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Expensive Fresh Vegetables – Covering the High Tunnel

Expensive Fresh Vegetables – Covering the High Tunnel

Expensive Fresh Vegetables

Wow. It’s easy to lose track of the expense associated with buying fresh vegetables in the winter. We’ve had hoop houses and high tunnels for over a decade. This is our first winter in eight years without a tunnel. It’s uncovered to let the snow and rain wash the soil. Expensive fresh vegetables made up the majority of our monthly grocery shopping trip last weekend, and shoved me into accepting the cost of poly.
baby beet greens, expensive fresh vegetables
baby swiss chard, pot o gold, swiss chard, expensive fresh vegetablesI’ve been feeling bad about the cost of poly to re-cover the tunnel. It’s going to cost around $800. Buying vegetables made the $800 feel insignificant. The poly will last a minimum of four years but more likely eight, the same as the poly we removed last fall. At $100 a year, that’s a bargain. Here’s what we spent on vegetables.

Price x Cost
Zucchini  $1.99 x 1.23 lbs = $2.55
Scallions .99
Red onion 1.99 x .85 = 1.69
Asparagus 1.08 x 2.49 = 2.69
Celery 1.69
European cucumber 1.99
Kale 1.99
Tomatoes (Backyard Beauties, grown in Maine) 2.69 x 2.04 = 5.49
Jalapeno 2.69 x .15 = .40
Bell pepper (green) 1.99 x 1.29 = 2.57
Spaghetti squash 1.29 x 2.64 = 3.41
Sweet white onions (3#) 2.99
Portabella caps (2) 2.99
Spinach (4 oz) 2.99
Romaine hearts (3) 3.49
“Produce” (I don’t remember what this is) 3.99
TOTAL: $41.71

The vegetables will last us about a week. We’re eating broccoli, cauliflower and green beans from the freezer as well.

high tunnel, winter, winter growing, winter vegetables, expensive fresh vegetables

Eating Out of Season

There isn’t a lot on the list that we grow in the tunnel in winter. Being in the store with the vegetables in front of us when we’re starving for fresh veggies (as fresh as you can get in a grocery, especially out of season things) made it easy to splurge. It was too easy to eat out of season, something we generally don’t do. If the tunnel were covered we’d be eating carrots, radishes, turnip, spinach, beet greens, Swiss chard, arugula, tatsoi, boc choi (instead of celery), lettuce and leeks. They would be truly fresh, honestly organic, and in better condition.

We would be buying onions, scallions, mushrooms and an occasional tomato or pepper even if the tunnel were covered. We’re out of last year’s onions, and we like fresh mushrooms better than dehydrated in some dishes.

If we continued to spend $41 a week on expensive fresh vegetables for a winter we’d spend more than $600. It’s a lot less expensive to spend the money on the poly cover for the high tunnel. I’m placing that call now!

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Raised Beds in the High Tunnel

Raised Beds in the High Tunnel

Raised Beds

I’ve missed fresh greens from the  high tunnel a lot this winter. Watching the melting snow this week, I realized we’ll probably get to re-cover the tunnel earlier than expected. All we need (ha ha…we need everything) is the poly and to make a few repairs, and for the snow to melt around the frame and more to not fall, and the wind to not blow while we get a tremendous potential kite on the frame and secured. Then we’ll have to build raised beds. That’s all…

In the meantime, I’m planning the growing seasons in the tunnel. If we get the tunnel covered by the end of March, highly unlikely, I won’t be too far behind in planting the tomatoes. The soil will need to drain and be amended, the raised beds built and filled, and the seedlings in the ground by the third week in April to be on schedule. Dream big, I’m told often these days. I’m hoping.

Raised Beds in the High Tunnel

I have the raised beds figured out. I want the tunnel to be productive and attractive. I’ll be growing some plants, roses I’m trying to root if all goes well, for their beauty. I want the Silkies to spend the winter in there so they’ll have a small portable house to spend the night in. I want a place to sit and work on a sunny winter day when it’s warm and bright inside. So many plans. If I get a tenth of it done this year I’ll be happy.

The top of the drawing is the south side. The sun rises on the left / east, right behind the tunnel, in June. The beds are 4′ x 8′ x 10″ and 4′ x 16′ x 10″.  There’s a little work space between the six on the south side. The space between end walls and the beds is 6′. I’ll have a compost bin on the northeast corner. The door is on the right / west end. raised beds, high tunnel

The Short and Tall of It

The sun shines on a corner of the north wall for a couple of weeks a year. Shadows aren’t cast from that side so it’s the best place to grow the tall plants. I have the tomatoes and cucumbers growing up twine on that side most of the time. The shadows they cast don’t hit other plants. The short plants are on the south side so they get full sun all day.

There will be some crop rotation as the plan comes together. A full bed of carrots, another of with rows of beets, turnip, rutabaga, parsnips, probably a potato or two. Everything I’m going to grow but pumpkins and maybe a few winter squash will be grown in the raised beds in the high tunnel. I still plan to buy a lot from a local grower. <insert feelings of withdrawals here>

I’ll keep notes here as we build the beds, get them filled and the soil amended, plant, weed, harvest, and replant this year. Let’s hope for getting on schedule by re-covering so we get back to growing great food in raised beds in the high tunnel.

 

Growing Corn in a High Tunnel

Growing Corn in a High Tunnel

Growing Corn in a High Tunnel

Downsizing the garden has given me some wiggle room for experimenting. When you grow and do the same things year after year gardening gets monotonous. Without the need for thousands of plants and lots of variety now that I’m not market gardening I find new ways to get creative. Growing corn in a high tunnel was one of this year’s experiments.

