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Posts Tagged ‘Cold Frames’

I have wanted to write about homesteading in a northern climate for quite awhile, but it has taken me some time to organize my thoughts and how I wanted to present this topic.  So let’s start here –  Homestead(ing), as defined in the Webster dictionary is:

1a – the home and adjoining land occupied by a family b: an ancestral home c: home

 

It is a universal definition that cuts across race, religion, and bioregion.  We all live somewhere, and in most instances that place is home.  My home is the state of Minnesota, TurtleIsland (U$A).  I have lived in Minnesota my whole life – so the hot humid summers and the cold, dark winters are a part of me and my history.  There truly are four seasons where I live, and most people who live here, or somewhere similar will tell you that the changing of the seasons is one of the appealing aspects of spending your life in a place like Minnesota.  Right now it is the third week of January, with a typical average temperature of around 10 – 20 degrees Fahrenheit in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Outside there is not a lot going on.  Because the chickens went into this winter molting, and we do not have a light in their coop to trick their chicken – circadian rhythm, we are getting very few eggs, and the only green things growing right now are small patches of water cress located in a secret, year round fresh water spring a few miles from my house.  The wood pile slowly shrinks in size as we keep ourselves warm, and our hopes and dreams of spring grow with each new seed catalog that arrives in the mail.  It is true that winter in Minnesota is cold and dark (at least outside), but it is also a time of reflection and preparation for when we are reborn into the lush and verdant days of spring that are soon to come.

So what does it mean to be an Urban Homesteader/Farmer in a northern climate?  What are some of the challenges we face when it comes to growing food or staying warm?  What are some of the creative solutions and responses we have available to us to take on these challenges?  Many pages and chapters in many different books have been devoted to these questions and solutions, so it is not my intention to go over all the details with a fine toothed comb, but rather discuss some of the generals – some of the things that have and haven’t worked for me, some goals that I am shooting for, and a bit on how this all ties in with energy descent.

Here is a view of our side garden.  You can see a cherry, plum, and apple tree and a bunch of snow.

Here is a view of our side garden. You can see a cherry, plum, and apple tree and a bunch of snow.

Let us start with the most basic of basics – Food, or specifically how we grow it in a cold, northern climate garden.  While that may sound like a silly question, there are definite steps that can be taken to insure success as a northern gardener.  The first thing from my own experience that really matters is the location of the garden.  Needless to say, wherever you live, garden location is the primary concern, but a northern climate garden situated in the wrong spot can be very discouraging and less than productive.  We have three main gardens on our property, two of which that have great southern exposure and all day sun, and the third (which is the oldest) is shaded in the morning by a giant Red Spruce.  It is this third garden which I will use to illustrate a few points about garden location.

10 years ago, when we started gardening on our new property, our yard was very different than what you see today.  There were many more trees (that have since been removed by wind and chainsaw) that put limits on where we could site a garden.  There has been a massive landscaping project that involved a fifty foot long swale to divert rain water from going into our basement, and there has been the purchase of the neighboring lot a few years back.  All of these factors have influenced the evolution of our property and the ability for us to become more successful garden farmers.

It is the red spruce that is the main problem for this garden for two reasons – First, which is obvious, is the amount of shade that it is casting onto the garden for the first part of the day.  The second problem is the proximity of the red spruce to the garden.  Because it is so close, the garden soil is being slowly acidified as the needles drop to the ground.  Most annual vegetables are going to do best in a soil that is close to neutral on the PH scale.  So when you are working with a soil that is slightly acidified along with a significant amount of shade, quality vegetable production is going to suffer.  A couple take away points then: 1) While it is impossible to always pick a perfect garden location (especially in the city), try to locate your garden south facing, with as little shade as possible.  2) Avoid spruce trees and other coniferous evergreens if at all possible.

Another aspect of a successful northern garden is acknowledging the length of the season, and picking appropriate plants that can thrive in the period of our relatively short summer growing season.  It is true that a wide range of annual vegetables have been adapted to many different regions, so the selection that we have to choose from is immense. Within this vast field of genetic bio-diversity though, are proven winners – plants that will perform exceptionally well, year after year in northern latitudes.

