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.


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

7 thoughts on “Thinking about Cold Weather Gardening

  1. Thank you Sherrie!
    There is nothing as special as watching a sprouted seed grow into a tall bean pole and actually provide supper! Right now I am reading the seed catalogues and looking at gorgeous gardening books and dreaming!
    What would we do without our dreams!

  2. Hello, love your website and will be checking back to read of your experiences with your home and gardens. I am glad you left behind the city, we moved from Dartmouth/Halifax to live in Digby when my husband got sick, a quiet simple life for us and our daughter. Although we are still living in town in Digby we hope to move out to the countryside and become self sufficient in the garden dept. We believe in the lifestyle, it is our dream someday.
    great site !

  3. Hi Flora. Enjoyed your reports. Don Rice told me where to find it. I live in Prince Edward County ON, and have my house up for sale so I can move to NS Hopefully very soon. Anyway, have you ever heard of pyramids to grow your veggies in? There is a chap down at Klamath Fall, Oregon, who has designed one. Half of it is in the ground, the other half sticks out above, so you can get into it, and grow your veggies. Klamath Falls gets pretty cold in winter, and he maintains that you do not have to heat it at all. He uses some fancy plastic sheets, that are used in the spaces huttle, and which are available in Canada. If you are interested I’ll find him on the Internet for you. I have one of his blue prints if I only knew where – you know what it is like getting ready to move. Anyway let me know. By the way I am a potter, and retired art historian, and it sounds like Bear River is the place to live.

  4. Barbara, Bruce and Jill……Amazingly enough, we haven’t had snow here yet, but Toronto and the UK have! How weird is that??
    Today it was pretty windy and there are practically no leaves left on the trees. Barbara, I was shocked to see green leaves on the trees in your blog.
    All in all, we are fortunate to have such varying seasons, aren’t we. Barbara, your constantly updated paintings on your blog are so inspiring. Today I ordered some large drawing paper and chunky charcoal and spray fixative.
    As for warm…..I’ve been wearing my cotton long underwear since September!! lol.

  5. Beautiful! The early days of winter are seeping through to all of us now and the views that can be captured during these times are absolutely stunning! You may have heard about the freak snowstorm Britain had last week?! We can’t wait to witness our first Bear River snowfall 🙂

    As for your ploughing episode last week – Wow!! that’s some mean strip of ground you’ve turfed up there, girl!

    Keep the snapshots coming and keep warm!! xx

  6. Wow Flora,

    I had the same feeling when I walked out
    yesterday and saw that my lovely Nasturtiums have died. Nooooo! But we had snow here this
    week, so why was I surprised. Your photos are
    beautiful and the painting is great.

    Take care,
    and bundle up,


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