Friday, May 15, 2020

Planting a Tiny House Garden with No Frost Free Summer

Planting a garden in a mountain corner of Wyoming where there is no official growing season... As in most areas have a "last frost date" and "first frost date" and in general (though not always!) you can pretty much count on plants growing with no frosts and freezes in between. If you don't know what your growing season is, you can put in your location in this handy little calculator - and it will tell you some general info. Like in my parent's area, they generally have a frost free growing season a little over 150 days long so they can plant things that take up to that many days to mature without freezing. But in my area, there's always a chance of frosts or freezes all summer. So really what I grow is kind of what many people would call a
winter garden. That mostly includes plants that can handle freezing. As well as my frost cover setup to help protect the slightly more tender things and from the colder freezes.

Above is a photo from April 22, and this is what the garden beds looked like. Almost bare of the winters worth of snow all except for one little corner of the last bed. Though obviously much of the clearing was still buried. 

So since I'm not waiting for a last frost date, once the soil is bare and defrosted, I start planting. The beds were all mulched/top dressed with my compost last fall and should be full of nutrients for growing delicious and healthy food.

 After years of keeping all my seeds, of which I have a lot of packets since I like to grow many colors/varieties of almost everything I plant, rubber banded together by kind and stashed in a cardboard box, I saw someone else (I don't remember who and since getting mine have seen a bunch of folk going with the same setup) using this handy thing. It's actually designed for storing photos, but it works really well for seed organization! Find your own here if you have a lot of seeds (or photos!) to organize too -

Now all those varieties are tidily in the separate little boxes and organized by kind of plant. For example below you can see 5 different varieties of beets I plant along with their little "Beet" labeled box. 

Or kales varieties and their box, etc. 

Now one of the things I do to help seeds get a little head start is to soak some of the seeds in a water for 2-8 hours before planting them. This works really well for things that have large seeds like peas and beans. This year I tried doing the same thing with beets, kale, and chard. That I found to be less ideal as with their tiny seeds, being wet made them really hard to separate out as I planted. They all tried to stick to my fingers and were hard to drop into the ground. So that is an experiment I won't repeat. But for the larger seeds it does seem to speed up germination. And since time is so short here, that's a good thing for me!

By May 4 when the above photo was taken, almost the whole garden was planted. Minus potatoes and cabbage which I didn't get in till the next week. But that morning we got a little fresh snow. Nothing had popped up through the ground yet other than the perennials like rhubarb and horseradish, but those little seeds were uncurling and starting new life underground. And the day is snowed the first asparagus shoot popped out! Now there are hundreds. 

Then there were a few days of sunshine though the nights were still very cold and into the teens. So as soon as the first little pairs of leaves started to emerge, the frost covers went up to help protect them. And have been in use most of the time since. I use the heaviest frost cloth they make which gives me about 10 degrees of frost protection. Though everything planted can handle freezing, temps into the teens certainly slow down the growth of tiny baby sprouts so if I can keep them just a little warmer, it helps keep growth a little more rapid. 

And if the days are warm, the covers all get rolled up to let in more light. Those thick frost covers provide about 40% light transmission, so that does make a difference. Almost every night they've been back on though. And this is something I do all summer long. Generally covering everything any time the forecast calls for temps in the mid 30's F. or colder in the closest town as I am usually several degrees colder than there. 

So far everything is thriving! Above are little pea shoots springing up. Below are some of the multitude of asparagus shoots I have now, even after harvesting some. 

The garlic which was planted last fall is looking good and the strawberries are pushing out beautiful new leaves. 

Horseradish above, and rhubarb below are bother getting large!

And almost all the seeds for everything else have started to send out little bits of green. Though looking over the whole garden, many are still way to small to see. 

If you want to compare my area and where the spring is with yours, here is my first two daffodils open for the year. They just opened today. 😊 So I'm at approximately whatever stage your area is when the first daffodils open. The whole clearing is now free of snow, though I can still chuck a rock from the house and hit a snow pile in the woods that's several feet deep. That's close in case you're wondering, since my throwing abilities are not great. 

The whole garden is planted and in a few weeks should be looking a lot more green. What are you planting or what do you already have growing right now?


  1. It hailed in Austin tonight and we rushed the big staghorn fern inside to keep it safe. Planting plans to move out to the high desert in southern California, get building on our tiny strawbale, and start learning what and how to grow our food (and keep it safe from the ground squirrels, rabbits, birds...). Grateful to have stumbled across your blog and channel today. Wishing you well up there.