Here is a short list of plants that we grow every year, that are dependable, high performers – potatoes,  tomatoes, kale, collard greens, radishes, beets, salad, garlic, carrots, turnips, beans, and a handful of others.  By having this core group of plants that have grown and produced consistent yields over the years, we have built in an insurance policy of sorts.  No two growing seasons are alike.  Some years are warmer, some more wet, and all the different variations on weather cycles affect how each plant will grow.  One season, we may have a bumper crop of tomatoes, while the summer squash underperforms.  By growing this diverse selection of annual vegetables, we help to insure a harvest of some kind from at least a portion of what we are growing.

Directly related to the varieties of vegetables and fruits we choose to grow in our gardens, is the idea of season extension.  By extending our growing season through the use of cold frames, row cover, hoop houses, and solar greenhouses, we keep our diets and dinner plates supplied with fresh greens and veggies later into the season.  While these indispensible tools are not scalable for every situation, they are very adaptable and realistic goals for many homesteads.

Here is one version of a cold frame we have experimented with.  Low cost, and the bales of straw can then be used to mulch the garden in the summer.

Here is one version of a cold frame we have experimented with. Low cost, and the bales of straw can then be used to mulch the garden in the summer.

In a place like Minnesota, with the right hoop house or a well designed greenhouse, it is possible to grow food throughout the winter.  These systems, when properly designed, not only allow us to grow all the veggies we are used to eating well into the cold months of winter, they also provide us with the opportunity to push gardening zones.  St. Paul, Minnesota has traditionally been zone 4a, but in the last year it was upgraded to zone 4b.  This is not a huge difference, but with climate change becoming a reality, I predict that the trend of improving gardening zones will continue, at least for those of us in colder regions of the world.

After scavenging and collecting materials for the last few years, I am finally entering the design phase of my future greenhouse.  I am still quite a ways away from breaking ground on this project, but ultimately my hope is to have a heated, year round greenhouse that will have a fig tree or two, tea bushes, cardoons, a few perennial herbs, and raised beds for salad and braising greens.  Talk about pushing zones and extending the season!  Admittedly, my dreams of constructing a heated, four season greenhouse may be on the extreme end of gardening projects, but it is doable and will provide even more food for our family!

The last part of the homestead garden that I want to discuss in this article is all the perennial plants that are also available to us.  Perennials can provide us with more than just food – compostable materials, domesticated and wildlife habitat and forage, fuel, fiber, shade on those hot sunny days, and nectar and pollen for honey bees are just some of the reasons to include as many perennials into our landscapes as possible.

Perennials that we can include in our landscapes can range from ground covers, herbs, chop and drop nutrient builders, flowering and fruiting shrubs and bushes, brambles, berries, wild flowers, fruit and nut trees, and all the way up to climax forest trees.  All of these can be a benefit to our overall homesteads in some way.  Whether they can keep us or our livestock and bees fed, turned into medicine, or provide us with fuel for heat in the winter – all perennials have a place in our home gardens and landscapes.

My favorite perennial to grow and live with are the apple trees.  There is something magical about them – steeped in history, and surrounded by myth and legend.  My love affair with apples started with the story that Michael Pollan told us in The Botany of Desire.   The story of the apple in America is also the story of the man that spread its genetics – John Chapman, or better known as Johnny Appleseed.

Johnny Appleseed doing his thing!!

Johnny Appleseed doing his thing!!

Johnny Appleseed represents for me not just a historical figure, but also a way of life.  He promoted food in some of its most weedy forms, and apples, and WILDNESS, and CIDER!!  What is more needed today than the reminder that he can give us?  A reminder of what it is to be human, what it means to play a role and lend a hand in the production of our food, and what it means to plant, grow, and participate in a community!

So there is the first installment of the Northern Urban Homestead series.  I covered a lot of ground, but there is so much still to discuss.  Over the next few months I hope to return to this idea and elaborate more on other aspects of the northern climate homestead.  There is plenty to cover – more ideas about our outside spaces, the kitchen and cooking, more DIY projects and much more!  Until then, stay warm!  Peace & Cheers!

