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Sunday, July 12, 2009

To plant as we wish

A couple of storms have brewed up and walked through here, snapping and popping. I saw them coming, and dropped everything and ran to toss all the fava bean vines, which are not done drying, into the potting shed, and brought in the braids of elephant garlic and brooms of peppermint as well.

I had picked some basil and laid it out on a screen in the potting shed, under the greenhouse window, but that did not need to be moved.

I put a Bach cantata on the forty-year-old turntable and stripped the mint into a cardboard box. It still felt a bit leathery, after three weeks of drying, so I covered it with a sheet of newspaper and set it behind the woodstove to air out a little longer before putting it up in cookie tins.

Before all this happened, I was working on the frame for the new grow-house. This will, if all goes well, be a walk-in solar greenhouse ten feet by thirty, and seven feet tall in the middle. The frame is six hoops made of ten-foot one-inch polytubing pieces butted together, jutting from holes driven by the post driving tool and an iron bar.

This would not be enough hoops, but I'm tying them all together with the ubiquitous seventeen-gauge wire, anchored to iron t-posts at the ends. It seems fairly sturdy, given that we usually don't get too much snow in the winter. Projected cost for the whole thing will be well under a hundred dollars.

The building is placed over a thirty-foot run of two beds, with a pathway between them, in the garden -- the same ones that had the fava beans in them this spring. There's nothing there now but straw mulch, with here and there a squash vine or eggplant, and one of the ornamental poppies that were such a bright orange in May, but look supremely bedraggled at present.

One of these beds will be Beloved's, and the other, mine, to plant as we wish for wintering over. We don't plan to heat this greenhouse; it's for keeping things from freezing that are relatively winter hardy, such as bok choi, celery, kale, lettuce, beets, chard, onions and the like. With any luck we'll plant before the middle of August.

We may also use it for season extending for some summer vegetables, and as a hot house for melons, with which we've had the usual failures experienced by many gardeners here in the maritime Northwest -- depends on available time and energy on out part.

In doing this we're following the advice of Maine farmer Eliot Coleman, who in Four Season Harvest explains that he doesn't much care for food preservation, especially canning, and was motivated to explore ways of running a kitchen garden for fresh vegetables straight through the winter.

One would think that Maine is too far north for such a system, but, as Mr. Coleman explains, day length is the determining factor for vegetable growth, and wind, rather than frost, is the principal enemy of tender plants. He lives on the 44th parallel, as do we, and the 44th parallel runs through France (!), where winter gardening has long been a productive and tasteful art in the potager, as well as on truck farms.

We've had beets and such every winter, but this last year, lost a lot of plants -- notably chard, spinach, bok choi and celery -- to a night that went down to 12 degrees F. So we aim to plant while the days are long enough for the young things to put on growth, then shield them from wind and the worst effects of deep freezing in the next Long Dark, and see how we do.


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