The January Garden

KevinFrom the Garden, Gardening17 Comments

This serious snowfall has really made me think about year-round provisioning of food from our yard. Information from growing zones a few warmer than ours feels irrelevant, a ‘year-round-harvest’ unattainable. My body aches from shoveling. The additional snow will likely make for later than normal access to soil for planting. Roads were impassible. Doom.

But the mountains of snow too, will pass. We’re still eating garden veg from the cellar, and I’m still firm in my resolve to attach the two ends of the season – the end of the root cellar veg blending into the arrival of spring greens. It’s going to mean cold frames, and getting our usual mid-May greens pushed into mid-April. Once achieved, we will be eating fresh [uncanned, unfrozen, undried] food from our yard year-round, despite the inevitable -30 temperatures and 3 feet of snow. Enormous piles of snow will not prevent cold frame construction – it can be shoveled – and early seeding should proceed as planned.  The cold and snow is irrelevant to the stash of garden produce in our root cellar.

2011 will be an adventurous gardening season here as we near the maximum amount of area planted in gardens – the vast majority of lawn having met its fate. A lot of beds that were in transition under sheet mulch or green manure in 2010 will now be ready to produce food. The seedling flats start over the next few weeks. In a couple months, I’ll have my hands in the first of the exposed soil against heat-reflecting walls. The days get too long, the sun too strong. This snow certainly won this battle, but it will most certainly lose the war.

17 Comments on “The January Garden”

  1. Sheri Ann Richerson

    Hello. I’m not sure how much snow you received, or where you are, as I just saw this post on a Google alert. I am in Indiana and would like to suggest you check out my book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Year-Round Gardening.

    We have received a boat load of snow too, but I know the crops inside my cold frame are fine. I won’t go out as long as the heavy snow is on the ground, because I don’t want to shovel.

    Winter gardening is wonderful! No weeding, very little watering and delicious cool season crops to harvest that are so sweet and tender!

    Another tip – use two layers of plastic on your cold frames – 6 mil. is best. Each layer adds a growing zone of protection. Do not use over 2 layers however because it will dimish the amount of light the plants receive. Also, be sure to use frost cover inside the cold frame but do not let it touch the plants!

    Best wishes!
    Sheri Ann

  2. Kevin

    Sheri Ann – thanks so much for the input, I really appreciate it. We had a dump of over a foot, and had lots before that. If I didn’t shovel, we wouldn’t get out of our house until April!! :)
    So glad there’s folks like you out there doing this stuff – it gives me confidence moving forward.

  3. Mel

    Interesting that you mentioned sheet mulch and green manure. In 2011 I’m faced with the task of converting a yard that is entirely grass into mostly garden. I haven’t done much research into it yet, though people have already suggested the green manure approach, and someone else said I should just plant potatoes this year because they are great for improving soil quality. (Though I don’t know if I could handle an all-potato growing season.)

    In the interest of having at least some garden this year, I may end up digging some grass up the old fashioned way, but I’d love to hear your tips for the easiest way of getting rid of grass and replacing it with garden.

  4. Kevin Kossowan

    Mel – the potato approach would be difficult if you ask me, for a variety of reasons. From all the homework I’ve done, sheet mulching is the way to go. I have a book called ‘Food, not lawns’ I can lend you that describes the process well. EPL has it too. I planted my sheet mulch with squashes this past year, and it will be ready to go this year. My green manuring was planted atop sheet mulch, so it’s not really an option in of itself that I know of.

    As for getting something plantable asap, you’re right – a shovel seems best. Plan on a place to compost all the turf you dig up. I’ve done plenty of this method – it’s actually what I’ve done the most of in the past. But I’m a sheet mulching convertee now. Another option that’s quick and dirty with its own pros and cons are raised beds. I had them for one season and abandoned them.

  5. Rebecca

    I don’t know your indoor set-up, or if you have any space to spare, but would creating an indoor hydroponics system work for you? It would be feasible to grow (at least) greens year round.

  6. Kevin Kossowan

    Rebecca – I’m actually quite pleased with root veg and brassicas [primarily cabbage] into the winter for veg, it’s just that spring hole that I’d like to fill, and I currently am under the impression cold frames will see me through. If they fail, hyrdoponics it is, although I’d far prefer avoid them to avoid energy inputs and space requirements indoors. I’m about to start forcing root veg, and my next fresh veg experiment from there would likely be sprouts.

  7. Sarah Galvin (All Our Fingers in the Pie)

    I planted herbs and mesculun greens in my brick planter last spring. Just put sheets of glass over and I was the first one in Swift Current eating fresh local greens! It was May, I think. But I just moved into my house in April. I’ll be trying it a little earlier this year, too.

  8. Kevin

    Greg – Indeed. I’ve been mindful to clear snow now while it’s lofty and movable to avoid hardpack/ice blockages in the spring. It’s going to be a lot of water.

    Sarah – glad to hear it! I’ve typically had access to soil in March where there’s reflected heat. If I can capture and retain that heat via something like what you’ve done, I’m pretty confident April is doable. Can’t wait to find out!

  9. Rebecca

    Sprouts is a good idea. I understand they are easy to grow and don’t take up much space. I vaguely remember hearing more about this through the SPIN farming folks.

    As always, love what you are doing!

  10. Barry

    I am intrigued by this cold weather gardening…………might have to add it to my “to do” list along with the 147 other things lol.

  11. Kevin Kossowan

    Rebecca – the space and ease intrigue me, my only resistance thus-far is that it seems to require gizmos. Perhaps not. This year’s winter objective was root cellaring, perhaps I’ll learn more about another year when sprouts makes the to-do list!

    Barry – I hear ya.

  12. Mike

    You have a lot of snow there, we have been busy shoveling away too. Anyway, I wanted to let you know that my wife and I have greatly enjoyed your fantastic 2010 videos, especially the one on Gold Forest Grains. Thank you for sharing them.

  13. A Canadian Foodie

    This snow must be documented for the WORLD to understand how wonderful and varied it really is to live in a 3 and a half season climate!!!
    (When I was young, we used to have all four!)

  14. Kevin Kossowan

    Mike – really glad you enjoyed the videos, thanks for the feedback. Gold Forest Grains is one of my favorites too, and I’m very excited to be getting some flours from the asap.

    Valerie – seasonality is interesting to look at when everything’s green, or gold – but also when everything’s white!

  15. SherryGreens

    I am in awe of you. I found you through An Avenue Homesteader. I also live in Edmonton, and have just only very recently, began to seek out local food. I am very new to this, but very passionate about doing it. I am inspired to also turn my grass into food gardens. I am just curious – why did you abandon the raised beds? Also – what is cold frame and how could you possibly grow food year round here? I will check out the book Food, not Lawns that you mentioned above. Thanks~!

  16. Kevin

    Sherry – Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

    I highly recommend Eliot Coleman’s Four Season Harvest book regarding cold frames and eating from the garden year-round. His methods are not about growing foods all year, but rather harvesting foods all year and/or eating garden produce all year that has not been processed. A quick google of ‘cold frames’ will show you some photos and explain in a jiffy what would take me 15 minutes to adequately explain in writing.

    I abandoned the raised beds as the soil tended to dry out quickly and more importantly, were not a permanent solution in my mind unless built with rock/brick/etc. I don’t want to be rebuilding beds periodically, and instead am opting for bed edge styles that don’t require materials that will most certainly rot and require money and labor to replace. I love raised beds, don’t get me wrong – very functional and look attractive, just not a good fit for my design plan [which also ended up being curvy, not linear].

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