A-Z Gardening in Zone 3-4

For the organic gardner struggling in the short season climate

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cucumber netting

netting for cucumbers to climb up on

cucumbers growing on netting

cucumbers growing on netting

cucumbers on vines

cucumbers on vines

We grow cucumbers in our greenhouse because the season is so short here. In May, after we hang  netting that has large spaces in it from the roof of the greenhouse, we plant our seeds in the soil of the greenhouse floor.  Then we put black plastic between the rows to keep the weeds down and to heat up the soil. Yes, we have weeds, they blow in the open windows and doors and we bring them in on our feef and clothes.  After that, we sprinkle Concern, ( diatomaceous earth, organic crawling insect killer), over the seeds before they come up.

You should be able to order Concern, at gardening stores or gardening catalogs. See the post (: https://51chevy.wordpress.com/2008/01/22/catalogs-that-…nhouse-growing/ ) If you still can’t find it click this site http://www.victorpest.com/search?page=1&search=concern.  Concern kills crawling insects like slugs and pill bugs that eat plant shoots and young plants.  It can be used in the garden, on house plants, or in the greenhouse.

I recently learned that Concern, cannot be shipped to all states, however, another product called Safer, diatomaecous earth can. Go to http://www.saferbrand.com/store/insect-control/51702  to order on line.

There are two different kins of  diatomaceous earth, one is used to filter swimming pools.  This type should not be used as it is dangerous to breath it in because it can cause lung damage.  The variety used for gardens is a much finer powder and does not pose a health hazard.

As the cucumbers grow up the netting you must weave the vines in and out of the netting spaces.  This is necessary in order for the vine to support the weight of the cucumbers as they grow.

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Squash, Anyone?

There are two kinds of squash, summer and winter. Of the summer squashes there are basically three types, yellow, patty pan and zucchini or green. There are many many kinds of winter squash. We grow carnival, butternut, sweet meat, red kuri, gourds, field and pie pumpkin. In zone 3-4 they need to be started in pots in early May. We plant 5 seeds to a pot and plant the contents of the pot as a hill in the garden. We start ours in the greenhouse, we put the pots in between the rows of cucumbers that we planted directly into the greenhouse soil in early May.

Then we plant them in the garden in black plastic in early June. The black plastic keeps the soil warm and moist, as the squash needs to mature fast in a short season climate. You cannot grow squash in the greenhouse because the leaves become moldy. Cucumbers become moldy after a while also, however, they produce fruit fast and so you will still get a good crop. Mold on the cucumbers has never been a problem.

You cannot grow watermelon, or cantaloupe in zone 3-4, even in the greenhouse, unless you live in a river valley or near a large lake, believe me we gave it a good try. Growing cantaloupe and watermelon in the greenhouse results in the leaves getting moldy .

Summer squashes are at their best when cooked small, about 4 inches long, the blossoms can also be fried with batter. Some people prefer to eat squash when it is very large. As long as you can put your fingernail through the skin you don’t have to peel them. Large squash have very hard skins. Squash does not freeze well except when included in a dish like Italian zucchini. To make it I like to use very large zucchini with soft skins along with onions and tomatoes from my garden. You can make large quantities to freeze and it’s a very nice side dish in the winter. I have a friend that likes to keep large zucchini with hard skins in her cellar during the winter and puts the pulp in soup.

Squash attracts squash bugs which can be easily controlled by spraying with “Pyola” a natural insecticide you can get from Gardens Alive. We also grow a very large variety of marigold, called “Gold Coin.” It grows to 36 inches and is tall enough to reach over the squash leaves. You can get it from Jung Seed Co. Marigold is a good plant to use as an insect deterrent although, bees don’t seem to be bothered by it. The pictures above shows the marigold inter-planted with the squash plants.


Planting In The Greenhouse

Over Memorial Day weekend Linda came over with her two daughters, Theresa and Elaine, and Elaine’s husband Dan, to plant tomatoes and peppers in the greenhouse. It was a perfect day to work in the greenhouse, it was cloudy and cool. You don’t want to have to work in the greenhouse for very long on a sunny day. Linda had planted cucumber seeds in the greenhouse the week before. The cucumbers are just emerging now and will soon climb up on the netting we hung from the greenhouse roof. As the cucumbers grow, we thread them in and out of the netting so that the plants can get a good grip on the netting and won’t fall down due to the weight of the cucumber growing on them. We also put down black plastic mulch to keep the weeds down, yes we have weeds in the greenhouse, and to keep the moisture in the soil. In order to get a jump on the season we started our summer and winter squash in pots a few weeks ago. we keep the pots between the cucumber rows until we can safely put them outside in the garden.

