Extending the Season to Grow Tomatoes in Cold-Climate Gardening

We have a very short growing season here, averaging 10-12 weeks from the last frost to the first frost.  That does not give much time to grow anything, let alone tomatoes and other long-season heat-loving plants.  In addition, we often get down into the 40sF at night throughout the early summer and early fall.  So we have to find ways to help extend the season to accommodate the plants that need more time, and more heat to grow successfully.

The first thing is definitely to pick the right variety.  A tomato that does well in Texas is NOT going to be happy up here at 7,500 feet in the cool mountains.  And it wont make fruit in time for harvest.  My most successful varieties came from Siberia, and I also have found some great varieties through the high-altitude seeds offered by Seeds Trust.

The next best thing we have found, after picking a good variety, is to use Wall-o-Waters (WOWs) to protect the plants for the first weeks in the garden.

We start the plants indoors about 10 weeks before the average last frost.  Then we move them out into the garden about 4 weeks before the average last frost, depending on weather, putting them each inside a WOW.  We harden them off gradually for the week before we move them into the garden.

Hardening off:

We harden off all of our seedlings for a week before they go into the garden.  To harden them off we put them outdoors, in blotchy sun/shade – like where the shade of the porch banister is with gaps of sun, or in the shade of a tree where splotches of sun come through.  The first day we put them out for about 30 min to an hour.  The second day we do 2 hours, the third 4, and so on.  We watch how they are tolerating it, if they seem to be overly stressed we bring them in sooner.  If it is windy or rainy we bring them in.

Preparing the WOWs:

It is very important to prepare the WOWs at LEAST 24 hours before you plan to put the plants in them.  If you fill them with cold water from the hose and then immediately put the plants in them you are going to chill the plants and they will die.

At least 24 hours before planting, fill your WOWs and get them set up in the garden where you plan to put the plants.  The easiest way to fill the WOWs is to put them around a 5-gallon bucket and then fill each tube 3/4 of the way full with water.  Then you can just lift the WOW off the bucket, or lift the bucket out of the middle of the WOW.  Meanwhile, the bucket supports the WOW while you are filling it so it doesn’t fall over.  It is also easier if you have two people, one to open each tube (which generally takes two hands) and one to put the hose in it.

Once they are filled, put them in the garden in the spot where you will be planting and let them sit for 24 hours.  This will give the water in them time to adjust to the outside temperature.

Planting:

We have found that our seedlings do best when we plant them when their spot in the garden is in the shade.  It gives them a little time to acclimate before they are in full sun.  For us, that means planting in the late afternoon because our house shades the garden then.

Plant one seedling in the center of each WOW.  Once the seedling is in place, squeeze the top of the WOW to get some of the water out, causing it to be in a cone shape instead of a cylinder shape.  This closes off the top more to help protect the entire plant.

We leave the WOWs on the tomatoes at least until the danger of frost has passed, longer if the plant is still fitting inside (which it usually isn’t).  Then we remove the WOW and put a cage on the tomato plant.

To store the WOWs, we pour all the water out and rinse them off with a hose, then we set them upside-down to dry outside.  Once they are dry they easily roll up or fold up and are stored indoors.  We have WOWs that have lasted 7-10 years when well cared for.

Eventually they get a hole in one tube – but we still use them.  Then they get another hole, and so forth.  When there are more than 2 damaged tubes it gets really hard to keep them standing well.  We have found that we can cut the good tubes off of a damaged WOW and insert them into the tubes on another WOW that have holes.  That will extend the life of them.

Wall-o-Waters are a great way to extend our very short growing season.  It gets the plants out into the garden a full month earlier, and keeps them warmer and happy while they grow.

Sunday Homestead Update

Garden

We had wonderfully warm weather this week, which was very much appreciated after the snow last week.  Everything is starting to green up and grow like crazy.

The warmer weather helped get some things done around here.  Most of the garden is planted now, with the seedlings inside their protective Wall-o-Waters and frost fabric tunnels.  I am also trying a new season extender option this year – they are called plant accelerators.  They are similar to the WOWs, but there is not water involved and they are bigger and can stay on the plant longer.  I bought three of them for the trial, if they work well we will get more in the future.

