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What to do? Hurricane Sandy & Sweet Potato Crop

Posted by pam_chesbay VA 8a/7b (My Page) on
Thu, Oct 25, 12 at 14:14

I started harvesting sweet potatoes 2-3 weeks ago, had some nice sized roots but lots of small thin ones so decided to give them more time. Planned to harvest in mid to late November.

Then Hurricane Sandy changed course, and is headed our way. We live on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay. Several predictions have Sandy making landfall on the Delmarva Peninsula. That's close. Maybe 20 miles east of us.

I decided to harvest them today - three 30' rows in addition to picking tons of tomatoes and peppers, putting row cover over all the fall veg beds. I have to leave Fri morning, won't be home until Sat afternoon when rain and deteriorating conditions are forecast.

Should I harvest now or leave them in the ground?

When the storm passes, we expect wind, several inches of rain and coastal flooding. The gardens may be under a few inches of water for several hours or longer. I've heard it's best to harvest sweets when the soil is dry. After the storm, I expect the ground to be saturated. I don't know how long - but maybe weeks.

Ya'll live in an area of weather extremes. What would you do?

Thank you!


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: What to do? Hurricane Sandy & Sweet Potato Crop

I dont know much about potatoes, but this year I have had extended wet soil conditions, bad curing conditions, and rotting potatoes.

Larry


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RE: What to do? Hurricane Sandy & Sweet Potato Crop

Pam,

Larry is right. Too much moisture is brutal on sweet potatoes.

If you feel pretty certain that the garden could be under water or in heavily-waterlogged soil for a prolonged period, I'd harvest them. Then, your harvest is guaranteed no matter what your weather does in the next 4 or 5 days. At this point, you're between a rock and a hard place since you need to do something quick, and for the sake of the sweet potatoes, I'd harvest them and move them inside for curing. You may get smaller sweet potatoes than you were hoping for, but at least their quality will be higher. Leaving them in the ground is a huge risk because staying wet for a prolonged period will ruin their quality and cause them to store for a significantly shorter period.

However, if you take the "gardening is an experiment" approach and want to see what happens both ways, you could harvest some and leave some. Even if you only leave a handful, it would provide valuable insight for future occurrences. If it were me, I'd leave maybe 10% of them in the ground and harvest the other 90%. That way, you risk losing only a small portion, but you'll get to see first-hand what happens if you leave a few for research purposes.

I've been watching the forecast for Sandy and was hoping you were getting everything harvested and/or protected to whatever extent you can.

Dawn


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RE: What to do? Hurricane Sandy & Sweet Potato Crop

Pam, I have some ornamental sweet potatoes that have been hard for me to find. I dug under three plants and placed then in my curing rack in the shed, but it has been too cool and wet here to cure anything. I washed the mud off these and let them dry in the sun, but I will try more and place them in the house because I very much want to save seed stock.

Larry

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RE: What to do? Hurricane Sandy & Sweet Potato Crop

Larry and Dawn - thanks for the excellent advice.

Larry - I'm really sorry you had a disappointing harvest. I remember the photo of sweet potatoes that you posted a few weeks ago. I hope the weather and your growing conditions are a lot better next year. You're right about too much rain and wet soil not being good for potatoes. I was grasping at straws.

Dawn - I think I knew the correct answer (harvest), but was hoping there was a reasonable Plan B. I started digging after I posted, dug up two rows and about 10' of the third row before darkness fell. Sometimes I use a headlamp in the garden when I'm in a crunch, but that wasn't going to work this time - it's hard enough to find potatoes in daylight.

I love the 10% idea - you are a genius! Yes, I'm a "gardening as an experiment" person. I'm growing 15 varieties from Gary - and seeing clear differences between them. I'll definitely leave 10% or maybe a little more - I'll have a little window of opportunity to do more when we get back Sat afternoon. Another bonus: I may regain the ability to lift my arms by Saturday. Today was a heavy lifting day. ;-)


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RE: What to do? Hurricane Sandy & Sweet Potato Crop

Pam, You're welcome.

