy wet snows also caused structural problems since the PVC was only half inch.

I had a coldframe for a few years with an automatic vent and that actually worked better because it was lower and had less heat loss, but it was not large enough.

Last fall I build a large hoop house over two of the raised beds; it is 12' long and 10' wide and about 7' tall and is made from 1" PVC and 6-mil single-ply construction plastic. No heat. It has survived some heavy snow loads without any bending or distortion. I didn't have time to plant anything in it last fall because it wasn't finished until December but I planted lots of cold-tolerant seeds in early February. They were covered with Remay to get the extra protection that Coleman suggests. A min/max thermometer showed the temperature got into the low twenties at night. This week I expect the night temps to stay above freezing. The seeds I planted in early Feb are doing well but the ones I started indoors in late Feb and put in the hoophouse 2 weeks ago are doing just as well or better.

I intend to remove the plastic in summer and replace it in November so I don't cook the plants. Temperature control is tough without fans and I really don't want to get involved with electric heat and ventilation (I might change my mind some day). I just built an automatic window this week and installed it yeasterday; it is 30" by 36" with a univent opener. I really needed it because the air temp might be freezing when I leave for work and get really sunny and warm by lunch time. I am working on the second one this week. This is a challenge with a PVC hoophouse because of the difficulties involved in making a window on a curved surface.

This summer I am going to dig around the raised beds and put foam board vertically around them as far down as I can dig (about 18" in my stony soil). This should keep it warmer in the winter. I will also put low tunnels inside but I only need thin plastic covering because it won't have snow on it. But they will have to be well sealed especially at the edges of the hoophose where it is coldest. Maybe I'll give in and put a small electric heater in the low tunnel but I will use it to keep it from freezing rather than try to grow things like tomatoes.

Then I will be ready to try real 4 season growing; I recommend the book because of the interesting ideas in it and will be looking at this forum for best crops to grow. I'll let you know how It turns out.

Bob B.

RE: What I've learned so far about the 4-season thing ....

Just a note about mache (corn salad) -- in response to Ken's suggestion that it be planted instead of spinach.

Mache is a good cut and come again green for salads so can be a tasty substitute for baby spinach leaves, but don't expect to use it as a spinach-like green for cooking. It turns to tasteless mush when you cook it!

I made the mistake of planting a "large leaf" mache for overwintering in my hoop house. It wasn't very productive and is already going to seed. I've now learned (thanks to the Fedco catalogue), that the small-seeded, small-leaved type, like Verte de Cambrai, is best for overwintering.

One more point -- I've never had a problem with spinach not being hardy enough to survive a Z4 winter as long as it has suitable protection.

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