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

We Bought a Time Machine

We thought we bought an old house but in actual fact we may have bought a time machine!

We’ve been drawing up floor plans and spending a lot of time walking through the house and getting familiar with the flow of the rooms and the quality of light coming in the windows.

When we officially got the keys, we wondered if we would find any treasures in the house. There were some tins of nails in the ancient garage and a few cigar boxes in the attic.

There were mason jars in the basement and a few dishes in the kitchen cupboard.

There were a few discarded pieces of furniture but nothing really spectacular. But in the meantime, we must have walked past this large wooden console quite a few times.

When we lifted the lid we discovered it to be a record player and radio. We plugged it in and pressed all the buttons. It didn’t seem to work. Then we got the flashlight and read what the buttons said and pushed the ‘on’ one and they all lit up. Suddenly we heard a crackling, static sound, like the radio was trying to work.

Then a song burst forth and the lyrics went like this:


We’re here for a good time
Not a long time
So have a good time
The sun can’t shine everyday.

The music and the lyrics got us dancing in the empty living room and it was as though the message came from the house itself. You see, the house is 144 years old. The previous owner lived in the house for 75 years! She moved there as a young bride in 1933. Becaue we are already in our late 50’s, we will be lucky if we get to spend the next 25 years here. Not a long time, but for a good time.

When the song was over, the radio played music from the 70’s and it really felt like we were in a twilight zone episode.

Later that night I looked up information about the stereo console on the internet and discovered a story about Clairtone, a Canadian company that created cool, modern, teak hi-fi systems that were really ahead of their time. They were made in Toronto, but in the end moved operations to Nova Scotia, where they went bust in the 70’s. Recently there was an exhibition devoted to their company at the design exchange in Toronto.

The following day we brought over some LP’s. Before we moved here from the city, I tried to force Larry to get rid of them all. He sold some at a gigantic garage sale we had last year, but thankfully, quite a few made the trip down here and am I ever glad!! So now we are listening to LPs that we haven’t heard for about 20 years and that too is like stepping into the time machine. It’s amazing how music brings back memories of past life and how different a song can sound now compared to when you first heard it.

So, the stereo has been a major find for us that represents the 60’s and 70’s.

This house predates indoor plumbing and although all of that was installed, there is still an indoor/outdoor privy in the attached garage.
It empties into a container that can be removed from the outside via a discrete door. Let me tell you, it is off limits to any and all in this century, but I’m thinking it must have been quite luxurious to have in the winter in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Almost as interesting as the privy are the 2 abandoned, framed portraits in it.

One is of Lord Roberts, Earl of Kandahar. He was a career army-guy who grew up in India and who participated in many wars that expanded the British Empire. He died while visiting the battlefield in 1914. His hey-day was the end of the 1800’s when this house was young. The other portrait is of a woman with a tiara and I don’t recognize her, but I think it may be Queen Victoria’s daughter Beatrice. She lived from 1857-1944.

Because of the subjects, I think that these portraits belonged to a previous owner; to someone who lived here before the first world war. The fact that the former owner had relegated them to the privy tells me they were already here when she arrived in 1933.

I found an ebook on the internet written by Lord Roberts about growing up in India. There were no mechanized vehicles then so he gets around on a galloping horse. No phones, no radios, no TV, no internet, no GPS, not even socialism had been invented.

Those portraits are a reference to the 1880’s or 1890’s.

Today I was upstairs in a bedroom and the newspaper lining one of the drawers in a 40’s mass-produced dresser was dated 1959.

The article that caught my eye was about an Art Show of American artists that had traveled to an exhibition in the Soviet Union that vice-president Richard Nixon was going to attend. A scandal was brewing in the US because it was the height of the cold war and the un-American activities committee was hunting communists. The newspaper quote says:

Representative Francis Walter (Democrat, Pennsylvania) un-American activities committee chairman states that a routine check of his committees files showed 34 of the 67 artists whose works were selected for the exhibit have records of “affiliation with Communist fronts and causes”. Walter now says his committee will hold hearings on his charges. “The paintings and sculpture do not portray the country’s true culture.”

I couldn’t find any reference to this committee threat in online references to the exhibition. I even came across a 47 page thesis that suggested the exhibit was American cultural propaganda aimed at converting the Soviets to ‘our way of life’….but not one mention of the un-American activities committee. Did the author even know about the controversy?

The rest of the newspaper celebrated Liverpool Nova Scotia’s bi-centenial and made a point of talking about its growth and prosperity. There were lots of ads from dress shops and Irving Oil and restaurants.

This part of the time machine showed me a time of prosperity in Nova Scotia and a time of fear and paranoia in the US.

All in all, it’s been quite the time trip, which takes me right back to the first song our hi-fi called up:

We’re here for a good time
Not a long time
So have a good time
The sun can’t shine everyday.