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rootsWith winter arriving last weekend, and the majority of our outside chores and responsibilities being put on hold for a few months, I find myself with a bit more time to write, think, and dream. When I was younger I was always dreaming, whether it was all the possibilities life held for me, or all the ways that the world could be a better place, dreams and optimistic visions were a daily occurrence.

It is only with adulthood, and the responsibilities of being a good husband and father, that I have become more rooted in reality and the present. In all truth, I do not think this is an entirely bad thing. As beautiful and necessary as dreams are for me, these last 10 years
of raising children, improving our homestead, growing fruits and veggies, and putting down roots for my family has been the best adventure in my life. Though small in the scheme of things, the past 10 years has seen some of those dreams of a young Anarcho – punk rocker come to fruition. While some of the details have turned out significantly different from how I envisioned them, there is no other place or time I’d rather be a part of than right here and right now.

We find ourselves at a crossroads in this world of ours. Accelerating climate change caused by the hands of man, massive animal and plant die offs not seen for over 65 million years, the ongoing destruction of the remaining rain forests and other unique habitats, world wide economic and political upheaval, resource depletion, and a disconnect and isolation of the human spirit are all adding to the uncertainty of human survival on this planet.

While it seems like we have the cards stacked against us by so many compounding factors, I want to step outside of reality for a bit, and dream. I want to imagine what might be possible if we stopped devoting all of our time, money, and remaining resources to the destruction of our planet and the human spirit. I want to imagine what might be possible in a world based on mutual aid and respect. And finally, I want to paint a picture of what that world might look like – not in some “pie in the sky” utopian way, but a realistic rendering of how humans may be able to continue occupying this changing planet.

Food – Food is one of the precious things all people have in common. The industrial food system as we know it is one of the main factors contributing to resource depletion and waste, habitat loss, and an increasing unhealthy human population. Agro giants like Monsanto, Bayer, Cargill, and many others control almost all aspects of the modern food chain. From seeds, fertilizers, herbicides, harvesting, and distribution, these multi nationals have enslaved millions of farmers, destroyed local communities and ultimately have raped and pillaged a tradition that belongs to all people. So what can be done to help ensure food security for all?

First, we need to abandon the industrial food model. We need to give farming back to the farmers, which means pulling the plug on all the multi nationals. We need to rely less on petroleum products, and bring back a more hands on, animal based agriculture. We need more bio diversity within the farm – not just a monoculture of corn or soybeans. Open pollinated seeds and perennial crops such as fruit and nut trees are part of the solution along with better crop and animal rotations. We need to stop exporting carbon off of farms, and start rebuilding our top soil. Second, we need more farmers. Up until the Green Revolution, the majority of the world’s population resided in rural setting with farming as the top occupation. We need to head back in that direction, and start to reclaim as much of suburbia as we can and begin the process of healing the land. And since the cities will not be going anywhere, anytime soon, we need to heed the advice of David Holmgren, and create an environment that is friendly to backyard agriculture, or what Toby Hemenway calls a Horticulture society.

As the modern Urban Homesteading movement is evidence of, it is possible to grow and raise massive amounts of food in residential yards and community gardens. Along with the cultivation of nutrient dense fruits and veggies, we need to relax modern zoning ordinances and encourage flocks of backyard rabbits, chickens, ducks and geese. Not only can these animals turn kitchen scraps, weeds, and insects into protein, they also add huge amounts of nitrogen back into our soil. With honey bees finding themselves in so much trouble lately, we need to educate people about the importance that the honey bee plays in food production, and encourage more people to get involved with these little critters.

Along with more animals in the city, I would like to see more boulevard orchards of fruit and nut trees with under stories of brambles and berries, flowering plants, and carbon accumulators. I want to see more roof top gardens, aquaponic systems, and season extending greenhouses and coldframes. Coppice yards for fuel and light building materials, and a general attempt to make our cities more verdant, and productive – places that don’t just take, but also give.

Community – We cannot talk about Urban Farming or human resilience without talking about the community that makes it possible. Like many others who have said before me, we have to start making neighborhoods more walkable again. We need to bring back the local businesses that Wal-Mart has done such a good job of running out of town. We cannot have thriving neighborhoods and communities without a butcher or a general store or a local meeting spot. We need to bring back trades of all different kinds and start making real products again. Not only will this bring the production back to our communities, it will also provide meaningful work that is so lacking in today’s world.

