Peony 'Sarah Bernhardt'

Peony 'Sarah Bernhardt'

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Winter Garden Update--Mid January 2009

Dear Readers,

As you may remember from an October 2008 posting I was doing some autumn/winter veggie gardening experimentation in my backyard. And, boy did I get the most extreme winter storm to test my experiment to the maximum! Holy moly! The week around Christmas brought an arctic blast like none I've experienced in almost 9 years as an Oregonian. It was even worse than the infamous January 2004 ice/snow storm.

The week before the storm the weather reports predicted very cold temperatures below freezing with snow and ice. With that much warning we were very busy at the nursery "battening down the hatches." And on my day off prior to the storm it was a lovely and sunny day about 40 degrees with no wind. A perfect day to winter-proof my garden. First I watered well everything. Plants have a much better chance of surviving cold spells if they are well watered. This is especially important when the below-freezing winds whip through. I mulched with shredded bark all my perennial beds and my raspberry bed. I gathered together all my containers that have herbs, perennials, blueberries and strawberries and wrapped them in burlap. I harvested all of my carrots, radishes, jerusalem artichokes, and most of my lettuce and left out a few mature heads as an experiment. I mulched with compost my veggie beds and covered them each with a frost blanket. This was in an attempt to protect them from the low temperatures expected. I was not concerned about snow, because snow is an insulator for your plants and I knew my brassicas are tolerant of some snow. I took down my windchimes and emptied the ceramic bird baths. I huddled together the newly planted containers of bulbs on my porch.

I was going into the storm with a lot of veggies still in the ground. It seemed risky but I was as prepared as I could be. First we were hit with temperatures below freezing and some snow. Then the temps dropped into the teens and one night the windchill was 3 degrees. My goodness. And I was working outside at the nursery during the first week of the storm. Thank God I had the sense to go to GI Joes and invest in some lined double front carhart work pants! Long johns & ski socks became my best friend. Well the 2nd week dumped inch after inch of snow and I thought it would never stop. Two days into the storm I went out to measure it was 13 inches in my backyard. One day later it was 20 inches. I could not believe it. Day by day I watched my entire yard including my raised beds completely disappear under snow. I believe this is when frost blankets officially stop working-when they are covered in over a foot of snow! Every day I went out and re-filled my bird feeders and worried over my veggie garden I could no longer see.

A week later once we thawed out I was able to remove the frost blankets and access the damage. I lost 18 pea plants, 10 edible fava bean plants, 3 savoy cabbages, 6 cauliflower, 6 giant red mustard greens, several lettuces, 6 broccoli raab, 4 purple sprouting broccoli. It was almost my entire winter and early spring produce harvest. Dang, it was a mess. A thawed black slimy oozing yucky mess. It's so disappointing to have lost so much. But, it's a good reality check & lesson to learn if I want to be a successful professional farmer. But, there is some good news--there were several snow storm troopers. Cilantro by far did the most exceptional. You'd never know it had been through a 2 foot snow storm. It looks awesome. It did so well in fact that I've been telling my co-workers that I'm going to become a Cilantro Farmer! While my favorite Giant Red Mustard Greens turned to slime, the Green Wave Mustards look amazing. All 6 of my Red Ace Cabbage came through intact ready for spring production. Both Wild Garden Mix Kale and Nero Di Toscana Kale look scrawny, but they will survive. And I've got 3 savoy cabbages with small heads that look like they will make it for harvest in another month or two. My cover crop fava and crimson clover looked wilted and awful following the storm and now they've bounced back and look great! So that concludes my winter veggie garden experiment.

The daffodils in my yard are beginning to bloom, the paperwhites & amaryllis on my windowsill are blooming, and the small fruit selection has arrived at the nursery...that means spring is on it's way. Yeah yeah, I know in another 2 months, don't burst my bubble! Fingers crossed we don't get another big storm in Portland this winter. I promise to get some winter recipes on here this week. For now, check out all the winter recipes in the 2008 blog archive. Stay warm and thanks for reading!

In Health,
Miss Jolie Ann

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