Snow-Gardens

Snowed-In Vegetable Garden, © Copyright 2009 Jade Leone Blackwater

Greetings from snowy, cloudy Washington!  As I’m sure you concluded by my disappearance, I had very little time for gardening or blogging during the second half of 2008.  Fortunately, I returned home to Washington just in time to see four feet of snow fall!  We have enjoyed a beautiful kickoff to winter, and now that I know I’m home to stay I can begin preparations for spring.

The garden, as you can see, has been under a heavy snow blanket.  That snow provides excellent insulation, and beneath it the strawberries and herbs are all healthy and green.  Preparations are underway for a) green houses, b) cold frames, c) indoor vegetable starts, and d) direct-sowing of cold crops.  I look forward to sharing my garden adventures with you in the coming year, and invite you to join me as I pursue a self-sustaining lifestyle here in the forests of the Pacific Northwest.

May we all enjoy a healthy, productive, and “green” year!

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Spring Sun Fuels the Cold Frame

Cold Frame, March 2008, © Copyright 2008 Jade Leone BlackwaterIt may be too cold to sow seeds in the garden, but it’s the perfect time to be sowing the cold frame.  As spring approaches, the sun’s path rises; this gives more warming light which the cold frame is built to capture.

While these pictures may not look pretty, they are actually very exciting (ok, at least for me).  [Remember you can click on pictures to enlarge.]  What you can see here are the lettuce, mustard, onion, chive, and cilantro plants which have grown slowly throughout the winter.  Scattered around them are open patches of earth which I used to sow radishes, carrots, spinach, lettuce, onions, and cilantro.  As soon as we have another warm day, I’ll open up and take some pictures so you can see how big the radish and spinach sprouts have become!  The carrots seem shy – it may be too cold for them to germinate just now.

Cold Frame, March 2008, © Copyright 2008 Jade Leone BlackwaterIn coming weeks I will remove the small, mature plants and place them out into the main garden where they can grow full-size.  Every time I pull out plants, I create open space in the cold frame.  Those new open spaces are where I sow the next succession of seeds.  This “succession planting” can continue every two weeks well into the summer, allowing me to have small, regularly maturing crops to feed us.

It’s taken me a while to get the hang of “succession planting.”  When I was first learning how to garden, I had no concept of succession planting, and happily unloaded entire seed packets into pots and garden spaces.  The result was a lot of wasted seed, and a whole bunch of plants that all matured at the same time.  Succession planting allows me to grow usable amounts of food that sustain us over the months.

We’ll be using a similar succession approach with the onions to keep a regular crop in stock.  Currently I’m germinating onions in the cold frame.  The seeds were sown close together in a small patch, and I expect to have slender onion sprouts in April or May.  At that point, the onions that overwintered in the garden will start to mature.  As I take out an onion or two for dinner each night, I’ll replace its empty seat with one of the young sprouts from the cold frame.

Cold Frame, March 2008, © Copyright 2008 Jade Leone BlackwaterAs you can see, life is busy in my garden, and it’s busy on my desk too.  I am the new Pennwriters Area 6 Representative for membership in southeastern Pennsylvania.  I will also be attending the Annual Pennwriters Conference this May in Lancaster, PA.  You will be able to find me blogging at AppleJade about once per week through March and April, and our focus will be in the garden.

Projects and Planning

Sprouting Daffodils, Winter 2008, © Copyright 2008 Jade Leone Blackwater

While I am busy with my writing projects, hop over to see someone who is REALLY busy with garden planning: Jenny at Seeded has an ambitious planting schedule that will make you groan with envy (plus it’s a great source of ideas if you’re trying to decide what you want to plant in your garden this year).  In my gardens, the early spring bulbs are making their debut from the cold winter earth, teasing me with suggestions of gardening days to come.