Pretty much all that is left are the things that can’t be planted until after the average last frost, which for us is still another month away.

Barn Cat Issues

We love having bird houses and feeders and attracting birds to our property.  We have quite a colony of violet-green swallows that return each year and help keep the bug population under control around the farm – which we are very grateful for.

The problem we are having is that one of our barn cats, Midnight, is an avid hunter and literally the most athletic cat we have ever seen or owned.  He can jump and climb in ways that seem impossible and we are always amazed and shocked when we see him move and how agile he is.  The other two cats are just basic barn cats, who do great at catching rodents and such but don’t go out of their way to do crazy stunts or catch birds.

These skills make Midnight quite the bird predator.  He can catch them in mid air as they fly by, as well as climb the trees and get to their nests.  Every time we see him with one we catch him and take it away from him – whether it is dead or alive we take it away because we are trying to teach him to leave them alone.  Last summer this “training” seemed to be helping.

Because of him last year we took down all our bird feeders and just left up the bird houses because we didn’t want to lure the birds to their death.  We trimmed all the branches around a couple of the bird houses, to see if it would help because he couldn’t sit on them to get to the bird house.  The problem is that he is so athletic that he just climbs the trunk and sticks his paw right in the house while clinging to the trunk.

Last year we hung several bird houses on the side of the mill building, this worked great because he definitely can’t climb the wall to get to them.  But we still have a lot of houses on trees that the birds love and we need to find a way to keep him from them.

So our latest attempt at thwarting him is to put sheet metal around the trunks just below the birdhouses.  We picked a type that will rust, which I think will look nice and blend in with the trunk.  We put them up this week, since the swallows have returned and are beginning to nest.  Time will tell if he is athletic enough to figure out how to get around them.  But for now, the birdhouses are safe.

It is a hard spot to be in, we need the barn cats for rodent control, but we do’t want them to kill the birds.

Goat’s Milk Ice Cream

The warm weather made us feel summer-y and we decided to make our first ever goat’s milk ice cream.  I was able to skim the cream off the milk, albeit just a little bit off each jar since it naturally homogenizes.  It took several days, but we were able to get a quart of cream saved up and we made our basic ice cream recipe with it.  It was delicious!  And Braveheart and Little Miss, who can’t have cow’s milk, were able to enjoy some ice cream for the first time in a long time.

Sunday Homestead Update

Life is beginning to slow down a bit around the homestead, which is so nice and much-needed.  We have sold off some of the extra stock, which decreases the work load, and the Mill is up and running now so the crazy-busy of getting the new business going is subsiding a bit.

Garden Signs

When we first moved to WCF there was a big scrap wood pile here.  Most of it was rotten and not usable, but there were a few “treasures” buried in it.  One of which was some old shingles that I used to paint some old-farm-style signs to put up around the garden.

I am all for the worn-out old-time look, but over the years they have become so faded that it has passed that point.  So we took them all down and I re-painted them.  It is nice to have them back up and freshened up.

Heritage Arts

Sometimes my heritage arts projects never get photographed and thus don’t get shared.  Here are some from the last couple months that I forgot to share.

I made Young Man some hunting gloves for his birthday.  He specifically requested gloves with no tips on the pointer or thumb so he could keep his hands warm while hunting but still be able to safely load and shoot.

And for Easter I made the kids these cute little bunnies.  They were super easy, actually just a knit square that you origami sew into a bunny.  Their bodies were full of candy.  The pattern was Easter Bunnies by Geraldine Allemand.

Sheep

The sheep are doing well.  We sold the bottle babies, so there are only two lambs in the barnyard right now with their mothers.  Our last ewe due to lamb is still pregnant and has us wondering what is going on.  She is ten days past her ultrasound due date estimate, which has not happened to us before.  The ultrasound due date estimates have always been pretty darn spot on.  But I guess it can’t always be right.  She will lamb when she is ready.  Meanwhile, we wait.

Toffee is very curious and friendly, always wanting to check everything out.

