Gambling on a Winter Kitchen Garden

Growing a winter kitchen garden in our marine northwest climate is a gamble, but it’s one I’m willing to take because the odds are pretty good that the season’s days and nights will be temperate more often than they will be bitter cold. Still, I don’t want to risk losing when nature deals out temperatures in the low twenties or teens so I do what I can to beat the cold. I pile extra hay onto the already mulched beds of winter vegetables and cover it with lumber wrap*, weighting down the wrap at the edges with rocks.

I sound pretty confident, but actually each time I’m faced with serious cold I’m totally anxious, uncertain whether the extra hay mulch and the sheets of lumber wrap will work this time. Could I have added a little more mulch?  What if it gets really windy and the lumber wrap blows off despite all the rocks I’ve piled on the edges? Gambling is stressful.

But sometimes nature deals me snow along with cold. While lumber wrap and hay alone do work, a blanket of snow insulation on top of what I’ve already spread out really increases the odds in my favor.

For the past several days, I’ve looked out on the winter kitchen garden covered by this latest storm’s snow. The beds planted with winter vegetables reveal lumpy clues to what I’m betting is still alive.  Blanketed in snow, lumber wrap and hay, Brussels sprouts and kale still stand tall; turnips, rutabaga, beets, celery root and leeks rise unevenly; parsnips and carrots lie flat.  The cold frame and cloches are mostly snow covered, with just a bit of snow slipping from their peaks.

It’s tempting open the cold frame or to dig down through the snow, lift an edge of lumber wrap and get a reassuring glimpse of healthy green but until temperatures rise above the low twenties I’ll resist disturbing the snow blanket.  Instead, I’ll watch the thermometer and the forecast.  Temperatures edging up toward the high twenties will mean I can start harvesting again.  And temperatures above freezing mean this week’s snow could be gone in two or three more days.

This morning, the thermometer read 32 so I headed out to the garden.  The snow had gone from light and fluffy to heavy and wet. It took a while to remove enough of it that I could lift the wrap and free the plants.  They were a little beaten down from the weight of the snow but they were green and have already bounced back.  Once more, the gamble has been worth it.

* Lumber wrap is the woven plastic material that lumber companies use to wrap lumber for shipping and storage.  Over the years, I’ve saved lengths of it from various building projects.