When neighborhoods and communities have a degree of self sufficiency and resilience, they are better able to survive natural disasters and other troubles with more success. When you and your neighbors are no longer relying on supply chains that span the globe for the basic necessities of life, events that can knock out power or roads can be dealt with using common sense responses and local solutions. We have done it in the past, we can do it again.

Energy & Technology – Whether we like it or not, the world has already entered into an energy descent scenario. Peak Oil was most likely reached back in 2005, and that has caused repercussions throughout the world economy. Oil is literally in everything from our food to our gas tanks. It powers every modern convenience, and breaking this habit is proving to be very hard indeed. What would a world with a lot less oil look like? A lot slower and bigger. In a world where we no longer have energy slaves doing the hard work for us we will be more involved with every aspect of our lives. From transportation to keeping ourselves warm in the winter, every aspect of our lives will be based on how much work we are willing to put in, whether that is on the individual or a community level. We will have to learn to be happy with less “stuff” and less convenience. Traveling will take much longer, and for most of us who are working to feed ourselves and our families, traveling will be severely limited if not obsolete except for those who are involved in the shipping of goods from one point to another .

In the picture I am painting of this world that faces so many challenges, technology still plays an important role. First and foremost, is the question of nuclear power? While we still have the time and resources available to us, every nuclear reactor needs to be decommissioned and shut down. More importantly, we need to figure out a long term and reliable solution to the spent fuel and nuclear waste that already exists. What these solutions may be I can only guess, but if we stopped wasting all our brain power, time, and resources on the space program and other scientific vanity, I think we could figure this out. As a quick side note, in no way am I against science, or all the positive things it has contributed to our society. In fact, I love the idea of going to the stars, but the implications of nuclear technology and what can go wrong with it are well known and too important to not be dealt with – look at Chernobyl and Fukushima!

In regards to other hi- tech, modern gadgetry we can only produce so many of these trinkets before other “Peak” resource issues come to the fore front. Computers, smart phones, and all the other “toys” out there rely on rare Earth metals, which in turn rely on oil. It is an unsustainable equation that is bound to fail. It is my hope though, that we can salvage some sort of world wide web of communication. The internet, even in its most basic forms, is a great way of gathering information, staying in touch, and organizing events and campaigns. Its bottom up approach appeals to my anarchist sensibilities and a
lot of things can be accomplished through its wide range of communication options. Whether the internet can be salvaged, scaled down and run off a whole lot less energy is anybody’s guess?

A giant misconception among liberals and weekend environmentalists is the idea that green technology – solar PV panels, wind turbines, and hydrogen fuel cells can be readily swapped out to replace our dependence on oil. This false notion is one of the largest reasons we cannot move forward on issues like energy descent and climate change and have a realistic discussion about moving forward. While these technologies (at least solar and wind) will play an important role in transitioning into a post carbon world, it is technology from the past that will see us into the future. The appropriate technology movement of the late 1970s started this journey, we need to follow in their foot steps. Water catchments, composting toilets, passive solar water heaters, alternative building design and construction, rocket stoves and rocket mass heaters, low input greenhouses, methane digesters, aquaponics, solar ovens, and grey water systems are all relatively simple ideas that can be custom designed and built with the materials on hand and in any community. While none of these technologies are fancy or sexy, they can help to keep us fed, warm, and clean – sounds like a decent way to live to me!

Culture – To some folks, especially those unfamiliar with energy descent scenarios, the world I am trying to describe may seem like a bleak place to reside. It is completely within the realm of possibility that in the near future, the main focus and concern for the world’s population will be keeping their families fed. Does this mean that there will be no place or time left for art, or music, or poetry? Absolutely not! Just like so many other products and services available today, current mainstream art and music comes prepackaged from anorexic, air brushed tricksters of the “Wal-Mart” culture. There is nothing real or moving that you will find from these people on TV or in a magazine. As the world starts its transition into a slower reality, today’s fast paced entertainment will cease to be.