Getting a Jump on Spring Planting

Cold Frame, © Copyright 2008 Jade Leone Blackwater

Today I awoke to a warm, humid sunrise.  It appears that my planting opportunity came sooner than I anticipated!  I just finished sowing onions, spinach, radishes, and carrots in the open spaces of my cold frame (a great way to enjoy a sunrise).  As you can see the cilantro, mizuna mustard, and assorted lettuce are all jamming, and today’s warmth (and opportunity to open the cold frame for fresh air) will give them a nice boost.  Salad is on tonight’s menu!

I like to garden by the moon, and while today’s moonsign (Aquarius) is not always ideal for planting, the new moon is a great time to get things started – be they new plants, or new projects.  I’m hoping that today’s warmth, breeze, thunder, rain, and the added energy of a solar eclipse will help get these seeds started.  In a couple of weeks, we’ll know if there’s been any success.  That is – if we can see through the snow into the cold frame!

Through sleet and snow the plants still grow

Onions in Sleet, (c) 2007 Jade Leone Blackwater

 

Philadelphia had a cold weekend, and here in Chester County we saw bits of sleet, snow, and freezing rain.  Our temperatures remained around 30 degrees (Fahrenheit) on Sunday, but our plants stayed cozy in the cold frame.

We have a small patch of onions in the main garden which I transferred from the coldframe in early Autumn.  Unfortunately, I never had a chance to build them a little row cover.  This year they are part of my experiment to see what will happen to the onions as we see months of cold, dry weather, and occasional snowfall.  My guess is, they may get a little mad and droopy, but they’ll survive just fine.

Cold Frame in Sleet, (c) Copyright 2007 Jade Leone Blackwater

Meanwhile… in the coldframe the greens are cozy and happy, protected from wind and extreme cold.  I didn’t open the cold frame at all over the weekend, so as not to release the bit of warmth trapped inside.  The picture above shows the mizuna mustard greens pressed up against the cold frame, protected from the bitter cold. (Remember you can click on pictures to enlarge them).

We’ve had a lot of questions about how to build and use a cold frame.  In addition to our health discussions this December at AppleJade, I will be drafting up some simple steps for you to construct and use your own cold frame (although that may not be posted until January).

And don’t worry – even if it’s too cold for you to sow your seeds now, you can still make use of your cold frame in the coming spring (and next autumn/winter, of course).  A small amount of planning can dramatically improve the results of your gardening efforts – big or small!

PS – If you’re looking for a little inspiration today, hop over to my Brainripples blog.  Each week I offer the Monday Morning Muse featuring photography to help spark the creative!  Also, the Festival of the Trees 18 – November Arborea is now online at Riverside Rambles, composed by Larry Ayers.  The Festival of the Trees is a monthly blog carnival featuring posts about trees and forests from around the blogosphere – talk about inspiration!

Cold Frame: the treasure box

Cold frame vegetables, (c) Copyright 2007, Jade Leone Blackwater

It may not look like much, but whenever I see my cold frame I salivate and think about dinner.  A cold frame is a tool for extending your harvest through the cold months by protecting plants from wind while capturing a maximum amount of the low-winter sun to keep the plants warm.

Cold frame vegetables, (c) Copyright 2007, Jade Leone Blackwater

We built this coldframe in October 2006, and it has been feeding us ever since.  Our design is based on what we learned in Eliot Coleman’s book Four Season Harvest.  (We’ll talk more about this book in the future.)  Cold frame designs can be modified to fit your available space and materials.

Rather than use old storm windows for glass “lights”, we chose to use PVC plastic on our cold frame.  Despite our mixed feelings about PVC, I’m always glad we made this choice whenever I see our husky take a flying leap on top of the cold frame when he’s feeling “defiant.”

Cold frame vegetables, (c) Copyright 2007 Jade Leone Blackwater

This year the cold frame is filled with the end-of-summer jalapeños, carrots, and a few stray onions, as well as fresh rows of oak leaf lettuce, mizuna mustard greens, and slow-bolt cilantro.  As we explore nutrition, food, cooking, and gardening at AppleJade, you’ll be seeing a lot of our cold frame – and its bounty.

Do you have questions about cold frames?  Contact me with your questions, comments, and ideas any time, and I will try to address them in future posts.