We have been planting the tomatoes in red plastic mulch for many years now. The red-colored mulch actually reflects infrared light wavelength upward into your plants, stimulation more rapid growth and development, according to the US Dept. of Agriculture, which developed the red mulch. You can buy Red Tomato Mulch form Gardener’s Supply Company, A.M.Leonard’s Gardeners Edge and Charley’s Greenhouse & Garden.

Slugs and pill bugs are the two pests we have to deal with in our greenhouse. I put down diatomaceous earth and escar-Go and I also try to capture a big fat toad to put in the greenhouse for the season. Toads really enjoy the greenhouse once it gets growing good.

We haven’t had a problem with white flies for many years now. White flies live in greenhouse environments and to get them you have to bring them in from another greenhouse, at least here in the frozen north. The best way to get rid of them with Catch-It-Traps, you can get from Charley’s Greenhouse & Garden.

We use drip irrigation to water everything growing in the greenhouse in order to saves time and water. I have found that watering twice a week, on Wednesday and Sunday evening, for one hour works well for us. See a past post, “The Greenhouse“.

Peppers in the greenhouse

Cucumbers in the greenghouse


The Greenhouse

Tomato and pepper seedlings on shelf in greenhouse.

Potting bench in greenhouse.

West view of greenhouse.

South west view of greenhouse.

South east view of greenhouse.

West view of greenhouse.

South facing view of greenhouse.

These are pictures of the greenhouse in spring. Our greenhouse is really a garden under glass as we plant tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers into the ground rather than on benches like traditional greenhouses. MY late husband John built a smaller version of the existing greenhouse about 35 years ago when we realized that the season was too short for tomatoes to ripen. It wasn’t long before the greenhouse grew to it’s present size. Last summer we had to put on a new roof and rebuild the supporting structure, so now the greenhouse should last another 35 years.

We plant the tomatoes and peppers in tomato cages. The cages keep the fruit off the ground and make it easier to harvest. It’s a lot of work to set up the cages and drip line but it’s well worth it.

All our tender seedlings go into the greenhouse until they can be planted outside in the garden or in the greenhouse. Depending on the season, we can keep the tomatoes and peppers going until Thanksgiving. The cucumbers usually don’t keep growing that long. They tend to get mildewed and then we have to pull them out.

We grow the cucumbers on strips old blasting nets John brought home from work, he worked in construction. John and I were into conservation long before Al Gore was in diapers. Nothing goes to waist around here and everything is recycled over and over again. It either gets fed to an animal, put in the compost bin, or a good use is found for it. The greenhouse itself was built out of old storm windows John found at the dump or on the curb. (See a more recent post, “Planting In The Greenhouse, on page 1.


Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme

Linda and I have always kept a small herb garden on the edge of one of our 3 garden beds, the smallest. We grew thyme, rosemary, basil, sage and parsley. For many years we potted the them up and successfully overwintered them in the greenhouse. Basil is so sensitive to cold that it would not even survive on my front porch in 50 degree temperatures. I can usually keep a pot of it growing in a southern window in the house. Two winters ago none of our herbs survived. Whether it was because the plants were very old or the temperature got too low we don’t know, they all died.

Future sight of our new herb garden

This year we are going to move our herbs to the side of the same garden bed and because we now have more room we are growing a larger variety. We started basil, thyme, culinary sage, lemon balm, parsley, rosemary, Greek oregano and hyssop in flats that we will transplant in late May or June. Hyssop is native to Europe where it is used to improve the smell of kitchens. It’s leaves are used to flavor green salads, soups, liqueurs stews and tea. It also attracts humming birds. Lemon Balm was grown at Monticello by Thomas Jefferson. It is used for making tea and is said to have a calming effect on children and helpful for upset stomachs.

I have recently learned of a good way to preserve herbs for winter use. Chop up fresh herbs, put in ice cube trays with enough water to cover and freeze. When frozen place cubes in plastic bags. When needed just pop a cube into whatever your cooking, or thaw it out and use as fresh. If anyone has more tips on preserving fresh herbs please leave a comment.

These are pictures of our new herb garden after replanting and during the summer.

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It’s Official!

