Gardening in the Snow

And then it snowed. Again. And again. And again. The children now look forward to school as a pleasant interruption to their days in pajamas playing with Legos and building snow forts. The snowblower to which I reluctantly agreed now seems like an old, and well loved friend. Our chats about someday screening our porch or building a fire pit have given way to discussions about wood stoves and window replacements, blown in insulation and how to move the common entry to the garage before the salt, sand and chemical crud eat the flooring in the house.

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my sick of being cold face

I make no pretense that it never snows in the Mid-Atlantic, that we’re being subjected to some major injustice, or that these snows have been spectacular individually, but as with most folks in North America, I have now had enough.

We’ve eaten soup.

We’ve baked cookies and banana bread.

We’ve created worlds and watched curling (okay, not for long, but I had to know).

Whether the weather is ready or not, we are quite ready for Spring. The best antidote for my winter hostility is to focus my thoughts on the months to come. What better way to anticipate the end to the seemingly endless Tundra than by planning the garden and planting some seeds.

If you’ve been playing along for a while, you know that when it comes to following directions, I prefer an abstract approach, and this has presented me with some challenges in my gardening efforts in the past. Get up and go get it done only helps you if you’re doing the right things… or at least things that aren’t clearly wrong. In an effort to increase my garden success I’ve decided that, in addition to implementing the Big Dog Protection System, I will try to do some helpful reading in the cold months to improve my garden outcomes. I’ve also become interested in some new (or very old) gardening practices and am considering ways to implement them in the garden.

To that end I’ve been taking a spin with some of my old favorites to read about “crop” rotation. I use quotes because I feel silly using the word crop for my backyard garden, but the principles still apply.  I find Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch to be unbeatably reasonable on this topic (and all others that I’ve referred to them for) and my original garden guru, Mel Bartholomew, indicates that crop rotation is important just by building it into his square foot gardening approach.  I’ve had some trouble with various diseases and decreased production over the last few years, so this year I’m going to move some things around in very specific ways – get those plants helping each other and rebuilding the soil a bit.  We shall see.

I’m also super interested in implementing some permaculture strategies in the garden, although I confess that the extent to which these methods depart physically from what I’m only barely managing to do now is a bit intimidating.  But when a local landscaper,Michael Judd, writes a beautiful book on the subject that includes his pictures taken in the county you live in… well you don’t get much better advice than that. It’s like learning from a neighbor who takes great pictures. Reading… reading… reading.

In time honored tradition, I’ve already made my first gardening mistake by failing to realize that the extreme and persistent cold that we’ve experienced this winter has an impact even on my little indoor seed starting efforts. While I would usually remove covers from mini greenhouses once seedlings have sprouted, the constant blowing of warm air from the heat being on ALL THE TIME has proven far too drying for going topless. Overexposure led to terrible embarassment, and a trayful of VERY dead seedlings.

Even with one failure under my belt, looking at my stack of books, my graph paper, and the feathery alien seedlings growing in my living room fills me with hope that perhaps this will be the last snow for the season, that maybe, just maybe, the heat will turn off someday soon. I’m going to go make some soup and read about raised beds on contour to capture the rain. How about you? I hear we may get more snow on Thursday. For now I shall continue with the investigations and planning that are the unsung heroes of any human endeavor. Faith, hope, and a little optimism in a little seed in a little dirt.

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Long Distance Relationship with Seedlings

What to do when you have been coddling little seedlings and suddenly you have to be out of town?  Last year I was faced with this scenario, and although it meant I got to visit Little Sis, I was quite sure that after being unable to find any help from neighbors I would come home to frozen seedlings on the deck or dessicated seedlings in the house.  How to choose between prematurely freezing or drying my future produce?….

Here is a re-enactment of what my husband and I came up with I did last year… Remember this is just a re-enactment ; )

I left my seedlings in the bathtub with wet towels, a slow drip of water, a floor lamp with plant lights in all 3 sockets leaning over the edge of the tub, a timer and a few prayers and shakes of incense.  (You must have your seedlings in peat pots or some other medium that will absorb water from the bottom for this to work.)

First I layered beach towels in the bottom of the tub…

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Yes, I put the sunshiney towel on top on purpose…. hoping it would distract you from the dirty bathtub!

Then I wet the towels so they were sopping wet but not floating.

Next I took a plastic gallon jug of water and made 2 small holes in the bottom.  Make sure and take the top off to enable the water to leak out.  I then placed it in a corner of the bathtub against the wall.  If a gallon jug is too fat for your rim, use a couple of tall thin water bottles.  I confess I made the holes too big the first time and the water was coming out very fast, so I tried again until there was a bit of a trickle.

Here’s the re-enactment part.  I don’t have any gallon jugs of water… less afraid of an apocalypse this year I suppose… so I just set a water jug on the corner to give you the idea.

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Then I removed the seedlings from their tray, still in their little peat pots and set them directly on the wet towels.

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Last year I started 3 times as many seedlings and they all fit nicely – if a little more crammed together.

Then I leaned the floor lamp with plant bulbs over the tub, keeping it from rolling by placing books next to the base, and aimed the lights at the seedlings.

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Although it looks like a larger space, the lights are actually 18″ – 24″ from the tops of the seedlings.

Place a timer on your lamp so the little babies get some sleep time and voila!  I came home to healthy, larger seedlings after a 6 day trip.  The towels were still wet.

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