On my way outside I caught these two cuties cuddling.  Sorry for the fence and poor photo quality, I knew once I approached they would get up and so I was attempting to get a photo before they did.  This is Tundra, our wonderful old Livestock Guard Dog and Rose our little moorit lamb.

Goats

Now that the bottle lambs are gone we also sold one of the milk goats.  We want to just keep one milk goat due to our limited space – since sheep and chickens are the main focus for our farm, but we like to have fresh raw milk.  So we sold Heidi but still have Gretchen, since she is so old and the vet recommended she not be bred again we figured no one will want to buy her.  She is super easy to milk, even though she doesn’t make as much as we would like for our family.

We will be getting a new replacement goat later this summer, a well-bred, high-quality registered Nubian doe that is lactating currently.  She will produce enough milk to provide for our family without us needing to own more than one goat, and we have set up with her breeder to take her to the buck each fall for breeding.

Sunday Homestead Update – Easter

Happy Resurrection Day!

I hope you had a wonderful weekend, we enjoyed good fellowship, good food, and good family time.

Green is beginning to pop up all over the place…a sign that spring is here.

Gooseberry Bush

Overwintered Garlic

Rhubarb

We have been preparing the garden because our first outdoor planting is next weekend.  This year I am trying out doing hoops over the garden boxes that will have cabbage, beets, turnips, spinach, and lettuce.  I will use light frost fabric over the hoops to provide pest protection and hopefully extend the season on both the spring and the autumn end.  I got all the hoops in the ground this week, and will put the fabric over them after planting next weekend.

We also got the drip system up and running and checked for leaks and breaks.  We will still have some hard freezes, so we will have to blow it out again, but we wanted to be sure it didn’t need any maintenance.

The lambs are doing well.  The little moorit ewe lamb born this last week has been named Rose.  She is doing pretty well, though not as vigorous as we would like.  Here she is investigating one of the barn cats:

We are still waiting on our last lambing.  Fiona is now past the expected due date range guessed by the ultrasound.  She is almost as wide as she is tall!  We are expecting large twins from her based on her size…or maybe small triplets?  Any day now!

Springtime on the high-altitude homestead!

 

Sunday Homestead Update – on Monday :-)

Sorry for the lack of blogging…living the homestead life, along with everything else, has been enough to keep me busy and away from the computer lately.  Lots of good things are happening…there is just a really lot of them.  🙂

Garden

Indoors, under the grow lights, the garden seedlings are looking lush and green.

Outside, the garden itself is looking pretty barren and a bit torn up from the winter.  But that will be changing soon enough.

And when you know where to look, you see the little signs of green here and there, coming back to life.  The strawberries are beginning to poke through.  This is my first year not putting straw over them to insulate for winter, and I am happy to see they survived the cold experiment.

And the chives are back and growing like crazy.

Sheep

The two bottle lambs are doing well and we take them out to the barnyard daily to be with the flock and get some fresh air.  We are hoping to move them out there permanently this week.  They met one of the barn cats today during their time out…it was cute.

Our last two ewes are due this week and then we will be done with lambing season.  One looks to be ready to lamb in the next couple days, the other seems a bit farther out.

Goats

Our last doeling was sold this week and went to her new home.  It was a very good match for her and I think she will live a good and happy life there.

We have had to separate the goats from the sheep because the goats started aggressively bullying the sheep a couple of weeks ago.  It wasn’t just regular pecking order fighting where when one submits the other stops hassling them.  They were constantly bullying and attacking the sheep over and over again even when they submitted.  Gretchen even gave poor Agnes a bloody nose and hit her eye so bad that her eye swelled shut and had a big split on the eyelid.  We have no idea why this shift in behavior happened.  They have lived in perfect harmony for 5 months now, and then it suddenly shifted.  But we couldn’t just leave it alone.  So the goats have their own pen now, attached to their stall.

Agnes’ eyelid is healing, but it still looks pretty bad.  Poor girl.

Chickens

The chicks are 8 weeks old now and we have started letting them out into the exterior pen for fresh air each day.  So far they are pretty timid and don’t really want to go outside because they are scared.