Tim bringing back the tiller from a spring tune up at his house.

Spring has arrived in zone 3-4, the tree frogs have started peeping. I really enjoy laying in bed at night listening to the peepers, it’s music to my ears. This is my favorite time of year. I know that spring has arrived and that soon we will be planting the garden. We may still have at least two more snow events before May. On occasion we have had significant snow in May. I’ve gone to bed when the temperature was in the 50’s and woke up to 6″ of snow on the ground on May 16 th. We had to jump out of bed and run outside to shake the snow off the fruit trees in order to keep the damage to a minimum. Snow in May usually melts by the afternoon although I remember one time it staying on the ground for about 2 days.

Linda came over on April 7 th and we planted the peas and lettuce in the garden. We usually plant peas on Good Friday, however, this Good Friday was on March 21st, and the garden was covered with ice and snow. We also started our herbs, leeks and bunching onions. We will transplant the leeks and bunching onions when they get big enough. They are frost hardy so it doesn’t matter when you transplant them into the garden. The herbs were put on the germination stand until they come up and then will go on the front porch until they can go into the greenhouse.

The daffodils are peeking up out of the ground and the crocus are blooming. Thank goodness for crocus, it’s so nice to have such bright and deep colors when everything is so drab. Last fall I planted 80 crocus in my front yard flower bed, it’s 5’x10′. That bed also has daffodils and is planted with annuals in June for summer color.

It’s also time to prune the apple trees, blueberry bushes and ornamentals. From here on out, life gets very busy.


Tomatoes and Peppers

Tomato and pepper seedlings in the greenhouse.

Mid-March to early April is the time to start tomatoes, peppers and any flowers, like impatience, that take a long time to germinate or to flower. Some seeds, such as petunias, might need to be planted even sooner.

Linda’s husband Tim made her a heat and light stand so she could germinate plants more easily indoors. It has 4 shelves, 3 have heat and 4 have fluorescent lights. The germination stand moved from her house to my front porch about 10 years ago when we started gardening together. I had the land, she had the ability to wield the garden tiller and gravely tractor.

We have been growing Heirloom tomatoes for many years now. This year we are growing Cherokee Purple, Moskvich, Striped German and Amish paste tomatoes and Boynton Bell and Sweet Banana peppers. We are also growing a hybrid cherry tomato called Chiquita, it’s a pink cherry tomato. We grow cherry tomatoes in deck planters so we can put them in the greenhouse if frost threatens. We like them because they ripen before the others and we can grab a hand full while working in the garden.

After the tomatoes and peppers start coming up, it usually takes 3-4 days for tomatoes, a little longer for peppers. I turn on the lights so they don’t get to leggy. When the majority of tomatoes or peppers are up they are moved off the germination stand to a shelf on the front porch, which has a southern exposure, until it is safe to put them in the greenhouse. Turn the plants every evening, so they grow straight, and pet them. Just run your hand gently over the seedlings at least twice a day. I also have a small fan on a timer. That emulates garden breezes and also keeps the stems strong. You will find that stragglers will keep coming up as the seeds can germinate at different times.

The greenhouse is not heated, however, we do have a space heater we use in the spring and fall when it gets too cold. Because the greenhouse was built over the cellar door, the temperature is a little warmer in spring, winter and fall, than it would be if it was a stand alone type. The stone steps absorb heat during the day if the sun is out and radiate it out during the night and there is some heat that migrates from the wood furnace and oil burner furnace. Living in zone 3-4, we can have temperatures into the 20’s in spring and fall. It can be really tricky, trying to figure out just when to move things to the greenhouse because every spring is different.

Last year we planted our tomatoes and peppers outside because we had to replace the roof on the greenhouse. Our peppers produced practically nothing, the tomatoes did better. The tomatoes had blossom end rot and cracking problems that they don’t usually have in the greenhouse, because we can control water and heat. In the fall we didn’t cover the peppers, why bother, and learned that peppers are frost hardy to a mild frost. That must be why, one year when the temperature went to 19 degrees outside, temperature difference is about 10 degrees warmer in our unheated greenhouse, after we put our tomatoes out in the greenhouse, the peppers survived better that the tomatoes. We lost half our tomato plants that spring.

When the tomato and pepper plants get to be between two and three inches high transplant them into pots to give them more space to grow until they can be planted outside or in the greenhouse.

Tomatoes in the greenhouse

Pepper plants in the greenhouse