Just like food, we will start to see a re-localization of art. Songs, poems, and story telling will begin to take on regional and cultural traits. Painting, sculpture, and other visual arts will also display this cultural and regional diversity, and will start to be created with many more locally sourced materials. It is songs and poems and pictures that bind a community together. It is these art forms that give a community roots, and ultimately what truly nourishes our souls.

One last point of interest that needs to be addressed is the cultural heritage of knowledge. We have learned so much throughout history that it would be a shame to loose it all just because of a transitioning society. The accumulated knowledge of human history is a treasure, and should be treated as such. Hopefully we can figure out ways to keep libraries funded and functional, our population literate, and continue to add to our living history. Peak Oil, energy descent and the societal change that will follow are but a chapter in this book of human history – let’s keep writing ( but on acid free paper)!

All of this is a lot to digest, but it is our story and where we are headed. This idea of societal change based on resource depletion and climate change is not unique to the modern world – plenty of cultures throughout history have over shot their carrying capacity and have had to adjust to local, climatic changes. This time around though, it is on a global scale. So where does this leave us? Obviously food needs to be our number one concern, followed by the question of nuclear power and waste. After that, every community and bioregion will have their own set of unique problems, answers and solutions on how to move forward and deal with these challenges that we are faced with. Humans and the communities we live in are resilient and always have been, it is just that we have forgotten that in today’s fast paced, co-dependent world. I am optimistic that we can do this, and once again live in a world where all our roots run deep! Peace & Cheers!

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Hey everyone!  A big heads up to anyone who is in the Twin Cities, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin or other upper Midwest locations.  Some dear friends of mine are putting on a great event called the Gathering of the Guilds.  It is a chance for people to get together and talk gardening, permaculture, food justice and many more things. Please refer to the info below for details.  Hope to see you there!!  Peace & Cheers …..

Gathering of the Guilds – 3 Days of Permaculture Skill-shares, Workshops and Networking

September 14-16, 2012

At Harmony Park Music Garden (79503 298th St., Clarks Grove, MN 56016) Open Map

Gates open at Noon on Friday – Come early to set up your camp and help us create the event.

This is a COMMUNITY CREATED EVENT.

We will provide the infrastructure and logistical planning-YOU provide the knowledge. ALL SKILL LEVELS ENCOURAGED. This gathering will offer local permaculturists, farmers, gardeners, activists, and others a chance to spend a weekend sharing skills, making connections, and learning.

WE NEED YOU to facilitate a workshop or share a skill. Some ideas include:

  • Sheet Mulching
  • Animals in Permaculture
  • Hugelkulture
  • Composting
  • Urban Permaculture
  • Bees and Pollinators
  • Mushroom Cultivation
  • Vermiculture (Worms eat my garbage)
  • Seed Saving
  • Freezing, Canning and Drying
  • Fruit Tree Grafting
  • Humanure
  • Tree Pruning for Tree Health
  • Wild Edibles Walk
  • Grey Water Systems
  • Rainwater Catchment, Storage and Use
  • Seed and Plant Swap (Bring your extras and bring home some new additions)

This is a family friendly, drug and alcohol free event. There is onsite tent and RV camping, a Community Kitchen to provide 6 meals (bring your garden surplus to contribute), a kids space with ongoing activities.

We request a $20 donation to cover toilets, kitchen staples, and site rental.

NO DOGS!

NO OUTSIDE FIREWOOD!

For questions or to R.S.V.P please email:

gotg2012@centerfordeepecology.org

 

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Chickens!!

I have lived my whole life in Minnesota, and being a dedicated Minnesotan, the weather is always something we talk about. If it ain’t 90 degrees and humid with mosquitoes buzzing in your face, it is 10 below zero and you had a near miss with frost bite on your toes while shoveling the side walk. Now anybody who has spent as much time as I have up here in the great white and wooded north, knows we have had winters where we have not received much in terms of snow fall, but nothing compares to the winter we are experiencing right now. Since the autumn equinox through now, we have had the most mild, and temperature – record setting winter to date. We have been breaking records for high temps almost weekly. Tonight as I write, it is the ninth of January, and depending on where you were earlier in the day here in the Twin Cities, it was almost 50 degrees!! 50 degrees on January 9!! We spent the afternoon outside in our backyard watching the chickens, enjoying the warming rays of the sun in just sweat shirts, and wondering to ourselves what the hell is going on with the weather.

