Sunday, February 20, 2011

"F minus 60" Eight Weeks to Last Frost

Today marks "F minus 60" or sixty days until the last expected frost here in Zone 6. I used information from the weather service to decide on the most likely frost free date for my garden, April 20. Because altitude, exposure and the direction of prevailing winds can all influence the microclimate of your property, determining the frost date is never an exact science. I looked at data from the three nearest weather stations, and made my best guess. You can find raw frost probability data for all National Weather Service reporting stations at the National Climate Data Center. You'll bring up a PDF of probability tables that can be a bit confusing. If you want help with the interpretation, try using the tool for finding frost free dates by zip code at Dave's Garden.

Today we transplanted lettuces and broccoli. The broccoli plants, 'De Cicco' cultivar, were started under lights on January 3. According to Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, this broccoli was introduced around 1890 and is known for producing abundant side shoots after the main head is harvested. The 15 best plants went into a raised bed outfitted with supports for floating row cover. The row cover will provide a little frost protection, but is mainly there to prevent access to the plants by cabbage butterflies, which will be on the prowl before the broccoli heads up. If the weather threatens to get really cold, we can always apply plastic film on top of the row cover. The local forecast calls for relatively mild weather for the next week, which should give the plants a chance to establish themselves before the next chill. We expect to harvest a crop around April 10.
The row cover support is made of 3/4 inch EMT conduit. It is easy to work with, costs little and lasts for many seasons with proper care.
We are also using row cover to protect our early lettuce transplants. Seeds were started January 9, and include 'Buttercrunch,' 'Lollo Rossa,' and 'Rougette de Montpelier.' Experience has taught that all of these have good cold tolerance. We bent some plastic-coated metal plant stakes to make supports holding the row cover fabric just above the lettuce leaves.

You can see one of the supports in the middle of the image. Lollo Rossa is on the left and Buttercrunch on the right. These lettuces should be ready to harvest in about two weeks. We have new seedlings coming along to replace them. By mid-March, the bed will no longer need a row cover.

This week in the kitchen I am experimenting with making kimchi. Creating this fermented Asian condiment offers a great way to preserve winter greens. The recipe I am using calls for napa cabbage, which is typically found in commercial kimchi products. I always think it is a good idea to start with a more or less standard method when learning a new kitchen craft. Research reveals that many recipes for kimchi exist, exploiting various green crops and utilizing an assortment of flavorings and techniques.  I was unable to find some of the ingredients called for in the recipe, which appears in the February/March 2011 issue of Fine Cooking. Therefore, I made substitutions. I also reduced the quantity by three-fourths. No sense making a huge amount until you know you like the result. I will post my recipe after we've sampled the product. Kimchi, like its relative sauerkraut, has many uses in the kitchen. Having a supply on hand makes a quick Asian meal easy to whip up on a weeknight. With refrigeration, it keeps a month or more.

The Vernal Equinox is March 20...only 28 days to go. Happy growing!

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