Hoophouse dreams

The plants in our hoophouse are more like a test than a crop. Those of you who follow this space know that, back at the beginning of November, we planted seeds for radishes, lettuces, collards, and carrots, without the expectation of actually harvesting any radishes, lettuces, collards, or carrots. We just wanted to get a sense of how long one sheet of plastic would extend our growing season.

As of the second week of January, pretty much everything was still alive, and the catalogna even had new growth. The sprouts weren’t growing, though, and I had the impression they were hanging on by skin of their roots. I kept waiting for the temperature to drop, and the other shoe with it.

This week, it did.

Our coldest night dipped below zero, and we had a couple of days when the temperature barely crept out of single digits. I know those of you in the wilds of Wisconsin or Canada (and you know who you are) will laugh at me for deigning to call that ‘cold,’ but it sure didn’t feel warm. I figured it would be the death knell for tender radish sprouts.

Two days ago, I mustered the courage to go into the hoophouse. Carnage! The sprouts were lying on the soil, limp. The catalogna had wilted. The rosemary looked like it made it, but I figured it was just frozen upright, and when it warmed up a bit it, too, would collapse.

I went inside and broke the bad news to Kevin. “I went in the hoophouse this morning. Everything’s dead.”

“I went in too. All that stuff will bounce back as soon as it warms up a bit.” That’s what he told me, with a straight face.

This was a stretch for me. “If they’re going to get reincarnated, do you suppose we can arrange it so they’ll come back as tomatoes?” I asked.

“They’re not dead,” he said.

Now, everybody over a certain age has seen the Monty Python skit about the parrot. You know, the one where the guy buys a parrot, and then brings it back to the shop complaining that it’s dead. Michael Palin, as the shop owner, insists that’s it just resting. Or maybe stunned.

“So those lettuce seedlings are just resting? Or maybe stunned?”

Kevin, confident that I was making an idiot out of myself, just nodded and smiled.

“Those sprouts are dead. They are no more! They have met their maker! They have joined the choir invisible! They are EX-SPROUTS!”

“Just wait,” said Kevin. “You’ll see.”

I waited and, today, I saw. While I think we did lose a few, most of the plants seem to have perked back up. The catalogna has a few upright leaves in the center, most of the radish sprouts have picked themselves up off the ground, and the parsley even has some new growth.

Most surprising, though, is the mizuna. Two weeks ago, I transplanted the seedlings from the pots I started them in to the ground in the cold frame. After the fact, I figured that was a mistake, since the trauma would probably do them in. Today, though, not only were they still with us, they were about twice the size they’d been when I transferred them.

I’m beginning to entertain some faint hope of early spring produce. It’s just possible that our sprouts will hang on through the winter, and start to thrive as the weather warms and the days get longer.

Now, if only I can.

4 people are having a conversation about “Hoophouse dreams

  1. You can, you will. Hang in there, I mean.

    Hey- the very first instance I read about people gardening through super cold winters was a thing about a couple in Wisconsin. They had stuff under row covers inside a hoop house. Double under cover, as it were. Maybe try that next year.

    I didn’t have anything but weeds and a couple of errant alliums (not sure if they’re garlic or onions) and a volunteer French sorrel (which I’m beginning to suspect was a huge mistake) in my hoop house. But! I have stuff sprouting on the bench, which I’ll transplant into the hoop house. Maybe I’ll get something to work in there.

    Where did you find your plans, by the way? I need to do something with a proper door next year.

  2. We’ll have our ten hours of daylight back in about 5 days here in PA, which means you’ll have it back in a week to ten days, tops. I’m planning to put pre-soaked snow pea seeds in the cold frame in exactly five days. Once they’ve just barely germinated (via pre-soaking), they can take just about anything. Freezes will give them pause, but won’t kill them. By the time they need more headroom than the cold frame will provide, it’ll be warm enough to expose them entirely. You might try some of those, if you like snow peas. And really, who doesn’t? Anyway, be of good heart; spring is on the way.

  3. Husband mine — You know it’s not pessimism that makes me skeptical of our sprouts’ chances. It’s only astonished disbelief that something as tender as a lettuce sprout can withstand a hard freeze.

    Paula — Plans? What plans? We made it up as we went along. And we may very well add another layer of plastic this year — no actual plans, but you never know.

    Kate — I see I’m not the only one tracking daylight and willing spring to arrive. While snow peas aren’t on the absolute top of my list, I’m very fond of sugar snap peas, so I’m hoping they’ve got a similar temperature profile (although the “snow” in snow peas may indicate otherwise).

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