  2. Thanks for the update Ariel. You inspired me to get into gardening, here, in New Zealand. I do miss your YouTube videos/vlogs VERY VERY much. Take care & enjoy your Spring.

  3. G'morning, Ariel! I know it's going to be a good day when I see pics of your garden and keep abreast of your planting concerns. Your anti-gopher/varmint proofing is working well so here's hoping some big honking snowstorm doesn't catch you out hiking with Burley-Man and inundate your poor little sprouts.

  4. I have garlic up, already made rhubarb pudding cake, picked asparagus twice between the frosts and my lettuce should be ready in 10 days (planted it in pots and then transferred the pots to a small greenhouse and then planted in my garden under plastic. Peas are up (including the flowering kind), and onions also. I planted a cucumber in a pot back in late March, kept it in a pickup window, replanted in in a small greenhouse and now it is setting on cucumbers (one of those parthenocarpic that doesn't need bees). It is the Socrates from Johnny's and it is also a Beit Alpha (non bitter), and Gynoecious (all female flowers). The only cucumber I have found with all three traits. Keeping my Sparkle and Cabot strawberries covered with plastic, but will have to take it off as it is going to get to 90 here in SE Montana. I also am surprised as to how well the day-neutrals do (Seascape, Albion, Eversweet). I really enjoy picking a quart of strawberries every other day in August. My Arctic raspberries look like they are about to bloom. They are said to make the best jelly. I also have Alpine strawberries but I do not like their soft mushy weak flavor. I'll be busy planting blueberries today (I cover them up over the winter). There are low-bush varieties said to be hardy to -40. Just a part of my garden.

  5. Ariel, what are you using for supports for your frost cover? They look like wire of some sort. My sister put short sections of rebar into the ground along the outside of her (wooden) raised beds and then used thin 8-ft sections of PVC pipe bent into half circle and slid over the rebar. I think I like your idea better because the wire takes up less room for winter storage. Thanks for the pics of garden! I have plants from the nursery ready to put in (seeds started also) next week (west side of Rockies, snow possible through Memorial Day).

  6. Columbus.....last killing frost is usually around May 15th. Got my rototiller all fired up and if it stops raining I'll be breaking ground this week. Let the veggies begin!

  7. Very nice job planting. Good luck with it.Did you keep out those moles? Hey saw ads on your page. I hope you get paid for them.

  8. Your gardens are amazing Ariel,i live in southern ontario with quite a long growing season and i envy your gardens.

  9. good going Ariel , looks like a lot of work especially with the covers. seems like you can eek out with all the essential vitamins you need other than vitamin D and protein?

  10. I love your garden posts, Ariel! For one thing, you have much more varied tastes than I do, so it is interesting to see what you plant. My garden has pretty much the same thing every year. This year I have dill, jalapeño peppers, poblano peppers, kale, arugula, swiss chard, bush green beans, tomatoes, purple hull peas, squashes and okra. I'm trying 4 new sunflower varieties as well. The deer are a real challenge in our neighborhood. Love your house setup, Ariel. Everything just looks so nice!

  11. Ariel, can you update us on future video plans?? Thanks

  12. When do you plant onions? What do you use for onions?

  13. I've been soaking some of my seeds too to accelerate germination. I enjoy growing some annual warm weather vines like cardinal climber, moon flower and black eyed Susan vine and they all benefit from being soaked in warm water. I actually put them in an 80F degree hot box to germinate and they send out a root in just a couple days! Regarding the smaller seeds, I think it would work well to soak them for about 8 or 10 hours or until you see that they have swollen and absorbed water, then drain them and dry the seeds on a flat weave dish towel. That way they would be easier to handle but should still be primed to germinate.

    My winter spinach is starting to bolt now but I've been harvesting leaves off them for over 6 months so I can't complain! :) I've just begun harvesting strawberries, Chinese broccoli, Di Ciccio broccoli and green garlic (grown from bulbils) and I will have sugar snap peas in just a few days. My gardens are almost full and I wish I had more garden space because there's lots more I'd love to plant and some of my favorite plants are multiplying. :(

  14. Hi Ariel, I've missed you on youtube and glad I found you again.

  15. Love your garden ideas, but how do you keep the deer, elk, moose, etc. from eating it?