Sow There! Freeze and thaw, the winter cycle of cold-hardy spinach, Jan. 7, 2016

For the twenty-plus years I have been gardening, lettuce has been elusive.

Early on, I learned that lettuce planted in the warmth of spring will soon bolt, go to seed and die.

Later, the plants were literally yanked from my yard.

I clearly recall the day I was admiring a lanky, flowering lettuce clump when suddenly the plant began to shake. As I watched, wide-eyed and aghast, three-quarters of the greenery slipped into the ground.

Before I could return to the yard with a witness, the rest of the plant had disappeared into the underworld.

Fifteen years later, I thought I had built a gopher-proof raised bed.

With a sense of calm, I planted two six-packs of mixed greens purchased from Sherri Scott of Grub Grown.

The plants quickly grew to twice or three times their original six-pack size.

What happened next, I will never be sure. My guess is that an otherwise underground critter came out of a nearby hole and climbed into my raised bed.

From there, he ate an average of one head of young lettuce every two days until all that remained in the raised bed was lost hope.

Years passed. I grew basil in pots and bought spinach in bags.

Then came the kale craze, and I had good luck growing Tuscan baby leaf kale, from To avoid the gophers, I planted seeds in 15-gallon pots.

For the most part, I could have forgotten that gophers and moles still lurked beneath the soil surface. However, my cat reminded me by bringing three lifeless rodents as gifts.

This year we discovered that a black, plastic truck bed liner will keep out the gophers.

We filled about half the bed with clean soil, compost and steer manure purchased in bags. Rather than add holes to the bottom of the bed liner, one side is raised onto a railroad tie. Water drains away on a slight incline.

Rodents? No thank you.

Life was good. Not only did I grow kale and spinach, but loose leaf lettuce in colors of red and green.

Just as the plants were finally coming into their own, a cold snap arrived. The temps dipped to 26 and 27.

One frigid morning my beau padded out to the yard to start my car before I left for work. He shook his head with bad news and said the lettuce and spinach were covered in a frost.

This was a grayish color and as thick as the frost that made it difficult to open the car door.

The greens looked like Han Solo when he was frozen in carbonite.

Yet, each frost came and went and the plants did fine.

Kale, I learned, can snap back after a night as cold as 10 degrees. Spinach will survive nights to 20 degrees and lettuce should be OK on night as cool as 25.

Our recent cold nights were down to 27-28 degrees.

Naturally, this makes me want to plant more greens.

Alyse Pendo lives in Orland and volunteers as a Glenn County Master Gardener.

Some veggies, she explained, actually taste better when they are “frost kissed.” This is due to sugars the plants produce for protection. Artichokes, Alyse said, will often be rejected by shoppers when they are a bit brown at the tips. However, this is when the plants are their most tasty.

Others on the frost-kissed list include cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi and turnips.

Alyse was understanding as I ranted about gophers of Christmas past.

Now that the gophers were finally blocked out, we talked about planting more seed.

It doesn’t hurt to put seeds in the ground. Spinach germinates at temperatures between 40 and 70 F. This means seeds sown in pots indoors should do just fine. I can place the little pots on top of the fridge or in the spot where the kitty likes to lay in front of the heater, Alyse suggested. I happen to have a seedling heating mat, however I’m fairly certain the cat would make this her new warming station.


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