Well, I swung by the ol’ plot at the community garden this morning, and hung over the fence for a moment. (The gate is frozen solid into the ground, or I would have let myself in).
Yep, it’s still there. Yep, everything is still encrusted with a layer of snow – which, admittedly, has greatly receded with all the sunshine we’ve been having lately and is nothing like what everyone on the east coast of North America is currently experiencing. (I feel for you all! I hope things don’t get too horrible – stay safe and warm indoors if you can).
Even though spring seems tantalizingly within reach, our community garden group won’t do its annual spring clean up until the second week of May…really, the weather here isn’t usually co-operative before then. Indeed, in years past, the first spring work bee has been postponed a couple of times due to heavy snowfall. Last year, however, one of my garden plot neighbours was harvesting baby spinach and some lettuce at the end of May and the first week of June (right around the time many of us were still SOWING our first seeds). While we all stood around drooling and shielding our eyes from the awe-inspiring green-ness of the mouth-watering leaves, she let us in on her not-so-secret secret: she had seeded some of her crops while there was still snow on the ground. Of course, we started muttering with jealousy (“why didn’t I do that?”), but my neighbour has been growing this way in Calgary for years and she’s not the only one. As Niki Jabbour has been showing readers in her book, Year Round Vegetable Gardener, cold weather doesn’t have to matter. And while I can’t accomplish many of the feats she writes about (living in an apartment means constructing a cold frame is decidedly out of the question, wanhhhh), I am serious about charging forward on a few ideas this year. We can garden on the seasonal periphery!
I definitely want to direct-sow a bit earlier this year than I’ve done previously (not in March or April, though! There’s something about planting seeds while wearing a winter coat and a toque that disturbs me). But I’m also not going to wait until just the right “planting weather” comes around (whenever/whatever THAT is). I’m planning to build a small hoop tunnel in a similar style as my plot neighbour. You can see a bit of his design in the foreground of the photo. It’s a tried-and-true system and many of you have probably set up something of the sort in your own gardens. Some plastic sheeting will give the plants a leg up early in the season, and then I can switch over to a row cover, which should deter the inevitable flea beetle problem. My neighbour actually further employed his row cover as a hail guard last year, and it worked surprisingly well – I expected the hailstones to punch through the fabric but his set-up withstood all of our wicked storms last summer. While I was scooping up the shredded slaw-bits out of my plot, I’m sure he was (politely and sympathetically) tickled pink that he had built his tunnel.
I’m all for salad greens that are not pre-mulched!
Any tips or words of advice for me as I get ready to build my hoop tunnel? Are there any other advantages or disadvantages to this type of system that I’m not thinking of?
What do you do to extend the gardening season and/or keep the pests away?