It never hurts to try to ignore the correct answer for as long as possible because every now and then, you get away with choosing the less-correct solution. I will gamble more with early planting in spring than with late harvesting in fall. If I plant too early in spring and disaster strikes, I still have the whole growing season ahead of me. If I don't harvest in time in fall, that's it....the fat lady sings and the garden is frosted and frozen and it all is "over".

I'd just hate to see you take too much of a risk with the sweet potatoes in light of the way the hurricane models are trending. That's why I suggested experimenting with only 10% of the harvest. If a less-serious weather challenge was approaching, I might have suggested 50%. I suspect "Sandy" is a name y'all may remember for a long, long time.

I hope your arms make a good recovery. I've been harvesting beans and peas like mad so I feel all that bending over in my back.

I find garden experiments to be a great way to learn what I can and can't do here. Sometimes I get exactly the expected result, but sometimes those experiments turn out much better than expected.

Dawn


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RE: What to do? Hurricane Sandy & Sweet Potato Crop

Dawn:

I hope you save your answers to our questions. There is a book or three or five in the advice you share so readily on this forum. You describe these things so clearly - this isn't easy and it takes a lot of time.

Risks of gambling - you're right. At this time of year, there is no time to recover from a loss, especially with sweet potatoes that take so long to mature.

I got up at first light and harvested about 85% before we left. Digging up different varieties was quite an experience. Varieties that grew next to each other were so different. Big v. little, many v. very few potatoes. Some grew close to the parent plant, others were big-time runners.

The varieties had very different yields, even though growing conditions were nearly identical- three 30' raised beds with a few feet between them.

After reading your message a few days ago, I saw evidence of many things I need to do differently next year.

Soil: sandy, lean, unamended. The soil needs organic material. May need fertilizer. May need more sand. The raised beds should have been larger. Next year, I'll make the beds wider and 2-4" higher.

Water; When I put the plants in, I planned to include soaker hoses or drip. This was during a (very short) period after La Nina left. We were getting decent rain. I thought rainfall was returning to normal. When the rain stopped soon after, I didn't have an irrigation system in place, and I didn't pick up the slack. I think the harvest would have improved greatly if the plants received more water and I didn't allow the soil to get bone dry.

Time: I'd like to plant in mid to late May. Most years, it's already hot in May. In an ideal world, without hurricanes and tropical storms, I would wait longer to harvest - probably mid November.

Rooting vines: Boy, they do love to run and root! I laid down cardboard between the rows and mulched with newspaper to keep the vines from rooting (and keep the soil moist). Though I was good to go. Ha! When I was cutting the vines, I realized how wrong I was. Vines had crept under the cardboard to root. Vines had crawled over other plants and and rooted in adjacent rows. Or two. I didn't realize rooting would be such a big issue, so I didn't check the plants or take additional steps to control it.

Next year, I'd like to grow some sweet potatoes in containers. I have a bunch of Sunleaves grow bags. Most are 10 gallon, a few 5 and 3 gallon. If you wanted to grow sweets in containers, what do you think would work best?

Nothing like making plans for next year's garden to drive out thoughts of a weird "Perfect Storm" that may or may not happen.

Thank you!


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RE: What to do? Hurricane Sandy & Sweet Potato Crop

Pam,

I'd use 10-gallon Growleaves bags although 5-gallon ones might be doable. I just think you'd get a better yield in 10-gallon bags. Also, in brutally hot summer weather, the larger bags would hold more moisture and for a longer period.

One way to get around the rooting is to put the potatoes near a trellis or fence line and let the vines climb. That makes it pretty hard for them to root into the mulch or the soil beneath it. Otherwise, you can just use a rake or hoe to push the foliage around slightly every few days so it cannot sit in one place long enough to root into the ground.

I'm glad you got so many dug. Looks like the weather is likely to hit your state very hard no matter where it comes ashore. That storm is just going to be so huge and spread out so far that it is almost ridiculous to think about the size of the windfield.

I like harvesting sweet potatoes in latest October or early November, weather permitting, but the last few years the freezes have been coming pretty early. In fact, the whole state of Oklahoma has a Freeze Warning for tonight and likely will have one tomorrow too, so I hope folks here have their warm-season crops either harvested or very well-protected. I have harvested and processed produce every day this week. I covered plants with row cover, but that's only good for a few degrees of protection. If we go colder than expected, it likely won't prevent freeze damage.

