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Thursday, March 12, 2009
A Case for Cold
I think some of my most rewarding gardening can be done between snowstorms. I’m not talking about the storms that mark winter’s end one year and its beginning the next – that would be too easy. Naturally spring, summer and autumn are a gardener’s worksite and playground at once. Of course I love them.
Yet winter can have big payoffs, too, for very little effort.
This is what I mean. Last week it finally warmed up around here enough to melt the snow and reveal my garden plot. I checked out the container where I’d scattered spinach seeds earlier this year (I don’t even remember when, just that it was another winter day mild enough for me to not get snowed on!). Guess what – the spinach has already sprouted. I have a head start on a new spring crop for literally two seconds of work this winter.
My garden bed was buried underneath several inches of snow for most of the winter. Yet what a protective blanket it proved to be! More like an incubator that nurtured new healthy Swiss chard stems and broccoli shoots.
One plant hadn’t produced anything but a few leaves by fall’s end; I’d even forgotten what it was. So I was especially surprised to discover a beautiful head of cauliflower. It must have been forming this, beneath the snow, while I was celebrating New Year’s and Valentine’s Day. Since some of the plants leaves were damaged I’m not sure how edible it is (perhaps the extension office can advise me). No matter what, I smiled at this growth, especially today when I looked through the seed packets I'd used last year. This variety is "Snowball X."
Lessons from this winter gave me the confidence to make my other three seasons of gardening more effective. The fact that my cauliflower flourished in the cold urges me to plant this year’s crop right away. Just because I’m shivering doesn’t mean these and other cool-season plants aren’t downright cozy.
Generally we divide our planting into two groups: before and after the typical last frost date.
Cool-season plants include spinach, radishes, turnips, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, peas, lettuce and mustard greens. They can handle light to moderate frosts. In fact, these crops can't tolerate high summer temperatures, so are best planted early anyway. Beets and carrots can also be planted early, but unlike their other cool-season friends, hold up better through the summer. Cool-season crops can be planted at the end of summer for a second harvest in the fall -- even winter, as my crops showed.
So plant as soon as you can get the ground ready. If a plot isn’t prepared, try planting in pots outside.
The trick with “snowstorm gardening” is finding the lulls between storms that allow you to be outdoors to do the planting. Once the seeds are planted snow is actually a boon because of the moisture and temperature insulation it provides. And best of all, no pests!
My goal this week is to spend a few minutes planting my peas before it snows, as forecast. Then I can sit back and let the seeds do their underground magic while storms swirl overhead.