Saturday, January 22, 2011

Brrrr, it be cold!!

     It wasn't supposed to be like this.  Joe Bastardi of Accuweather promised in late November that the worst of the winter would be over by the end of December.  Well December was indeed cold, but the garden survived, and we were on to the New Year with a mild winter in store.  Wrong!  Joe, what happened?  It is twelve degrees as I write this.  A new monster heating oil bill hit just yesterday.  With predicted lows of seven to nine degrees for the next couple of days, what would happen to the plants inside my single pane cold frames?

  So this is what the garden looked like on January 19th.  The little bit of snow was adding some nice insulation.  But by the 20th, uh oh,

    The snow has melted, and the veggies look great.  But the cold is coming!  So how do I insulate?  It is windy out at the park, I mean really windy.  I could put leaves on top of the cold frames, but would expect them to blow away.  I could cover the frames with row covers!  But that would violate my rule of keeping things CHEAP.   And the plastic might shred in the wind and blow away.  Come on, as the saying goes, "Think outside the box."  Eureka moment!  Not outside the box, why not think inside the box?  Leaves or insulation placed INSIDE the box would be protected from the wind!!!  I have never read of anyone else insulating inside the box, so will it work and can I patent the idea?

      Above is the original cold frame, the box in the upper right hand corner of the above photos.  The light colored leaves that look like little celery leaves are indeed celery seedlings from the seed spread from summer seed heads.  And the little bitty fern like leaves that look like carrot tops?  Yep, baby carrots from all of those beautiful seed heads I encouraged to grow last summer.  The ones that look like Queen Anne's Lace.  So I am anxiously waiting to see how these volunteers will develop this spring.  All of the plants in this box are volunteers transplanted or naturalized from mother plants in other areas of the garden.  Too small to point out are the baby water cress plants that sprung up even after that long brutal stretch of last summer.  Ah, did I say summer.  I would love to be hot, humid, and sweaty right now.  For at least a few minutes.

    So I opened the box cold frame in the top corner and put two used (courtesy of a neighbor's leaf donation from the fall) clear plastic bags over the little plants we just looked at in the picture of the open box.  In the picture above, you can see the reflection of the bags now in the box.  So a layer of plastic under the glass to help that frame.
    Now for the fun part.  I took off all the panels from the middle frame, then unrolled sixteen feet of plastic sheeting (a donation of a roll of bags that never had the proper seals between bags).  The five mile an hour cold wind that was hardly noticeable to me, was highly noticeable to the plastic.  It was instant flag and kite day at the park!  I would secure one end, scurry to the other, and by that time have a sixteen foot streamer!  Time and time again.  Really a little embarrassing.  Totally frustrating.  So in the end, that idea had to be abandoned.  Luckily I had another five used plastic bags that fit the job quite nicely, and  a large frame was done.
     By this time, the whole endeavor was feeling a lot like work, and it dawned on me that the forecast was for two to four inches of snow that night, BEFORE the predicted cold weather.  Duh.  Dummy.   Mother nature was going to insulate for me if I had the patience to wait.
     Well guess what?  Joe, the weatherman was wrong again.  We got less than an inch of snow, and it wasn't going to do the job against seven degrees.  So, what to do?  I was not willing to chance losing my little veggies, so it was back to the park.  Now 28 degrees, and a brisk twenty mile an hour wind.  Took my trusty pitch fork inherited from my grand father, and borrowed an overturned garden cart left by a fair weather gardener from better climes.  Figured I was not likely going to meet them at their plot on such a lovely gardening day.  So with my pants flapping and my teeth chattering, I hauled five carts full of straw from the communal compost pile.  Lifted the glass panels and tucked straw underneath.  But then the thought of having to pull all that straw back out to get to the veggies overwhelmed me.  And made it easy to conclude that the third bed should be covered with the straw.  After all, the pile I just forked had not blown away.

    So if you go to the park today, you will not see the plants above that you could have seen yesterday.  Instead, I hope that my little veggies are safely tucked away.  Some now with an extra layer of plastic below the glass, and some with straw either above or below the glass.  A fitting experiment to see which, if any, might keep old man winter from claiming the spoils.
    Now I may have a week or two away from the park before the worst of the winter hopefully is done.  Time to relax?  Nope, time to get all of the cold weather crops seeded indoors before their debut in the spring.
    Garden on,  George


  1. Hi, George
    A fellow tinkerer. Must be in our blood : )
    The acid test is coming. I heard it will go down to 8 degrees in the days ahead. Brrrrrrrrrrr!

  2. Great thinking George. The veggies are looking good! Can't wait to see how the experiment shapes up