From GENE LOGSDON
We are fortunate to have Jan Dawson and Andy Reinhart, who operate Jandy’s Farm Market near Bellefontaine, Ohio, for friends. Nearly everything they do or say has potential for my scribblings. The photo above is a picture of their front porch. Need I say more? I tease them that they have turned their porch into a garden simply because they are addicted to gardening and can’t quit just because winter is here. But actually there is plenty of method to this winter madness when you can saunter out on your porch without bundling up or wading through snow and gather your salad for the next meal.
You can kind of see from the photo how they’ve converted the porch into a garden. There’s a footer and low wall on the three sides away from the house, with windows all around. The roof, not in the photo, is mostly triple-wall polycarbonate. They removed some of the rocks and sandy soil from the porch area, and added a foot or so of topsoil and compost. The idea was, of course, that with the sun shining through roof and windows, the porch would stay warm enough to grow some vegetables all winter and when necessary they can open the door to the house for supplementary heat (they heat with wood). “But the house heat doesn’t seem to make that much difference,” Andy says. “The porch so far averages around 55 degrees on cold sunless days and opening the door to the house doesn’t seem to change that much. Ordinarily on many days when the sun shines the porch can warm up fairly well without any supplemental heat, but this late fall and winter so far, there have been few sunny days, so plant growth has been slow.”
They describe their winter gardening as more of a holding than growing operation. They transfer plants growing in the fall garden outside into the porch garden as cold weather approaches. Some are seedlings and some are more fully grown. In the porch environment, a half grown lettuce plant will survive quite well all winter although it may not grow much. Small seedlings grow some when the sun shines. So far they have experimented with lettuce, celery, arugula, spinach, and radishes and plan to add carrots next year. The best luck they’ve experienced so far is with celery. Plants from which they harvested stalks in the summer garden grow new stalks and when transplanted to the porch continue to grow. “They make only green stalks but good for cooking,” says Jan.
The radishes they planted directly into the porch soil did not develop roots but the peppery young leaves are good in salads. Leaf lettuce, especially the red-leaved kinds, did fine, started outside in the fall and transplanted to the porch garden. Bibb lettuce worked fairly well. Spinach did okay on the porch too, and early experimentation seems to indicate that when planted directly into the porch soil, it germinates in late fall about as well as in the spring garden outside.
“The key is timing— when to move the plants into the porch garden, especially the lettuce,” says Andy. “So far the bigger transplants have done the best. They might not grow much more, but they hold their freshness very well.”
They already have a greenhouse for starting regular season vegetables, but they figure their porch garden would work well for that purpose too. In this case some heating coils in the soil might help. “So far the biggest advantage to the porch garden is that we have not seen any aphids or white flies on the plants. A little too cool for them,” says Jan.
Andy normally thinks arugula is a bit too astringent for his taste but grown on the porch it maintains its full nutty flavor without the bitterness. Potted plants of all kinds could be kept on the porch. And the porch is perfect for herbs, says Jan. “The parsley just loves it out there.”
The one unforeseen mystery of the porch garden is a mole that has taken up residence. How it got there they are not sure. My thinking is that some moles get addicted to gardening too and won’t quit just because it’s winter.