Friday, December 3, 2010

Winter gardening


It's official. Low tunnels really do work in Illinois. After a month of freezing nights and now several days of below freezing temperatures, my garden is still going strong. We're having salad with dinner tonight.


It is a real eye-opener when you discover that your state is importing fresh produce from the north during the winter. No, that's not a typo. Illinois imports produce during the winter from Wisconsin, Michigan, and Canada. But the thing that really pushed us over the edge was that last year, Mike and I attended a conference on organic gardening and learned -- straight from the professor -- that Michigan State grows produce for their residence hall salad bars through the winter. And he showed us pictures of greenhouses filled with gorgeous lettuces and greens.


Yes, I've owned the book Four Season Harvest for a couple years, but I suppose there was just something in my brain stopping me from doing it before coming face to face with that professor and his slides. Mike and I just looked at each other, shaking our heads, and I said, "We're pathetic. Why haven't we done this?"

So, we're doing it! Back in September, I planted lettuces and radishes, as well as cole crop transplants, including broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts. I continued planting through October. The seeds that were planted later will get a very early start in the spring, supposedly, because the low tunnels will start to warm up in February when there is still snow on the ground. I talked to another Illinois farmer who said he planted potatoes in high tunnels last March and was selling them to restaurants by May, which is when most of us are just starting to plant them. I didn't have any potatoes to plant, but I did plant onion seeds. I have no idea what will happen to the cole crop transplants, but everything is an experiment.  We really have nothing to lose by trying.

In January, I'm attending a full-day workshop on high tunnels and greenhouse growing, so we can expand our winter garden next year. I've never been so excited about winter before!

13 comments:

Tiggeriffic said...

Do you have any regular potatoes, the kind you buy at the store? That is what I plant every Spring..I buy a bag and cut the potato in 1/2 and plant it in the ground.. I never buy those seed potatos.
I commend you for growing a garden in the winter time in the North.. I live in Iowa and that lettuce looked so good..goodness to be , never knew one could grow things in the north in the winter time..
good luck this winter...
annieptigger@aol.com
ta ta for now from Iowa.

Deborah @ Antiquity Oaks said...

Every time we tried planting store-bought potatoes, they would grow, but then they'd rot before we could dig them up. Then we learned that the seed potatoes are certified disease free. Apparently, the potatoes we had used from the store had some sort of disease that was causing them to rot towards the end of the growing cycle. So, now we always buy seed potatoes. Besides, I LOVE the varieties I can get. The "all blue" are my favorite.

Chicken Momma said...

As always, your blog inspires me. I really can't wait for your book. I was just mentioning low tunnels to my husband earlier this week.

Nancy K. said...

That's incredible!
Fresh lettuce all winter?


VERY cool.

momanna98 said...

Awesome! I have that book sitting on my shelf collecting dust... :-( I guess I should dig it out, huh. I miss fresh food....

Sally said...

Your salad looks really delicious right now! It feels like it would just hit the right taste spot!

J. M. Strother said...

You are amazing. I wonder how the tunnels will stand up to a heavy snowfall. Will the weight of the snow cause them to collapse, or are they warm enough to keep snow from accumulating?
~jon

Deborah @ Antiquity Oaks said...

Funny you should ask about snow! We just had eight inches yesterday, and they stood up to it. Mike went out there with a broom and brushed them off when the snow stopped falling. I can see why they recommend gothic roof lines (pointy) for hoop houses in our climate, rather than quonset (round like ours), because the snow did not fall off of ours at all. We just bent over PVC pipe to make the ribs of our tunnels, but I think we should get some 45-degree-angled connectors next year so the tops will be more angled, and hopefully the snow will fall off. I was holding my breath looking at them from the window in the house, hoping they would hold up.

J. M. Strother said...

I'm glad they held up. Hopefully you won't get too much snow this winter, at least not all at one time.
~jon

Golden Rule Farm and Ranch said...

Regarding the low tunnels --- are they heated in some way or is it simply the natural solar from the sun? It sounds like you all have some pretty brutal winters compared to Texas.

Deborah @ Antiquity Oaks said...

Golden Rule -- The only heat they receive is from the sun. According to the Four Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman, you don't have to worry until you have several days of 20 below zero with no sun. Luckily, we did have sun even on those horribly cold days. I know we got down to -16 or somewhere in that vicinity a few times in the last couple months. Three of the four low tunnels survived the blizzard a earlier this month, and everything is still alive. There are row covers inside the tunnels, which is why the ground never freezes in there.

Robert Blackburn, Jr. said...

How are plants watered in the tunnels if they are not opened regularly?

Deborah @ Antiquity Oaks said...

Depending upon how short your days get in winter, the plants stop growing and go into a state of extremely slow/no growth from about mid-November to mid-February, and they don't need to be watered. Mine were not watered from later November until mid-March.

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