Monday, March 27, 2017

What Survives the Winter

I love snow drops.  They are the earliest blooming flower I know of that grows in my climate.  They bloom so early that they often have to poke up through not only soil, but also snow to make their first appearance.  You may measure by day length, temperature, or the return of the robin, but for me these little flowers deliver the promise that winter will end, and spring is coming.  I have made it through another winter.

My yard is full of signs that winter has really finished, and we can truly believe that spring is here.  Lots of plants are sending up their first shoots or forming their first buds.  

These alien red knobs will grow into clusters of rhubarb leaves.

On the left, the leaves and flower buds of my Lenten Rose.  It has 3 more weeks if it's going to open those flowers during lent this year.  On the right are the first flower buds to turn white on my pieris japonica.

I've been playing with techniques to extent my vegetable harvest into the winter.  My ultimate goal is to be able to keep harvesting fresh veg throughout the entire year.  Much of what I grew undercover this year we ate for Christmas dinner.  Some of what was left succumbed to the cold, but there were some survivors.  

The lettuce I grew in a cold frame only survived until Christmas dinner, which was my goal for it.  Most lettuce is too tender to make it through my zone 5 winter, even in a cold frame, and I hadn't planted winter hardy varieties, just a general mix.  Even so, it was a delight to open the frame and find that from that mix one arugula plant and what I think is frisee, have survived.  I gave them compost and then planted new tender lettuce greens around them.  While the soil in the exposed parts of my garden is still much too cold and sodden for planting, the soil inside the frame is ready.  The rest of the garden will most likely not be ready like this until the middle of April, so even though there isn't exactly a meal in here, by leaving the cold frame in place all winter I'll be harvesting baby salad greens from what I just planted by the end of April.

I also covered one garden bed with a mini hoop tunnel for the winter, and filled it with hearty winter greens.  Interestingly all of the arugula in here died in January or February, as did the tatsoi and some of the kale.  My favorite cooking green, red giant mustard, did great this winter, as usual.  It's the green and purple leaves in the front of this pic, with some of the kale (yellow brown around the edges) in the background.

This is the hoop tunnel with the plastic pulled back for planting:

I raked back the leaf mulch from fall, spread an inch of compost, raked back the mulch and planted rows of early greens, with mulch mounded between them.  The trick now is knowing when to cover the tunnel fully with plastic to keep the seedlings warm, and when to vent or even fully uncover during the day so that they can get full sun.  On a warm day the tunnel will get too hot and fry all the little seedlings inside, or so I've read.

This is only the second winter that I've used the tunnel, so I am still experimenting with varieties, hardware, and planting times to optimize my late fall and early spring growing.  I have big plans to expand my veg production through next winter and to make it easier to harvest in snow.