Preparing for a Winter Harvest

-“Four Season Harvest” was a very intriguing book, anFour Season Harvest - Eliot Colemand I really need to go back and re-read it now that I have almost a full season of gardening completed. His concept in the book is not to garden in the winter, but to plant enough to harvest through the winter, and to protect it from the weather. I will only be able to prepare part of my garden for this now – as always, I will see how this first time goes and adjust next year.

The first part of a winter harvest is planning. Reading the book was a bit overwhelming and the concepts sort of just floated in the clouds of my brain…. how was I to practically do this? How do I plan this out? Well, I received an email from Johnny’s Seeds with a link to their winter growing guide. The basic guideline for to have plants that are at least 75% mature by the time light drops below 10 hours a day. Eliot calls this as the “Persephone Period”, referring to mythology where Persephone was taken by Hades as his wife and had to live with him for three months of the year (something like that). The myth tries to explain (or dramatize) why plant growth slows and stops… and then slowly begins again.

So, that 75% was exactly what my analytical mind needed. That, and my excel spreadsheet that I built to calculate seed to harvest dates. I added a column that took the seed to harvest time (say, 60 days), and calculated 75% of that (45 days). Then I just added that to the day the seeds go into soil! Wow, Empowerment!

So, below is a picture of my schedule. The Persephone period is plus/minus 6 weeks on either side of the Winter Solstice, which is December 21st. The makes November 6th my Fall cut off date. The rutabaga may or may not make. The other seeds should be fine. I am also using the sheet to figure out when to plant some other vegetables and when to not bother.

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With my excel sheet, I can select a crop or vegetable and input the start date. It automatically searches some lists to calculate seed sprouting and harvest times. And now, when to get them in for winter harvesting.

I am going to use my greenhouse (um, duh) to protect as much of my plants as possible, especially greens. I built a bench this past weekend, and I am very proud of it! I just did a google search and found a few that I liked, did some measurements and hammered away. I am using it for seed starts now. For spring, I will probably build another wider one for the large amounts of seed starting I will do, but in the mean time, I am going to use the ground for lettuce, mache, greens, arugula. I have never had mache (corn salad) and I am very interested in tasting it!

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My new sturdy greenhouse bench!

I get 55 gallon drums free through work, and I used these successfully for potatoes. I am going to cut some more down so that I basically have a small one foot tall raised bed. I am going to pack as many of them into the greenhouse that I can fit and get greens going. The beauty in this: the greens (technically) won’t spoil. They will grow, slow down, hibernate. I come along in December, and January, and February and harvest them. Munch, munch, munch! I say technically because I have never done this and last Christmas it was 60 degrees outside. Not the same as Maine, where Eliot does his winter gardening!

Also, I am going to fill the containers I used for potatoes back with soil and just go crazy planting more carrots. These I will leave outside the greenhouse, and can mulch them with some straw. Seeds are cheap and I think this will be a great experiment, and would be wonderful to eat with the greens!

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