The experiment was a success so we’ll be growing corn in a high tunnel next year. There aren’t many differences in methods between the tunnel and outdoors.

How to Grow Corn in a High Tunnel

Amend the soil as needed. If you haven’t done a soil test in a while now’s a good time. We add lime in the fall because it takes time to work. Corn is a heavy feeder so add plenty of nitrogen but not so much it burns the roots. I dug holes 12″ to 18″ deep and filled them with water twice to soak the soil. High tunnels aren’t open to rain.

Corn germinates best in soil 60° or warmer. If you want to add additional warmth and control weeds you can lay out IRT and cut holes. I didn’t because there isn’t a week problem on that side of the tunnel.

After the water drained I added fish guts to the bottom, and mixed compost into the soil, and then filled in the holes.

I used circles because I wasn’t planting a lot of corn. If you plant rows they should be at least four feet long and there should be a minimum of four rows for good pollination. Planting in small circles helped pollination. In a 12″ to 15″ circle I planted seven or eight seeds.

The soil stays warmer at night in the tunnel than it does outside so germination was fast, four or five days. Keep the soil moist by watering heavily once or twice a week. The number of times you’ll need to water depends on how much organic matter is in the soil to hold water, the temperature, size of plants and wind. Roots will grow deep to get to the rotted fish and you’ll notice a growth spurt.

growing corn in a high tunnel, early growth, high tunnel
corn, high tunnel, busy kitchen
growing corn in the high tunnel, corn, ear of cornI missed this ear so it was drying out before I picked it.

Fertilization

Continue to give the plants nitrogen through the growing season. When we kept fish we caught I dug a hole beside the roots, dumped the guts in, watered well and refilled the hole. There was never a fish smell to attract raccoons and skunks. Use whatever you normally use for a nitrogen fertilizer.

Pollination

Every silk on an ear of corn is attached to a potential kernel. The silk must be pollinated for the kernel to grow. The plants closest to the door were pollinated best because the wind blew the plants more than those in the back. The sides were rolled up all summer but that doesn’t provide enough air flow high to move the plants for successful pollination. There were a few ears that weren’t edible and a few that should have been better pollinated. Next year I’ll plant the corn in the front half of the tunnel and give the end plants a better shake to improve pollination.

The variety I chose averages six feet tall. Growing corn in a high tunnel gives extra warmth and allows for the easy addition of nitrogen. This corn averaged seven feet and topped out just over ten feet. The stalks are thick and heavy and supported the extra height well.

Corn Pests

There were no pests! It’s nice to peel back the shucks and not find corn earworms.

Clean Up

Clean up was easy. I used long-handled pruning shears to cut the stalks at ground level. Leaving them higher than ground level is potential to trip over the stubs. The roots will start to break down and feed the soil so continue to water if you’re not going to plant something in that spot for winter crops. Growing corn in a high tunnel was a great experiment that results in delicious sweet corn.

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Finding Peace of Mind Outdoors

Finding Peace of Mind Outdoors

Finding Peace of Mind Outdoors

I wrote this yesterday morning when I was disappointed and disheartened. The state of the world and the inability to visit with friends online without having a lot of hate and discontent thrown at me is upsetting. I needed to set some boundaries with people who are not used to me saying “sorry…no…” Self-preservation is important, and that involves not setting myself up as a target in some topics that get ugly fast. I headed outside earlier than normal because finding peace of mind outdoors is the best way to ground myself again.

Finding Peace in Beauty

Buff Silkie Hen with chick

I went outdoors early this morning. The much needed rain stopped during the night. I think we’re probably still two inches below normal but we got enough to give the pond and garden the boosts they needed. The Silkie hen and her three checks spent their first night loose in the hen house so they needed to be checked on first. I took food and water and spent a few minutes leaning against the wall, watching the interaction with the other birds. Sweetie’s a good mother. When the other birds get too close to her babes she lets them know it’s time to back off.

Finding Peace on the Homestead

The turkeys have outgrown their small overnight box and moved into one that’s 30 inches tall. There are seven now, down one quickly when the failure-to-thrive poult died. These seven are growing like weeds. When their box tipped to let them loose they emptied out like popcorn, running around the pen, flapping and “flying.” Happy, healthy birds. They’re amusing.

Looking toward the pond as I left the turkeys, I spotted momma snowshoe hare eating clover beside the clump of trees where the kits were. I didn’t harm the when I held them last week and said a little thanks for that.

Finding Peace in the High Tunnel

gourds, vertical growing, high tunnel, peace of mind
finding peace, peace of mind, small warted gourd
finding peace, tomato, vertical growing, high tunnelIt was still chilly in the high tunnel. I opened the door to let the breeze in, nature’s way of pollinating tomato plants while the pollinators are still too cool to move early in the morning. The gourds, cucumbers and tomatoes needed to be pruned and attached to the twine. Snipping the vines, weaving some of them into the twine, and watching a baby garter snake help me put my life into perspective. I took the scenic route back to the house to make a mental note of what I wanted to pick for a fresh bouquet.

Finding peace of mind outdoors. You probably don't owe anyone an explanation when you walk away from the ugliness.Click To Tweet

Next week I’ll be at a silent writing retreat, out of reach of a signal and away from the ugliness of the world. I’ll spend the week with wonderful, creative women as we hone our craft together. I’m looking forward to finding peace of mind outdoors with them.