*thanks to CW for the word “snowpocalypse”
Whew, Seattle made it through the first arctic blast of the season, and with a heavy La Nina influence hanging over the Pacific Northwest, it looks like it could be a long, hard slog this winter. Before the frost hit, I picked every last thing still hanging off the warm weather plants: tomatoes, peppers and tomatillos. The tomatoes are mostly succumbing to fungal attack, but I’m still getting a few to ripen. Tomatillos keep well in their husks for a week or so at room temperature- I spread them out in a single layer in shallow boxes and used a small fan to dry out the husks. I just put them down in the cool basement to slow them down while I prepare for canning salsa. DO NOT put tomatoes or tomatillos in the refrigerator; they will get mushy.
I pickled Italian cherry peppers last night. I kept them at room temperature for a week, and some of the larger green fruits colored up, but they started to get a bit dehydrated. So, do or die time, I stuck them in a grocery bag and put them in the fridge for a night or two before canning. Peppers can handle refrigeration with no problems, they just won’t ripen at those temperatures.
The Bulgarian Carrot peppers were running WAY late this year. I dehydrate these and grind them into “Seattle Sunshine” paprika, (it can take your breath away). I really wanted to have them ripen to yellow if not to their typical orange color, so I tried something new with these. I pulled the whole plants with all their green peppers, rinsed the roots, and hung them down in the basement. I’m getting pretty good success with the majority of the peppers turning yellow within the week. We’ll see how close to ripe I can get them before the plants die completely. I may experiment with misting the roots to see if it keeps the plant functioning for an extra day or two.
The greens came through the deep freeze really well. The lettuce and mustards look a little flattened, but nary a hint of frost bite, and this with no plastic or hoop house of any kind- snow is a great insulator. The beets are ready for harvest now that they’ve had a frost and their fleshy greens have been wiped out. The carrots still have their fronds, so I’m going to let them fatten up a bit more. Finally, the Witloof Chicory (Belgian Endive)is getting ready for a partial harvest: pull the roots, twist off the leaves leaving the inner growth tip intact then pack them upright in moist sawdust, coir or woodchips. Bring them inside and invert a pot over them to keep them in the dark. About two weeks later, you should have a nice batch of “chicons” (she-KONS) which you will recognize as the Belgian Endive.
As usual, the chickens came through the harsh weather without a hitch, and no, I don’t run heat for them. Anything above zero degrees shouldn’t be a problem for adult birds; remember, they are wearing down jackets! There were two separate “coop fires” down in Portland during the cold snap, both attributed to heat lamps. Fortunately, I believe the chickens escaped unharmed, but there was some pretty scary “almost burned the house down too” footage on the news- don’t let this happen to you. Make sure your chickens can keep dry and have some shelter from the wind. I also brushed the snow drifts out of the run and laid down a thick layer of dry leaves so they had some protection under their feet. Make sure they have plenty of food and, while they don’t drink very much in cold weather, make sure they have unfrozen water at least in the morning and again before they go to bed. They will eat snow (chick-cicles!), but water is better. Don’t be surprised if they spend extra time on the roost, and refuse to walk on snow, and maybe look a bit disgruntled. Just make sure they get enough to eat, and they’ll be fine.
My tinker toy greenhouse still needs work, so all the tender plants lived on the basement floor for a few days during the cold weather. Everything is pretty dormant, and you want to keep it that way, so they went back out to the greenhouse as soon as the weather got above freezing. I did find the Helicodiceros muscivorus corms hiding in a few pots, and these stay inside. These “Dead Horse Tail Arums” are from the Canary Islands, and come up in the winter in their native land where “winter” is still warm and wetter than the summer, (high today on Tenerife is 64 degrees with rain expected). Thus, I have to bring them inside if I want them to break dormancy on schedule. I still haven’t gotten a bloom off these guys, dang it. Who wouldn’t want a large, stinky and HAIRY arum bloom for Christmas? Anyway, keep an eye on the weather, and make sure you bring in the more tender plants when necessary. For “on the cusp” plants that are in the ground, a heavy mulch on the roots and a frost blanket can make the difference between survival and death. Drive a stake to act as a tent pole for the frost blanket, snow loads can really add up and crush the more delicate species.
I need to get all the refuse gathered up out of the dead beds, all that vine is harboring a variety of pathogens. I’ve been contemplating a biochar design for this type of refuse, something that will burn off any mold and bacteria and leave me with a stabilized carbon source to feed back into the beds. If you plan on composting this kind of thing, you’ll want that pile to be hot hot hot to kill off all the nasties.
I also need to get the garlic in. Last year I planted in early/mid December, right before the big freeze. I thought for sure every clove would be mush- the ground was frozen solid. However, a week later I dug a few up and they were sending out roots, and I got a great harvest in July. So, I’m calling it a “technique” now, the very late garlic planting technique. I’m claiming that it actually HELPS the garlic to not emerge until most of our freezes are over and done with. Seriously though, get it in by mid December, the cloves do need some chilling hours and you want to harvest in the heat and dry of summer to get nice tight heads with good skin.
Finally, start looking at all those seed catalogs and get your strategy together for spring. We’re only 2.5 months away from the first pea planting!
Stay tuned kids