It is good to make your plans for next year right now before you get distracted by the storm and/or busy with the clean up. I like to make my plans before enough time passes that I forget what I want to do the same/differently next year.

I make my plans for the next year beginning in August of the current year, and then try to get all my seeds ordered by the end of November. I never want to get caught in the trap of having seed-starting time rolling around in January and I am sitting here waiting for seeds to be delivered. I've just about finished ordering seeds for 2013, and didn't have to order a huge amount because I have so many in the seed box already.

Dawn


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RE: What to do? Hurricane Sandy & Sweet Potato Crop

Dawn:

Thanks for the advice about grow bags. After I read threads about harvesting sweet potatoes, then spent most of two days on my knees digging them up, the appeal of grow bags increased dramatically.

I haven't grown much in containers - just flowers and herbs - so this is a new thing to learn.

We spent most of the day on a system to save the fall-winter veggie garden. I used to garden on higher ground about 500' from the house - ok for some stuff but really too far from the house. This spring, I made eight raised beds about 100-150' from the house - more convenient but on lower ground and closer to the Bay so riskier.

A few weeks ago, I planted four of those beds with different varieties of broccoli, kale, collards, lettuces, beets, turnips, and winter radishes. After a few battles with cabbage worms and aphids, everything was looking good.

Because we are only 3-5' above sea level, flooding during storms isn't unusual. I made low berms around the new garden beds but the berms aren't high enough to protect the garden from the tides predicted during this storm. Today, Pete and the tractor brought loads of sand to the garden. We used the sand to raise the height of the berms. I covered the sand with tarps, then put pavers and concrete blocks along the edges and top to secure them - hopefully. Then I covered the beds with row cover, secured it with pieces of lumber, bricks, rebar.

By tomorrow evening, we should know if the rescue effort was enough.

Sunday's forecast: "Winds: NE 30-40 mph with gusts to 60 mph at times. High tides on Sunday and Monday will bring significant tidal flooding with tides running near 6 to 7.5 ft."

This is a great place to live 99% of the time!

Pam


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RE: What to do? Hurricane Sandy & Sweet Potato Crop

Pam,

You're welcome. I love Sunleaves grow bags. They were the first growbags I ever purchased (and in the 10-gallon size as well) and used, and still are the only brand I buy.

Knowing how close you are to the water, I had been wondering whether there was anything you could do to hold back the storm surge.

I hope that all the hard work you and Pete have done in advance of the storm pays off. I have been following the storm closely and remain totally astonished by its huge size and strength. Just to think of the potential for damage over such a large area just a year after Irene. Really, now, wasn't Irene bad enough? Does 2012 have to try to outdo 2011? Can't y'all catch some kind of break there?
I hope the quality of life there is high enough 99% of the time to make up for the 1% of the time that the weather goes absolutely berserk.

For me, one of the hardest things about a fall-winter garden is that just when the weather has cooled off enough, and the pest pressure has dropped enough that the garden is looking the best it has looked in months, here comes freezing weather (in our case this weekend) or a Frankenstorm (in your case this weekend/next week) trying to ruin everything.

If a person is not a weather-watcher before they become a gardener, they become one shortly thereafter.

I am keeping my fingers crossed and hoping that Sandy is kind to y'all.

Dawn


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RE: What to do? Hurricane Sandy & Sweet Potato Crop

Hi Dawn:

I just wanted to tell you that we got through Sandy with minimal damage. Lots of vegetation and storm debris lying around after the tide went out. We spend months cleaning this stuff up, then another storm rolls in. .

Folks to the north of us were not as fortunate. The photos from the Jersey beaches and parts of NY reminded me of photos after the tsumani in Japan last year. So many people lost everything - their houses and the land under their houses are gone.

I harvested all the sweets before the storm. It was close. About 160-180 pounds are curing in the bathroom with a heater and a humidifier. I can continue curing almost indefinitely but most people seem to do this for a week or two so I'll shut down that operation after two weeks. And view this as another learning experience.

Growing sweet potatoes in Sunleaves bags is on my "to-do list" for next year.

