The garden that lived


I had high hopes for my fall and winter garden. Last summer I surrounded myself with books telling me how to extend the season and eat fresh through the year. I was ready to wrap my whole yard in greenhouse plastic and eat kale quiche all winter long. Alas, dear readers, it was not to be. In September I started feeling super run-down. Around October I started feeling downright woozy. By Thanksgiving I had figured out that I was (and am!) pregnant. Between wrangling three children and gestating a fourth, gardening, even the easy indoor stuff like sprouting, took the back burner.

But it doesn't take much for a gardener to spring back to life. A little sunshine and a bit of inspiration were all I needed. Last Saturday - a glorious, if cold, March day - I attended a discussion on urban farming, organized by the local Slow Foods group. During the talk, someone asked when the speaker planned to start his greens. His reply? They were already growing! He had a greenhouse, and he had lettuce growing away in there, under an upturned aquarium. His wife and co-gardener added that if it's warm enough for weeds to grow, it's warm enough to plant spinach.

Well. That was all it took. Yesterday, when the sun was out, I braved the remaining snow in the back yard and cracked open my neglected cold frame. You know what was in it? Dandelions. Growing. And grass, also growing, and a somewhat floppy but clearly still alive calendula. The top surface of the soil was a little frosty, and the soil around one edge was frozen pretty solid, but after a little bit of stabbing with my trowel, I had nice, loose soil that I could pick most of the weeds out of.

Lest you think my cold frame is some kind of fancy-pants set-up, here's a picture. It's ugly.

Pretty shabby, hey? The body of the cold frame is an old wooden dresser we got from Freecycle, and which, after a couple years of use, was in bad shape. My husband took out all the drawers and supports, and laid the whole thing on its back, then cut it down at an angle so it would make the most of the sunlight. The windows are from Power's Salvage in St. John's, and the hinges are either from Power's, or were in our basement when we bought the house. We have it facing south-west, so it gets sunlight through most of the day. It's great.

This is what the soil inside looks like:

It's not exactly warm, but it's definitely not frozen. There aren't any ice crystals, even. So I did what any sensible gardener would do: I planted some seeds. Nothing fussy, just some spinach, arugula, and radicchio. All three of those are cold-hardy greens, and they germinate at relatively low temperatures. They are also last year's seeds (I think the radicchio is from two years ago), so the germination rate might not be great, but I'll take what I can get. I wouldn't risk putting any delicate plants in the cold frame this early (the peppers, squash, eggplants, and tomatoes will have to wait), but for sturdy greens, it should be just fine.

Today, even more of the snow has melted from my yard, so I decided to have a poke around and see what plants survived the winter. It's pretty amazing. I have lavender, sage, and thyme still green under the snow, and loads of vegetables growing as if winter had never happened!

It felt so good to be able to scratch, sniff, and nibble my way through the yard, in the sunshine. I know better than to trust that spring might already be here - it is, of course, only March, and our average last frost date in St. John's isn't until June 2. Still, a sneak peek at what is waiting for me once the rest of the snow melts is pretty exciting.

Did anything survive the winter in your garden?