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When the Farm Catches the Cold: Winter Farming Preparations

We’ve had a few decent frosts already this fall, and while I can’t remember clearly when they came in previous years, it seems a bit early for temps this low. Here on Shore Meadows Rd, the actual nighttime temps always seem 5-10F lower than the forecasted lows. So, when the forecast predicts 40F lows, it’s a good time to begin going into frost-preparation mode (we’re in it!).

While most of our fall crops can handle varying degrees of freezing temps, there are still a few tender items in the field that need monitoring. Mid-large sized broccoli and cauliflower heads can begin to rot even with a slight frost exposure. Lettuces, bok choi, chards, frisee and escarole are also fairly tender. So, during weather like this we generally cover these crops with heavy-duty floating row cover (which can prevent freezing as low as ~22F.) Another strategy is to harvest before the frosts come and store the veg in the walk-in cooler (never more than a week) until CSA, farmer’s market, etc. The latter option isn’t our preference, as we like our veggies delivered/sold as fresh as possible.

Today (Monday), in anticipation of a potentially serious frost later tonight, we harvested our broccoli, salad mix and parley. Generally, we would harvest everything the day of CSA. Another reason for harvesting today vs tomorrow is the possible lack of frost-free, daylight harvesting hours tomorrow. Often, when it’s really cold, the crops down thaw out until afternoon (if at all!), giving us no time to harvest for CSA. Harvesting veggies when partially frozen will result in the premature wilting and rotting in storage.

Of course, another strategy for fending off frost is planting inside greenhouses or tunnels. Unfortunately, our tomatoes, eggplants, and pepper usually don’t wind down until early Oct, too late for a fall planting of greens in the greenhouse. We get more money out of milking these high-value summer crops into late summer and early fall than we could from a single planting of fall spinach or arugula.

Our main strategy in warding off death-by-frost is variety selection. Ten years of variety trials have equipped us with tons of knowledge about the relative cold hardiness of fall vegetables varieties. This is one of our main criteria in choosing which varieties are planting for our fall CSA.

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The keys to Hap-pea-ness

Believe it or not, here on Whidbey Island it’s still a bit early to get your garden going, however, planting time is indeed drawing neigh.  Let’s start visualizing what we’re going to put in the soil once it gets over 50 degrees. Snap peas! Snow peas and Shelling peas, oh my! Yes p(l)eas(e). These tasty and productive garden treasures are more than happy to be the first veggies to get growing.  What brave, little gems they are! Here at Deep Harvest, we give our pea seeds extra TLC by soaking them 8-12 hours prior to planting, which allows them to plump up in the comforts of your home.  Once in the ground, they’ll reward your extra attention by springing up faster than non-soaked seed.  Just fill a jar about a 1/3 of the way with seeds, cover with water, soak overnight, drain, and plant.  Easy-peasy!
Once in the ground, peas will still need your support.  I know they’re needy, but also lovable, so we happily comply.  It’s time to plot your trellising tactic.  One farmer friend supports a six-foot tall roll of chicken wire between t-posts and lets the peas weave themselves throughout it.   At the end of the season, she burns the dead vines to clean the wire and rolls it up to use year after year.  Brilliant! Some home gardener pals plant peas against chain-link fencing, which works well, as long as it’s at least 5 feet tall.  Here, we use the one and only Florida Weave to coral our 2000+ feet of peas.  How does that work? Well, we plant two rows of peas 10 inches apart.  Then we pound t-posts in the ground every 10-15 feet between the rows and wind twine on the posts 6 inches above the ground for peas to grab for support. Every week, thereafter, we sandwich the fast-growing, new shoots in between two lines of twine which we loop around each t-post, always cinching tightly once a t-post is reached.  This is a quick, cheap, and effective trellising technique for tomatoes as well.  For you visual learners, here’s a short youtube to clarify any confusion I’ve created: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=awHp1mfl3Lk.
And if you’ve yet to purchase your pea seeds, we’d be elated to hook you up.  We’ve got super delectable, tried and true, organic, NW adapted varieties for a your fresh-eating and stir-frying pleasure. It’s (almost) grow time! Click the images below to be directed to our pea store!Organic, Non-GMO Snap Pea Seed

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Pacific NW Planting Calendar

We get so many questions from gardeners about the best times for planting different vegetable seeds. The truth is that there is no perfect answer, as the best planting times depend on your soil temperature, microclimate, whether or not you’re using plastic cover or mulch, and when you hope to harvest your produce (to name a few variables).  For example, while we advise seeding tomatoes in mid-march or early april, you can plant much earlier if you have a heated greenhouse into which they’ll be transplanted. Also, it’s often best to plant single harvest crops like radishes, head lettuce or carrots several times per growing season, or in many ‘successions.’ Succession planting requires a bit or extra planning, but can result in a prolonged harvest period for you favorite crops. For example we plant beets every three weeks from March through July and arugula every week from March through mid-Sept.  During our first several years of growing in the Puget Sound, we consulted the Maritime Northwest Garden Guide for wisdom on the best first and last planting dates for our region. Now, after many years of trial and error, we’ve put together our own Pacific NW Planting Calendar with a more comprehensive crop list and dates that are more specific to the Puget sound.  This simple tool will help you identify the window for starting vegetable seeds in your own Northwest garden. Months with an asterisk (*) indicate that it’s best to start seeds indoors during this time for later transplanting outdoors. Click here to download your planting calendar!