Looking at the storm from an optimist's perspective, seaweed is a good mulch. We have lots of seaweed. After a storm, Pete fills the loader with seaweed and brings it to the garden. I keep it in a pile for a few weeks so the salt can leach out. That may not be necessary, I don't know.

Thank you for all your wonderful advice.

Pam


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RE: What to do? Hurricane Sandy & Sweet Potato Crop

Pam,

You're welcome.

I am so relieved to hear that y'all made it through the storm so well. I was watching its track as it was approaching landfall and, while I feel truly terrible for everyone affected by the storm, I was relieved your area was not taking a direct hit like New Jersey and New York. I was following the storm on the Weather Underground website for days and days as it approached, so felt pretty good about your area that last day or so as it headed straight for NJ/NJ but felt very worried about all the folks there.

The photos are truly horrifying and help us keep our own garden disasters in perspective, don't they? When you see how these storms can roll in and destroy people's homes and everything in them, destroy the livelihoods of small business owners, and even take so many lives....well, our piddly little garden disasters caused by weather and pests don't seem so major anymore.

I'm glad to hear that you got all those sweet potatoes harvested and curing. It would have been a bitter pill to swallow if the storm beat you to the sweet potatoes. I sometimes cure mine for 3 weeks instead of 2, and tend to store them in the warmest room of the house because they seem to last forever if I store them in there. You can cure longer than 2 weeks, but it isn't really necessary.

Seaweed is a great mulch and a great soil amendment as it breaks down, and I am so jealous that you have a more-or-less constant supply of it. Color me green with envy. I am not sure, either, if the salt needs to leach out, but I think the fact that you pile it up and wait for that to happen likely is a really smart move. Living as close to the bay as you do, I doubt your soil needs any more salt. I've never had the privilege of harvesting fresh seaweed. I have to buy mine in bottles as liquid seaweed, since we're nowhere near an ocean. I am sure cleaning it all up, along with the vegetation storms bring down, blow in and wash in, is a huge nuisance, but at least the seaweed is really beneficial to the garden.

I hope you'll let us know how you fare after the nor'easter comes thru. It looks like your winter is off to an early start.

Our first freeze hit our garden six weeks early, so in that sense, winter arrived here early too, but it still doesn't feel like winter. We're having mostly beautiful, sunny, clear and warm to hot days, but often have cold nights. My garden plants have survived six frosty/freezing nights...or at least the rows of plants I covered with Agribon are surviving, as are the potted plants in the greenhouse. I still am harvesting bush beans, purplehull pinkeye peas (SESE has the best selection of cowpea sand I've grown many of their varieties in the last few years), hot peppers, cherry tomatoes and several kinds of herbs, as well as all the cool-season veggies. We grew enough lettuce to feed an army, so that I could cut some and throw it into the chicken pen every day. The chickens are feasting on lettuce and are very happy.

I hate it when the growing season ends, so am hoping that I'll be able to keep the garden going as deeply into fall as possible. In our climate, that usually means until about the end of the year for most everything in the ground with a little help from floating row covers, but we'll see. Sometimes spinach, lettuce and greens last longer, even uncovered, and kale makes it all winter many years. We have had some really early cold nights so if that trend continues or worsens, I don't know how long the cool-season crops will last. On a night that we went down to 26 degrees, even the broccoli and cabbage plants had some freeze damage (they weren't covered) though it wasn't enough to hurt their productivity.

The nor'easter this week will just add insult to injury for so many on and near the Atlantic Coast. I'm hoping for a mild winter, but not really expecting one either.

Dawn


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RE: What to do? Hurricane Sandy & Sweet Potato Crop

Pam,

You're welcome.

I am so relieved to hear that y'all made it through the storm so well. I was watching its track as it was approaching landfall and, while I feel truly terrible for everyone affected by the storm, I was relieved your area was not taking a direct hit like New Jersey and New York. I was following the storm on the Weather Underground website for days and days as it approached, so felt pretty good about your area that last day or so as it headed straight for NJ/NJ but felt very worried about all the folks there.

The photos are truly horrifying and help us keep our own garden disasters in perspective, don't they? When you see how these storms can roll in and destroy people's homes and everything in them, destroy the livelihoods of small business owners, and even take so many lives....well, our piddly little garden disasters caused by weather and pests don't seem so major anymore.

