Jumpstart on Spring
With lengthening days, we are living lighter on the land this month by harnessing the power of the sun. In our cold frame, thickly insulated with hay and oriented to receive maximum light, the plants are growing so quickly that I have begun to harvest extra greens for our chickens. The girls have rewarded us in turn with up to four eggs a day (from 4 laying hens), and are churning through our compost in search of what bugs are active in March. Next month, I will introduce to you our new and improved solar array, powering the Armstrong Education Center at 100%!
In the Armstrong kitchen, we ate salad from the cold frame all winter long with the exception of a few weeks in January (see Early 2014 North American Cold Wave). I went out often to brush off snow but didn't dare open the door, as I could see though the frozen condensation that the plants were wilting at their tips. The greens pictured here were planted as seed in October: Cavolo kale, Spring broccoli raab, Mizuna, Rossimo lettuce, Red giant mustard, Speckled lettuce, and Renegade spinach. A few Red chard transplanted in have not fared well. The Mizuna and lettuces recently began flowering and so were cleared out to make room for kale and spinach that had somewhat languished beneath. We should have greens for months yet.
The cold frame is serving double duty as our germinator and seedling incubator too. So far, I have started Utah tall celery, Curley parsley, Common chives, Clear dawn onions, Broccoli, and Long Island Improved brussels sprouts, in addition to native species Bladdernut and Groundnut. For most plants (especially New York natives), temperature is not the limiting factor so much as light, and only the sunniest of window sills are adequate. I find it easier, and a lot cleaner, to set up my grow space outside or in a basement/workshop area under lights. LED lights are most efficient, but must be in the correct spectrum for plants to use the light.
See how we grow vegetables, flowers, and native trees and shrubs in the Armstrong Working Backyard our May 3 Plant Swap and Volunteer Work Session. To get started sooner, click here for instructions on making a cold frame and starting seeds. See also our lineup of events in our partnership series Birds & Bees: Wildlife Needs, aimed at educating our community about the role of native plants to native wildlife, including what you can do to foster their habitats on your own property!