Pre-spring Garden Week 1

Week of the first expected frost (December 10th)
10 Weeks before the last expected frost (February 18th-ish)

We live in Central Florida so of course there is always something you can be doing or planting in the garden… but it’s getting pretty sparse around now. It’s time to take a little break anyway.

We are in Pre-Spring mode now!!!!

And then with Covid,Christmas, families getting together for celebration maybe, schools having Christmas winter break, New Year’s festivities, too many other important things taking your attention to spend too much time thinking about and playing in your garden.

Time moves fast and some important things you need to do and be prepared for can sneak up on you, if you aren’t paying attention.

Get prepared for cold, of course… just in case we do get some

Get your seeds ordered

Get pots and containers ready to start seedlings

Get good sterile potting or seed starting soil/mix

Get your next garden plan figured out

Get your tools in good order – after you find them, out there, somewhere that you left them

Get your soil amendments, supplements, fertilizers ready

Get new beds and fences etc. built

Get the supplies for experiments and new things you want to try

GET YOUR GARDENING WISHLIST WRITTEN DOWN AND OUT TO ALL YOUR FRIENDS AND RELATIVES!!

Be sure to store left over seeds properly – cool and dry, which here in FL means in a well sealed jar or container in the refrigerator.

One more thing to consider. Though the cool weather loving plants’ seeds can be planted directly in your garden, you can get a jump on things with most of them if you plant the seeds in pots or flats in a warm location and then transplant them.

Hobby Greenhouses

It’s getting cold… sometimes. Well it is to us Zone 9 blooded folk… you more northern latitude originators are laughing – I know it 😂

This week’s bit of chill brings on dreams of cozy greenhouses and concerns about a freak frost or freeze destroying all my hard gardening work.

We’re going to talk a bit about winter hobby greenhouses. If you’ve not yet taken precautions for a frost or freeze, you really should do it NOW.  A hobby greenhouse is where you can move your tender plants to for the winter or if there is a predicted spit of bad weather, a place where you can grow your warm weather favorite veggies right through any chills that may come along, and get seeds and plants started and ready for your spring garden.

Your greenhouse can be a simple lean-to set-up against a sunny wall of your house, plastic enclosed patio, PVC pipe tunnels… loads of ideas HERE.

Here’s mine… and yes, those are Christmas tree lights in there… supplying all the heat my plants need… even creates rain inside there… sooooo cool

A few things you will have to keep in mind… Plants function in a different way when days are shorter and temps are cooler and air is drier.  Your plants will need warmth and light which you will have to provide artificially.

Your cool season veggies will do well on their own outside.  Your warm weather veggies have requirements, such as high light intensity, moderate night temperatures, that are different from the cool weather ones — thus they don’t play together all that well.

Here is some information for you to use in planning your winter greenhouse garden.

General temperatures for warm season crops

  • Daytime 60°F to 85°F
  • Daytime short-term temperature extremes 50°F to 95°F
  • Nighttime 55°F to 65°F
  • Germination 60°F to 85°F

Table 2.

Warm Season Vegetables

Vegetable

Minimum
Container
Size*

Minimum
Equal-
Distance
Spacing

Remarks

Beans

8deep

  • Not a common greenhouse crop.
  • Good production with adequate light and spacing in spring and fall.  Poor winter production.

Cucumbers

8 deep

2 gallons per plant

18

  • Requires high humidity, high light intensity, and good moisture.
  • Needs 75°F to 80° F day temperatures and 50°F minimum nights.
  • Avoid temperature fluctuations greater than 20°F or cucumbers become off flavored.
  • Poor mid-winter production.
  • Plant gynecious greenhouse types.
  • Needs good air circulation to minimize powdery mildew.

Eggplant

8 deep

2 gallons per plant

24

  • Hand pollination required.

Muskmelon

Cantaloupe

5 gallons per plant

24

  • Uses lots of space for yield, try trellising.
  • Needs 80°F day temperatures.
  • Requires hand pollination.
  • Needs good air circulation to minimize powdery mildew.

Peppers

8 deep

2 gallons per plants

15

  • Needs night temperatures above 55° F for pollen development.
  • Hand pollination required.

Summer Squash (Zucchini)

5 gallon per plant

24

  • Hand pollination required.
  • Needs good air circulation to minimize powdery mildew.
  • Productive with good sunshine.

Tomatoes

12 deep

1-3 gallons per plant

24

  • Minimum night temperature of 55°F for pollen development.
  • Hand pollination required.
  • Productive with good sunshine.

*Deeper container size will make crop easier to care for, providing a larger supply of water and nutrients.

If you decide you want to do cool weather veggies in a greenhouse too, here’s info for planning that.

General temperatures for cool season crops

  • Daytime: 50°F to 70°F
  • Daytime short-term temperature extremes: 35°F to 90°F
  • Nighttime: 45°F to 55° F
  • Germination: 40° to 75°F

Table 1.

Cool Season Vegetables

Vegetable

Minimum

Container

Size

Minimum

Equal-

Distance

Spacing

Remarks

Beets

4 deep

  • Grow in fall and hold in cool greenhouse for winter use
  • Properly thin

Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower

10 deep

5 gallons per plant

18

  • High yield for space used.
  • Avoid long-term temperature extremes.
  • Heads split with warm humid conditions.

Carrots

12 deep

  • Extremely sweet with adequate water and cool temperatures.
  • Use short varieties, like Short & Sweet or Scarlet Nantes.
  • Questionable use of greenhouse space as they can be over-wintered in a garden.

