The Violet Fern

Creating Art & Gardens


What’s Growing: C-C-C-Kholorabi

The sun was out today and the temperature reached 30 F so this sleepy bear roused, went outside and puttered about the garden – frozen though it yet is. It was a spontaneous distraction from my daily list of things to do, but I allowed it considering that there’s more snow storms on the way.

The Potager in February

The Potager in February

Last year I maintained a makeshift cold frame – diligent about keeping the snow off the old windows. This year it has proven to be a challenge. It is buried, and has been buried, for most of our Winter. Today I yet again tried to chisel off crusty, icy snow. A few days back I actually broke one of the windows (I am not the sharpest tool in the shed), by banging on it with a broom handle in an attempt to break up the ice. I broke a lot more than I bargained for! Fortunately I had a spare window in the shed (along with those “uh, very dull tools”) that I put in place instead, but of course we have had more snow. Today I used a heavy duty plastic trowel and scraped and scooped (instead of banging) – oh, it made me long to dig in the dirt! The windows show, but the frame they are resting on is still buried in the snow. Still, I wanted the sun to seep through those frozen window panes very, very badly.

My buried cold frame.

My buried cold frame.

Upon revealing the panes, I got a view inside. To my surprise, a Kohlrabi! Isn’t she beautiful? Can you make her out – the round belly just center of those GREEN leaves? I just cannot get over how AMAZING it is to grow things! Here, where we have had stretches of well below zero temperatures, there is green and by god, Kohlrabi!



I know I do not use this cold frame to its potential. I am sort of  a hack gardener. Read about a real professional who knows how to deal with a cold climate here. Honestly, I really do not know what the heck I am doing but if I can grow a Kohlrabi in this Winter, so can anyone! I am very much an experimental gardener. I read a lot, and research a lot, but I forget most of it. When it comes down to it, my guiding hand is usually “what the heck, let’s try it.” So, here I am experimenting with my makeshift cold frame for the second Winter. I have beets (alive!), parsnips (alive!) and Kohlrabi(#*!) in it this year. Not sure what I will attempt next Winter – perhaps some Escarole? My dream is to actually harvest something in January or February. It will come true one day if I keep trying.



What’s Growing: 2013 Plan Gone to Seed

Each winter I sketch out my Potager plan. Each year I try to add at least one new vegetable or flower. I often end up adding several because I am very ah, let’s just say, enthusiastic about gardening. When I sketch “the plan” (I say that somewhat loosely because all good plans fall apart somewhat with shovel in hand), I have a companion planting chart I downloaded from the web as well as Louise Riotte’s book, Carrots Love Tomatoes. Aside from trying to rotate my families, i.e. Curcurbitaceae, Brassicaceae, I also try to plant friends with friends. It is good brain exercise and I use pencil because it is erasable – rarely do I get everything just right the first draft. Last fall I prepared a special bed because I plan to introduce asparagus to the Potager. I moved one of my support structures to accommodate the new (perennial) asparagus bed. I also moved some of the makeshift tomato cages because I had some idea of where the tomatoes would end up this year. Here is my sketch for 2013. (See previous year here.)

Potager Plan 2013

The Plan

Somewhere I would like to add a “surprise bed,” an idea I came across reading. A surprise bed is where you might put any volunteers from the compost or other areas of the garden to let them mature and see what they become. In 2012, surprise!, ornamental gourds grew from what looked like squash seedlings.

Ornamental gourds surprised me in 2012 and also found their way up the arbor on the other side.

Ornamental gourds surprised me in 2012 and finding their way up the rustic arbor.

What’s on the new-to-try-list this year? Amaranth, kohlrabi, celeriac, shallots. I don’t believe I’ve ever eaten kohlrabi – all the better to try it. We just received a celeriac root in our “healthy box,” (details of which I will save for another post). Their root isn’t very pretty so I won’t have any hesitation in digging one up. Cubed, boiled, smashed with garlic and some butter and broth, a dollop of plain greek yogurt, sea salt and pepper … this celeriac tasted delicious! I dare say I may prefer it to potatoes.