I'm glad to hear that you got all those sweet potatoes harvested and curing. It would have been a bitter pill to swallow if the storm beat you to the sweet potatoes. I sometimes cure mine for 3 weeks instead of 2, and tend to store them in the warmest room of the house because they seem to last forever if I store them in there. You can cure longer than 2 weeks, but it isn't really necessary.

Seaweed is a great mulch and a great soil amendment as it breaks down, and I am so jealous that you have a more-or-less constant supply of it. Color me green with envy. I am not sure, either, if the salt needs to leach out, but I think the fact that you pile it up and wait for that to happen likely is a really smart move. Living as close to the bay as you do, I doubt your soil needs any more salt. I've never had the privilege of harvesting fresh seaweed. I have to buy mine in bottles as liquid seaweed, since we're nowhere near an ocean. I am sure cleaning it all up, along with the vegetation storms bring down, blow in and wash in, is a huge nuisance, but at least the seaweed is really beneficial to the garden.

I hope you'll let us know how you fare after the nor'easter comes thru. It looks like your winter is off to an early start.

Our first freeze hit our garden six weeks early, so in that sense, winter arrived here early too, but it still doesn't feel like winter. We're having mostly beautiful, sunny, clear and warm to hot days, but often have cold nights. My garden plants have survived six frosty/freezing nights...or at least the rows of plants I covered with Agribon are surviving, as are the potted plants in the greenhouse. I still am harvesting bush beans, purplehull pinkeye peas (SESE has the best selection of cowpea sand I've grown many of their varieties in the last few years), hot peppers, cherry tomatoes and several kinds of herbs, as well as all the cool-season veggies. We grew enough lettuce to feed an army, so that I could cut some and throw it into the chicken pen every day. The chickens are feasting on lettuce and are very happy.

I hate it when the growing season ends, so am hoping that I'll be able to keep the garden going as deeply into fall as possible. In our climate, that usually means until about the end of the year for most everything in the ground with a little help from floating row covers, but we'll see. Sometimes spinach, lettuce and greens last longer, even uncovered, and kale makes it all winter many years. We have had some really early cold nights so if that trend continues or worsens, I don't know how long the cool-season crops will last. On a night that we went down to 26 degrees, even the broccoli and cabbage plants had some freeze damage (they weren't covered) though it wasn't enough to hurt their productivity.

The nor'easter this week will just add insult to injury for so many on and near the Atlantic Coast. I'm hoping for a mild winter, but not really expecting one either.

Dawn


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RE: What to do? Hurricane Sandy & Sweet Potato Crop

Pam, I am glad Sandy was not too hard on you.

Dawn, everything I have has frost damage. The beets and Swiss Chard are in bad condition, Last year I had fall garden till after Thanksgiving, it looks like the winter onions will be the only thing that survives this year.

Larry


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RE: What to do? Hurricane Sandy & Sweet Potato Crop

Hi Dawn:

I'm so glad that you can continue to harvest. Isn't it amazing when you can harvest warm weather crops in November? And it's more amazing when you can harvest warm AND cold weather crops in November!

Have you started on your lists? I'll bet everyone waits to see those lists! I searched the archives, found a couple of your warm weather crop lists, and a list of tomato successes and drought tolerant varieties. I'm not familiar with most of the varieties but am hunting for seed. Piricicaba is one of four broccoli varieties I'm growing this year. Since she tolerates heat so well, I'm afraid she may be tender in the cold.

The nor'easter wasn't much but it did bring colder temps and a mix of rain and snow that's going on now. Not cold enough for the snow to stick but any snow in early November is a rare event. I'm afraid the folks in NJ and NY are getting hit harder. Again. Heart-breaking.

Before Sandy arrived, we stripped the gardens of every visible tomato, pepper, bean, whatever. Tons of green tomatoes! Yesterday, I found several small semi-ripe tomatoes and peppers - and blossoms. It's been cold for days - temps in the low 40s - but is forecast to be sunny and high 60s by the weekend. I don't know if those plants can pump out anything more this year. I guess we'll find out.