Collard greens that have never quite died!! We were still picking off of them up until about a month ago!

We are not the only ones wondering what is going on with the weather right now either. The plants are also starting to get confused. Here is one article about a maple sugar producer whose trees are starting to have their sap flow. This would be great if it were March, but right now it is a little too soon. Being new to maple sugaring, I don’t know how this will impact the sugar season, I am not sure if anyone does at this point. Another example, a friend of mine who is only a few miles from my house told me that his irises and tulips are starting to pop up. Seasonally, irises and tulips are always some of the first things to green up and come back to life, do they know something we don’t or are they as clueless as the rest of us. Another concern of mine, due to the extremely nice temperatures we have been getting, and the almost non-existent snow, how are certain perennials and fall sown plants going to fair this winter. Because of the constant freezes and thaws and no snow to insulate the ground, will bulbs like garlic or potato onions be harmed or not? How about the hop and rhubarb rhizomes? How about the larvae of my arch enemy, the Japanese beetle. Those little bastards over winter in the ground and if we never get a huge ground freeze like we should, are they going to strike with a vengeance this coming summer? There are a lot of questions I have right now about the weather, and not just here in Minnesota.

Look at all that snow!!

2011 set a record for extreme weather events, events and storms that cost over a billion dollars each in destruction and other economic losses. This past year there were at least twelve of them. Gigantic snowstorms and record snow falls here in Minnesota and elsewhere, tornados, floods, wildfires, and huge droughts. The kicker, these extreme weather events are not isolated to just America. This is a world wide predicament that in my humble opinion is all the evidence we need to prove human influenced climate change, or as I once heard it put, not global warming, but global weirding! As much as a 50 degree day in January is nice and comfortable to be in, it also scares me a bit. Are we seeing the beginnings of a rapid climate shift? In my life time am I going to see a more temperate or Mediterranean climate here in Minnesota? Whose water tables are going to permanently dry up and see the rest of their topsoil blow away? Whose forests and wild areas are constantly going to be jeopardized by over harvesting of resources and wildfires? I don’t have the answers to any of these questions, but I do know one thing. It is all the more reason to be prepared for the unexpected. Having a wide variety of seeds to plant is always a good idea. Variety equals success! When one thing dies because it can not handle drought, having another one already planted that can survive a dry spell will insure some kind of harvest. Something I have learned this year is that having some way to extend your season (cold frames, large and/or small hoop houses, and greenhouses) is a great option to have ready. If I would have been more prepared and could have known about the mild winter we have had so far, I would still be pulling salad mix, spinach, and other greens from the garden! Maybe next year! Well, I hope everyone gets through the rest of the winter with a little bit of normality, I for one would love to see some real snow and at least be able to pretend that things are still somewhat normal! Cheers!

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Egyptian Walking onions, rhubarb, and chives!

We got our first real spring rain today and what a difference it makes. It seems to make everything more green instantly, and walking around the yard and the gardens had to be done in muck boots. I am having a hard time believing it is only the first week of April and already so much is starting to really take off. The show piece of the garden so far is the garlic. This year we have close to 300 heads of garlic planted composed of Chesnock Red, Kilarney Red, Mitachi, Georgian Crystal, Georgian Fire, Webber Creek, and Siberian. All of these varieties are hard necks and some of them are already more than three inches tall. I always make sure to highly enrich the garlic bed, and last year it received home-made compost, horse manure, and close to eight inches of leaves as a winter mulch. So far so good!

300 heads of green, growing garlic!

