Wednesday, January 5, 2011

My Green Thumb - Tales of a West Coast Gardener - Winter 2010

This article is now published in the Barkley Sound Community Journal - The West Island Quarterly.
Sunshine is delicious,
Rain is refreshing,
Wind braces us up,
Snow is exhilarating;
There is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather."
John Ruskin (English poet 1819-1900)

     Winter along the West Coast is always an interesting time for those of us with ‘green thumbs’. We spend quite a bit of time pouring over our libraries, digging out those seed catalogues & staring out the windows in search of a bit of sunshine. I’ve come to realize that I’m a ‘fair weather’ gardener. Unlike a few people in town, I’d rather not suit up in rubber during these months to get my fix of dirt under the nails—clingy wet rubber, water dripping down the back of the neck & off the nose & soggy, mud-caked gloves just aren’t my ideas of ‘garden fun’.
     Part of the whole planning process for gardening is trying to predict what Mother Nature will throw our way. I play this game every year & this past year I failed quite splendidly when we got hit with frost on May 1st. The beans & peonies just couldn’t recover.
     From what I have been able to find during my research, the West Coast is labeled as Zone 7—meaning we have approximately 225-230 growing days with the last frost in late March & the first frost in early November. The average for low winter temperatures is –20 to –12 degrees. I actually don’t record any of this data (other than frost) but find that we are more like Zone 8 (fewer growing days, but much warmer low winter temperature of only –6 to –12 degrees). Either way—the frost dates are important to know if you want to plant early in your veggie beds or get playing in the greenhouse.
     I’ve also searched out weather predictions for the coming year & this winter the predictions have been for colder temperatures & more snow (specifically very cold mid-January through mid-February & a good dumping of snow for late February). I wonder if that means we’ll have lots of sunshine in January & February like we have in the last few years?
     This means you will want to put some protection around your prize rosemary plants (but not touching the plant) & put your over-wintering containers in a sheltered area so they don’t freeze, dry out or crack.
     Looking ahead to spring, we will once again experience cooler & drier than normal weather—except for June, which will be wet. Don’t plant things too early (such as beans, which need warm soil to germinate) but do set up water collection barrels for when the rains come again; it looks like the summer will be dry again. 
     Check out the precipitation & temperature graph from The Old Farmer’s Almanac (long-range weather forecast for Southern British Columbia).
     Just a thought about water collection containers—whether you are using totes or large plastic barrels, make sure you have some sort of screen or cover available to keep out insects (mosquitoes) & leaf litter & cover it up once it is full to help prevent algae from growing or evaporation of the precious water. A fun way to integrate your barrels into your garden-scape would be to put stakes in the ground around the barrel & install netting to allow sweet peas, snow or snap peas or even runner beans to grow up & around the barrels. There is easy access to water & the barrel will absorb solar heat that will then warm the ground up longer into the evening, providing lush early growth (of peas).
Early Spring Check List:

õ Start feeding indoor plants with 1/2 strength fertilizer in March. 
õ Give your perennials outside a quick-start growth stimulant such as a blend of bone, blood & kelp meal or alfalfa pellets in March.
õ Start seeds for annuals, tomatoes & peppers indoors (start tomatoes on Valentine’s day on top of  fridge).
õ Clean up yard of winter debris.
õ Set out irrigation hoses before the perennials & ground covers start growing—inspect first & patch or replace any leaky hoses.
õ Install plant supports such as peony rings, sweet pea netting and wire supports for berry canes.
õ Plant cool weather crops such as sweet peas, onions, cabbage, radish & leeks in late February to mid-March, under a row cover to protect them from too much rain.
õ As long as the lawn isn’t too soggy, dethatch with a rake for improved lawn health & use debris as moisture retaining mulch under shrubs, hedges & berry plants.
õ Start weeding the flower & vegetable beds!
õ If you neglected to winterize your garden tools, now is the perfect time to clean, sharpen & oil up blades on pruners, loppers, lawn mowers & even shovels.
õ Watch for crocus to start blooming the 1st of February—the yellow ones are usually the first ones out.

1 comment:

Sheryl at Providence Acres Farm said...

We are under a few feet of snow here right now but I do like to plan ahead to the next spring!