Row Cover: Three years ago, I grew all the fall vegetables and two 4' x 8' beds of lettuce under row cover. I learned that I didn't need to keep row cover on all the fall vegetables all the time. If we were having a warm spell, I'd take the row cover off for a few days, until another episode of cold weather was forecast. The collards and kale were much hardier than the broccoli, and cauliflower. Napa cabbages were amazing. At end of season, had one huge cabbage. When I finally cut it, I weighed it - 10 pounds!

Lettuce has been a rewarding experiment. Three years ago, I decided to plant mesclun but didn't sow the seed until mid-October. I covered the lettuce beds with Agribon. The seeds sprouted but the plants were tiny when winter arrived. I left the row cover on, did nothing, expected nothing. The lettuce stayed small until we had a few warm days. When longer days arrived in early March, those little lettuce plants shot up like weeds. We had fresh salads every day until mid-May when the lettuce bolted.

The next year, I broadcast the lettuce seed in September, watered it, covered with Agribon. I also started lettuce in flats, and transplanted in October, covered the transplant bed with Agribon. That year, I had enough lettuce for salads by early November. When winter came, the lettuce was big and plentiful so I continued to harvest through the winter.

I don't know how many pounds of lettuce I picked in seven months - all from a $1.29 packet of seeds. We brought fresh salads to potlucks with our neighbors in the darkest days of winter.

I don't know if row cover will allow you to do the same thing - but it's worth a shot. Plan B could be your greenhouse or a cold frame.

We used to have temps in the single digits around 2nd or 3rd week of January. I don't think we've had single digits in 10 years, maybe longer. We don't get snowstorms with drifts. This weather isn't normal and I don't see anything that suggests a return to normal. I guess this is "the new normal."

Dawn, I know i"m not alone in appreciating all that you do in this forum. I can only imagine how fast you type! ;-)

Larry, gardening is like the weather (surprise!). We have wonderful years when almost everything goes well (and we expect this pattern to continue indefinitely). We also have years that try our patience. This has been one of those years for you. I think next year will be better. Just a hunch.


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RE: What to do? Hurricane Sandy & Sweet Potato Crop

Pam,

I am working on my grow lists but, ironically, the garden is taking so much time lately that between it and VFD stuff, I haven't had time to finish my grow lists. I'll try to get them done sometime in the next few days if I can. In my garden Piricicaba has been very cold tolerant and very heat tolerant. The odd thing about it? Aphids just love, love, love it. I rarely have aphids at all, other than sometimes seeing them on sugar snap peas or southern peas, but Piricicaba is an aphid magnet. I watch carefully for them and as soon as they show up, I spray the plants with Neem. I can have four rows of broccoli, with each one being a different variety and with the rows right beside one another, and Piricicaba will get aphids and the others won't. However, if I don't control them on the Piricicaba, they'll disperse to the other varieties after several weeks.

Our forecast for the next couple of days includes highs in the 80s and lows in the 60s. Then, a cold front hits and we'll have highs in the 50s or 60s and lows in the 30s or maybe even the 20s. Around here, the weather is yo-yoing like mad. At times like this, the floating row cover certainly is worth the time it takes to put it over the plants because it keeps everything producing.

I feel for the folks in NY and NJ. From what I have seen on TV, some areas (if not all?) had a really wet snow and/or freezing rain and/or sleet that was coating trees and power lines, bringing more power outages. They just cannot catch a break.

As for the blooms and green tomatoes.....as long as the plants get some heat and some light and do not freeze, they tend to sporadically set fruit here. For several years, I'd keep a tomato plant or two in a container and drag it into the garage on freezing nights or freezing days, and then drag it back outside as soon as the temperatures were above freezing. I did the same thing with peppers. Both continued to flower and set fruit all winter, or at least until the garage itself got down to 18 degrees inside and they froze. Then, almost immediately thereafter, the pepper plant (but not the tomato plant) that had frozen back to the soil began putting out new growth and was growing again right away and setting fruit about 6 weeks later. The only issue I have with winter peppers and winter tomatoes is that they grow very slowly, stay smaller than the same variety in hotter weather and have poor flavor. I think that even though it is hot enough at times for them to flower and form fruit, it isn't hot enough and there is not enough hours per day of sunlight to make them perform the same way as they do in the warm season. This year instead of having the plants in the garage, they're in the greenhouse and I expect they'll freeze to death soon---perhaps as early as next week. That's okay. I preserved so many tomatoes in so many ways this summer that I do not feel like going to a lot of trouble for winter tomatoes. We have at least a two-year supply of every tomato product you can imagine...canned, dried, frozen, etc. We like sun-dried tomatoes (actually dehydrator-dried, lol) so much that they keep us happy enough in winter that we don't miss fresh tomatoes as much as you'd think we would.

