Thursday, July 25, 2013

Winter Gardening

Ambitious but geographically limited gardeners (such as the trail blazer Eliot Coleman) have been pushing the boundaries of off-season gardening for decades.  But I have to admit it - when I first heard tell of gardening in winter, it sounded entirely ridiculous to me. Winter is a substantial season here on Prince Edward Island.  There's a lot of snow.  I own snowshoes!

Snow shoes are not an affectation around here!

But more recently all-season gardening has been gaining popularity even here in the Canadian Maritimes.  In her book "The Year Round Vegetable Gardener", near-Haligonian Nikki Jabbour makes it seem plausible - even straight-forward.

Niki Jabbour's how-to guide for defying Maritime winters

But can it really be done?  Really?  The winter weather here can be brutal - snow, rain, freeze-thaw-and-freeze-again, salt and snow! snow! snow!  But Niki's optimism (and the photographs of all that lovely photosynthesis amid the snow) is inspirational - and so I'm going to see whether I can duplicate her success in Halifax, NS (average temperature in January / February of -5 C) here in Charlottetown, PE (where the average temperature in January and February is -8 C).

Snow!  Snow!  Snow!

By the numbers, success is not assured.  The difference between -5 C and -8 C doesn't sound like much, but even a few degrees prolonged over months can amount to lot of stress to over-wintering plants.  But Charlottetown isn't out of the running yet - we have several advantages over Halifax, including our abundant snow (which acts as a great insulator and tends to ameliorate the effect of killing freeze-thaw cycles) and our famed iron-rich red Island snow, which is a big improvement over Halifax's poor top soil thinly laid over granite.  Although PEI does suffer under the burden of an enormous variety of voracious slugs, unlike Halifax we do not have to guard our gardens against deer.

The plan is simple:
1) build and install one permanent, in-ground cold frame
2) start winter greens from seed
3) transplant the seedlings into the cold-frame
4) enjoy fresh mixed greens all winter!

Although the hour grows late (according to Niki, I should have started seeding at the beginning of July), a mild autumn is predicted for the Island, and it may forgive my tardiness.

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