Chard

6 deep

9-12

  • Does exceptionally well

Kohlrabi 

6 deep

  • Does exceptionally well

Leaf lettuce

4 deep

9

  • Easy to grow in fall, winter and spring in a solar greenhouse.
  • Use soft head or leaf types.
  • Keep temperatures under 70°F for sweet quality.

Green onions

6 deep

  • Never let onions get dry.
  • Sensitive to photoperiod (length of night). With short days (long nights) cultivars, growth goes into leaf production.  With long days (12-16 hours) cultivars,energy goes into bulb production.

Peas

8 deep

6

  • Use dwarf, edible-pod or snap types for salads and stir-fry.
  • Avoid temperature extremes.
  • Questionable use of space due to yields.
  • Don’t transplant well, not well suited to container gardening.

Radish

4 deep

2-3

  • Avoid water and heat stress.
  • Must have 12 hours of light to root.
  • Good for fall and spring crops in a greenhouse.

Spinach

4 deep

  • Needs cool greenhouse (45°F to 50°F) for best quality.
  • Avoid temperature fluctuations.

Turnips

4 deep

6

  • Good for fall and spring crops

*Deeper container size will make crop easier to care for, providing a larger supply of water and nutrients.
Many oriental vegetables are also suited for greenhouse production.

Light and Warmth

Now that you’ve got your winter hobby greenhouse planned, next you need to figure out how to get warmth and light in there.

Days are shorter and sunshine is less intense, not the optimum for those warm weather veggies you are going to try and overwinter. To add light, here are some things you can do.

– Have as much white in and around your hobby greenhouse (HGH) as you can get. If there are any walls in your HGH, paint them white.

– Walls or fences outside nearby, paint them white too.

– Paint large pieces of cardboard white and position them in your HGH to reflect light.

– Create a light colored flooring.

– Paint containers white.

– Use white mulch – shredded paper (I’m running massive amounts of paper through my shredder [thinking a few things wound up shredded that shouldn’t have been, but shredding is addictive and cathartic] and my spare room looks like a ticker tape parade ran through there)

– Stick some inexpensive clip-on shop lights in there. (I use these all over the place – can get them at Wal-Mart in the automotive section) (can supply some heat too)


For heat you can try these:

– Paint milk jugs, plastic soda bottles, juice bottles etc. black, fill them with water, and then line them up along the base of your HGH, around plants, etc. (they will absorb heat during the day, store it in the water, then release it during the night)

– Stick a low heat radiant heater, portable baseboard heater, or a little cube heater in there.

– If your HGH is built over a door or window of your house, open the door or window and let some of the house heat warm the HGH.

Back to the shredder for me — Such fun.

CHECK SHEET

Zone 9’s first frost date is expected between mid-November and mid-January or so, very ambiguous. This check sheet is created using a mid-date of December 10th. The first frost date can be expected a couple of weeks earlier in northern areas of Zone 9 and a couple of weeks later in the southern areas of Zone 9.

10 Weeks Before Last Expected Frost

TASKS

  • Continue with your gardening journal – list what you are doing, observations, weather…
  • Your cool weather veggies still need fertilizing but lightly
  • Look for specialty fertilizing needs (focusing more on root growth than foliage growth)
  • Remove damaged and diseased leaves
  • CONTINUE PREPARING FOR COLD!
  • Protect plants from cold, dry winds
  • Be aware that cold wet weather can cause disease problems too
  • Get your seeds ordered
  • Get pots and containers ready to start seedlings
  • Get good sterile potting or seed starting soil/mix
  • Get your next garden plan figured out
  • Get your tools in good order – after you find them, out there, somewhere that you left them
  • Get your soil amendments, supplements, fertilizers ready
  • Get new beds and fences etc. built
  • Get the supplies for experiments and new things you want to try
  • GET YOUR GARDENING WISHLIST WRITTEN OUT AND TO ALL YOUR FRIENDS AND RELATIVES!! — THINK CHRISTMAS!!

SEEDS TO PLANT

Plant in the ground – transplants and seeds

Warm weather loving plants

None

The soil temperature is not warm enough, the days are not long enough, and there isn’t enough warm growing weather left to plant any squashes, melons, cucs, tomatoes, etc.  except if you want to plant them in containers that can be placed in a warm place and be provided with extra hours of light, or a greenhouse that will provide the extras)

Cool weather loving plants

  • Broccoli
  • Beets
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Chinese cabbage
  • Celery
  • Collards
  • Kale
  • Kholrabi
  • Leeks
  • Lettuce
  • Mustard
  • Onion – bulbing
  • Onion – multiplier
  • Onion – bunching
  • Peas
  • Radish
  • Garlic – for fun, consider trying elephant garlic. Buy some bulbs from the grocery store.

CONTAINERS (for container gardening)

(Plant your container garden just the same as for non-container garden)

You can try growing some of the warm weather plants in containers if you can move/keep the containers to a protected warm place and provide extra light.

PAY EXTRA SPECIAL ATTENTION TO WATERING CONTAINERED PLANTS!!!   Your plants have filled their containers with roots and suck the water out of the soil, drying it out really really quickly, particularly large or mature plants with a well established root system

Bunch warm weather container plants together for easier protection – covering

MAINTENANCE

  • Weed – always be weeding
  • Keep an eye on water needs – Check twice a day (This is a dry time of year and less humid. Gardens and plants can get stressed reeeeal quickly)
  • HARVEST – as soon as items are ready. Plants are growing slower and don’t have as much energy to mature produce… give them a break

CHORES

  • Weed
  • Rake leaves and collect leaves and grass clippings curbside for your compost pile and mulch
  • Turn your compost pile – start another compost pile or two

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