Other high lights from the garden includes walking onions, chives, hops, and rhubarb. The perennials are always the first to get going, but this year is the best I have ever seen. Other edibles coming along are dandelion greens, sunchokes and nettles. One disappointment so far is the DIY cold frames. I do not think the design is flawed, but the salad mix, spinach and radishes are growing very slowly. I was hoping to have already had a salad from the cold frames, but there is still at least another week to wait. We planted Windsor fava beans last week, and today we planted Amish Winter snap peas and Giant Melting Mammoth snap peas under trellis tee-pees. Interplanted with the peas is Yugoslavian Red lettuce. Tomorrow we will be starting more tomato, okra, and cucumber seeds in the greenhouse. We have already got good healthy looking peppers started, and after being slightly shocked, the collard greens and brussel sprouts are almost ready to be put in the ground. I’m sure I am missing a few seeds and transplants here, but you get the idea. Now that our kids are getting a little older, I find it easier to do more of these projects, and sometimes I can even get some help.

Apple flower buds that will one day soon be a juicy Haralson!

The last project of the day involved the apple trees. We started out with a very light pruning of a few of the trees. After last winters damage caused by the neighborhood rabbits, I cleaned up select branches and made clean cuts. I thinned out a few budding sights on the Rubinette and HaralRed and also removed two major forked branches on the HaralRed. Lastly, we are starting to train the Rubinette. It has very bad posture, so using twine tied to the chain link fence close to the tree, we hope to straighten out the lateral branches, and have the lead branch go straight up, rather than at an angle. If this is done properly, by the end of the season the apple tree should hold it’s new form. This is something I should have done last year, but I never got around to it. Well, so far the spring has been great, and I feel like we have a good jump on some of the early projects that need to be done. The rain barrels are getting filled, the grass is getting green, and I am hungry for a home grown salad. Cheers!

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On the left is the garden surface after a winter of decomposing leaves and top dressings of ash and charcoal. On the right is completely thawed soil turned over and ready to plant.

I am two days into the cold frame experiment and I am already seeing results.  I checked the temperature today when I got home from work and inside the cold frame it was about 54 degrees.  That is after two days of overcast, cloudy weather, and the cold frames are at least 10 to 15 degrees warmer than the outside air temperature.  I figured I would stick a shovel in, and to my surprise, the soil was completely thawed out and filled with earth worms.  That part of the garden received at least 6-8 inches of leaf mulch this fall and that was reduced down to a soggy, composted inch or so of organic matter that vaguely resembled leaves.  After realizing the soil was completely thawed out, I thought I would try another experiment, I would start gardening in March.  So today in the DIY Cold Frame garden I planted Rocky Top Salad Mix, Bloomsdale Spinach and radishes.  I hope to be eating a salad from this late winter garden by the end of March. Exciting!

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Bales of Hay and old patio windows will help to start our garden early!

As stated in the last post, spring is near and inspiration and old ideas are flowing fast.  Remembering that I have two old patio door windows, and seeing this post a while ago at One Straw, I figured it was time to build another cold frame.  I scored these windows a few years ago after a friend told me he saw them for free on a boulevard.  That year we built a very similar cold frame, but much later in the year.  It is March the seventh, it is in the mid forties, and the sap is finally starting to run and we are going to start gardening soon.

The basic construction consists of ten bales, preferably straw, but hay will work also, two patio door windows with the frames removed, one eight foot long one by four as a center support, and a piece of lumber 12-14 inches in length as a vertical support for the eight foot length of one by four.  Keep in mind this design was built with what I had on hand and can be adapted to what ever materials you have that will work.

On the left is the cleared out foot print in our garden. On the right is another picture of the DIY cold frame.

On the left is the temp when the thermometer was first put into the cold frame. On the right is one hour later and more than 12 degrees warmer, AWESOME!

I started by clearing out as much of the snow as I could and creating a foot print for the cold frame to sit in.  After that it was placing the bales in the cleared out area with a few final adjustments.  I ran the eight foot length of one by four down the middle of the cold frame and supported it by another piece of wood as a central support for both of the windows.  The plan for the cold frame has two objectives: 1)  To start salad mix and spinach within the next week-week and a half, and 2) to act as a green house for the first of our seedlings that have been started under an indoor light. 

Ideas such as cold frames and green houses are great ways of extending our growing season, especially up here in Minnesota.  As always there will be more posts on the cold frame and the green house and how these simple ideas will be helpful to all of us as we enter a world where we all need to be more responsible for where our food comes from.

P.S. As of press time, it is now 72 degrees in the cold frame!

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