Celeriac Root

Celeriac Root

Smashed Celeriac

Smashed Celeriac is a smash!

Because I have been growing vegetables for a few years now, this year I also sat down and went through all my seeds. Anything from 2010-2011 I added to my compost. There are ways you can test for seed germination, for example, by placing the seeds on a moist paper towel in a sealed plastic bag. Me, I will see what unplanned surprise comes out of the compost. Then I determined what my staples are such as KALE, and made sure I had enough of those seeds. Then I wrote down what I would like to try (the new-to-try-list).

Seed Box

My box of seeds

I’ve limited (ha!) myself to ordering from three seed companies. Over the past few years I have discovered some great seed companies in my area of the country so I try to stick to those that are closer to my location instead of ordering from a company in Oregon or California (although there are some really great ones). I also tend to order from seed companies that have taken the Safe Seed Pledge, who are committed to growing and sustaining non-genetically modified seeds. I have gone through and compared each item that I want among my chosen three and compiled a list. Ideally I would have liked to already ordered. Hopefully the items on my list, especially asparagus and potatoes, haven’t already sold out – there would go that plan.

The cold frame is still green – amazing given our below zero temperatures. This is what I’ve gained from my experimentation so far. I planted too late, just as I suspected, because I think nothing is actually going to grow during the cold winter months. If I would have had more mature plants coming into December and January, I could slowly harvest the lot during the winter. As it is now, I can hope for a very early spring crop of spinach, kale and other cold hardy greens. They will start growing again in March I think.

Unburying the Cold Frame

The cold frame buried under snow

Cold Frame 1.27.13

The cold frame this morning after a stretch of sub zero temperatures. That is healthy green under there!

This post reminded me to start sprouts … be right back. There, I’ve started some sprouts. I especially love a toasted hummus sandwich packed with sprouts. I could make one right now, place my seed orders, go over my plan again. Knowing that when spring is in the air, and the birds are singing, and I dig into that fresh dirt that I’ll become feverish, disillusioned – I have way more space – over zealous –  I can squeeze in a few more plants right here … I’ll follow most of my plan, but the rest? It’ll go to seed!


Project: Cold Frame

Late last Fall my husband, ever thoughtfully thinking of me, chanced upon some discarded windows on the side of the road. He picked them up knowing that I have been kicking the idea around of constructing some sort of cold frame – and that’s exactly what we used them for.


Although we started this project early in the Spring, we didn’t finish until well into the growing season but it made me reconsider hinging the windows onto the frame so that I could still use the frame as a planting bed during the height of summer.

We built a simple frame out of 2×6 pine. The base is 6″ high and the top is 12″ high. The sides are a 2×6 cut on a diagonal. To build the frame we referred to a wonderful article in Fine Gardening on how to construct a cold frame (see video link here). We did not spend much. This cold frame is an experiment for me, much like all gardening in my view. I think you can read and learn from other sources, maybe even mimic them exactly, but it will be your experience and experimentation that will ultimately teach you the “zen of gardening.”

Making sure the windows fit the base.

During the summer I grew peppers in this windowless frame. Now that fall has arrived and the peppers are done, the windows top the frame. Even during cloudy days they steam. I hope to learn when to vent this cold frame instinctually, but automatic solar venting devices might prove to be a better option. I figure if I “take” to cold climate gardening I may invest a little more into my next cold frame which will be higher allowing for taller plants.


I planted a variety of greens including spinach, swiss chard, broccoli rabe, curly and lacinato kale on October 18th. I thought I might have been too late in my planting but all six rows have already sprouted!


I planted greens that I felt could grow in much colder weather but it will be interesting to see the actual results of this experiment – of course, I’ll keep you “posted.” Over the Winter I will also be studying Eliot Coleman’s The Winter Harvest Handbook in depth. If you are not familiar with Eliot Coleman, he is an expert in year-round cold climate gardening. He resides in Maine!

So, while the leaves are turning and continuing to fall, I’m looking forward to some green!

Wild Grapes

Come Spring I hope to start seeds in this cold frame but that’s another experiment for another day.