I normally only put the winter row cover over winter veggies if I'd expecting the low temps to drop below about 25-26 degrees. I haven't covered up any winter veggies yet, except for the lettuce in the cattle trough, and that's because I am not sure how it will be affected by having cold air underneath it. This is one of those modern day cattle troughs with steel-tubing legs and frame and black plastic tub-like material that holds the cattle feed...or in my case, it holds the soil-less mix and plants. It sits a bit above the ground with about a foot of air space between the ground and the bottom of the trough. I ought to stick a soil thermometer in that soil and see how cold it is dropping on cold nights. The broccoli and cabbage have some freeze-burn on a few leaves from the night we went down to 26 degrees, so I guess I should have covered them that night--but the forecast was for 34 or 36, so I didn't.

My experience with winter lettuce is about the same as yours. If I plant it early enough, it will produce from October through March. This year I sowed the seed in August, and we were harvesting by October. It was really hard to keep the tiny little lettuce plants happy (or even alive) in temperatures above 100 degrees, but I managed. We have two dozen chickens and I cut a couple of pounds of lettuce and other greens for them daily, and we still have oodles of it. If a tub of plants starts slowing down and I want to replace those with new plants in the winter, I start seeds inside on the light shelf in bathroom sized paper cups in a flat (not a real flat, I use those disposable aluminum lasagna pans that I buy at CostCo or Sam's in large packages) and get the plants a couple of inches tall indoors in the warmth and then transplant them into the tubs or into the ground. Since they get off to a good, warm start indoors, they tend to grow faster in winter than plants from seed direct-sowed in colder soil outdoors in fall through early spring.

I harvest using the cut-and-come-again method and it amazes me how quickly the leaves regrow to a usable size---in mere days. The chickens love fresh greens so much and I was worried that I hadn't planted enough to keep them happy, but the plants regrow so fast that I think they'll have an endless supply of all-you-can-eat lettuce.

With the heat we've had, I've been worried the lettuce will bolt. We've been in the upper 80s and low 90s a lot this fall, but the lettuce hasn't bolted like it does in spring once the hot days arrive. Maybe it is because most of the day's weather is mild and we only sit at that high temperature for a relatively brief time.

I have lettuce in the ground, in the cattle feed trough, in an old rusty, leaky wheelbarrow, and in big plastic tubs in the greenhouse. I probably have enough lettuce and mesclun mix growing to feed all of southern OK. I planted in several different areas because it has been such a rough weather year and I was hedging my bets. Well, you know, all of it is doing great, and we have far too much. That's a great problem to have, though.

The last couple of years, we have discussed "the new normal" here a lot. For me, the new normal began around 2005 or 2006 when we began having persistent late freezes the first week in May instead of the last week in April. When it happened once and froze my whole garden, I was flabbergasted. Then, it happened the next year and the next and the next. Sigh. This was the first year since then that we didn't have a freeze or frost in May, which is a good thing because I put tomato plants in the ground around the first week in March (it was hot, hot, hot). So, we had what I think of as fairly typical weather for this region from 1999-2005. Since then, a lot has changed and we seem to swing from one extreme to another consistently, much more since then than before then. I see it in fire weather too. Before 2005, we hardly had any grass fires or wildfires here. Since then? About every other year we have a horrific wildfire season. What can you do? You have to go with the flow, so I work a lot harder now at extending the season with row covers, etc., and grow in containers to get around the heavy rainfall periods (which are a lot more rare now than they were just a few years ago). I don't know what else we can do. We have to adapt to whatever weather we are getting in order to succeed as gardeners. For 2 or 3 years I kept waiting for the weather to go back to normal, and then I decided that this must be the new normal and I just have to deal with it. That doesn't mean I like it though.

Dawn


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