Thinking about Cold Weather Gardening

Field of Frost
Field of Frost

In late September, the first killer frost arrived here in Bear River East. When I went out to the garden, the leaves on the tomato plants were black and the basil leaves were gone. It was kind of shocking, because even though the weather report had called for frost, I couldn’t believe that the third week of September would be the end! I had lots of green tomatoes left and made a note to self to start them sooner next year so that they can ripen earlier. I picked many of the green ones and placed them on newspapers in a window in the cool, south facing, unheated shed that is attached to the house. They ripened gradually and we just ate the last one a few days ago.  I wish I had a greenhouse to extend the growing season. I can imagine having a plant or two in a barrel and maybe eating home-grown tomatoes until the end of November.

Sunflowers

A greenhouse will definitely be on the list of “must haves” for our new location, but probably not for a year or two. Last week we visited Wild Rose Farm on hwy 1 between Digby and Weymouth. We dropped by for vegetables and we hoped to get a glimpse of Gilberte’s no-heat winter greenhouse. (Yes, that’s what I was told!)

Wild Rose Farm
Wild Rose Farm

This organic farm is operated by a very energetic woman and her family. Gilberte Doelle  provides the area with tasty, organic produce as well as teaches others her gardening philosophy. Time and time again Larry and I have encountered that most people here are more than happy to share their knowledge and skills just for the asking. I made it clear that I would like to extend our garden’s season some day, which in some parts of the country would have have been a conversation stopper. After all, if I manage to grow my own winter crops, I won’t be buying any at Wild Rose Farms. But the concept of competition doesn’t enter into the conversation. Rather the idea of helping others and sharing good tips seems to be the objective.

Gilberte's Winter Greenhouse
Gilberte’s Winter Greenhouse

Last year Gilberte was able to provide her family with spring-type greens for a large part of the winter and I wanted to find out how she does this. Well, an hour later we’d had a tour through all the greenhouses and she lent me the book  by Eliot Coleman that inspired her.

The Greenhouse was moist, warm and smelled like spring!
The Greenhouse was moist, warm and smelled like spring!

The big secret is to build a greenhouse-within-a-greenhouse. Gilberte uses singleply woven plastic over bent rebar. Building it low to the ground maximizes the heat effect. She hasn’t started her winter crops yet, she’s still too busy harvesting the green peppers and tomatoes and eggplants that looked amazing and plentiful.

A few days after visiting her inspiring farm, we awoke again to a combination of fog and frost.

Meanwhile today  I chopped the last of Gilberte’s parsley into my chowder soup. I glanced out the window to where my garden had been.

The Remains of the Garden
The Remains of the Garden

The sunflowers have bowed their heads and the fall rains are rolling in. I miss the garden, but the view is quite beautiful anyway, so I pulled out my watercolours and tried to capture the feeling of the land and the sky.

The Kitchen Counter doubling as a Studio
The Kitchen Counter doubling as a Studio

The moodiness of an October sky is a beautiful site. We are so lucky that we have such dramatic seasonal changes in this part of the world. So, while I dreamed of growing spinach outside in winter, I had a really great time interpreting the here and now in my garden.

After the Harvest
After the Harvest