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Monday, October 20, 2014

Fall Garden

Last year, a few vegetable plants persisted into autumn, and I was hooked on the idea of having a fall garden. The weather this season has been outstanding, and after a first light frost on September 11, it has been surprisingly mild. It was the perfect year for having a fall garden!

Sometimes poppy seeds germinate partway through the summer and provide the most wonderful fall colors. Someday I should plant them with the fall garden seeds on purpose!

The marigolds just keep giving. 
Even the bolted lettuce seems beautiful this time of year... it won't last long now. 

I didn't realize the roses could keep going for so long...

A single radish with lots of room and no crowding can create some neat patterns... and the blueberries provide wonderful autumn color.

Nasturtiums are quickly becoming one of my favorite flowers, and the asparagus plants turn a lovely shade of gold this time of year.

Kale makes the fall garden feel really productive with its beefy, hardy leaves.

Rainbow swiss chard, another star in the fall garden, has made up about 50% of our salad greens lately. It is surprisingly tender, ever since the weather turned cool.

Another plant that is winning my heart with it's profuse sprays of fuchsia colored blooms ~ Love Lies Bleeding Amaranth. The leaves have been making up the other 50% of our salad greens these days.

What are your favorite fall garden plants?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Underground Cold Frame Part II

The Hugel Cold Frame Process Continues...

This post follows up on the start of the story, "Underground Cold Frame Part I." I was surprised to review the original post, as I had kind of forgotten just how much prep went into the initial stages!

This was the state of the rock work when my good friend and garden buddy, Lee, came over and helped me during September. The idea behind using large rock is that the rocks may act as heat batteries and moderate the temperature swings between day and night. Being sunken underground, the earth should also help moderate temperature changes. And with a little luck, the piles of rotting wood and horse manure underneath might help generate some warmth to help extend the growing season (see previous post for a visual on what lies below).

For the cold frame window structure, we used a mix of very weathered old boards and freshly milled spruce from Lee's property in Wauconda, hot off of my husband Bob's mill. He invited me to use whatever wood I'd like from the milled spruce -- an offer I couldn't pass up. Thanks, Bob!

Lee quickly realized that my design concept would have some serious weaknesses. He suggested we build a frame with the lumber nailed together on end, which I now realize makes a lot more sense than trying to join horizontal pieces with corner gussets. Thanks for setting me straight, Lee -- literally! I am really fortunate for the friends I have.

Here is the base frame, built from 2x6's.

We laid it in place, just to have a look and figure out the next steps.

Next we filled in the horizontal space to accommodate the size of the window that my Dad had given me. I wanted the frame to have an overhang on the Northeast end, since that would give me more real estate inside the cold frame and would not impact the available sunlight due to the angle of the sun.

Testing it out to see how it feels! Yep, if I were a plant, I could definitely grow here. 

We laid the window in place and I realized that I needed more of an angle to set the box on, to allow more sunlight to reach the bottom. A bunch more rock work followed during the next couple of weeks, building up the Northeast end to be quite a bit higher than the Southwest end.

After creating the best angle I could, I transplanted some swiss chard, lettuce, and sweetloaf chicory into the soil, and mulched it with cardboard and garden clippings. As you can see, there is still an issue with the depth of the pit blocking sunlight, depending on the time of day.

However, the plants are doing well. Now that it's October and the ambient temperatures have dropped considerably, it is pleasantly shocking to reach down into this space and feel the warm, moist air greeting me.

I placed some blankets on the outside of the rockwork for the time being, and over time will try to grow moss in between the rocks for insulation. This has been a great learning opportunity and I can't wait to build more cold frames in the future!

Have you experimented with underground cold frames or underground greenhouses? 
I'd love to hear about it in the comment section below!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Beauty Among Food

Take a break from the work of harvest and preservation 
to notice the beauty that marks this time of year...

The aspen hotbed continues to provide color as well as good eating. 
This is the time of year for soaking it up!

I have been covering the garden in old sheets every night this week and it seems to be helping. We also have great sun exposure for nurturing a garden, and of course literally tons of wood and manure cooking beneath the ground. We had a freeze on September 11th and then things warmed up substantially... however, it has been close to freezing the last couple of nights.

Our friends the bumblebees are still hard at work... we are so lucky to have them!

This bumblebee fits just right in the center of the pumpkin blossom.
(Pumpkins, it's a little late to be putting out blossoms!)

Swiss chard is proving to be one of our most consistent, robust fall crops. I could not resist laying this leaf on the autumn-blooming chrysanthemums. They were a Mother's Day gift one year in a one gallon pot, and now they form a hedge of radiant globes.

Another friend of the garden we are always happy to see...
(on the asparagus)

These roses were a Valentine's gift from my husband and 
daughter and they are giving color well beyond summer.

It boggles my mind that this huge plant with cascading magenta blooms has grown from one tiny seed. When I first heard about Love Lies Bleeding Amaranth and the fresh greens it provides, I knew I had to try growing it... but I had no idea how beautiful it would be.

And last but not least -- peekaboo!