A snowfall of close to 10 centimetres last Thursday was an incredible shock to the system. Friday morning the vegetables in local gardens were bent under a heavy load of wet snow. Many of these vegetables such as leeks and kale will bounce right back – they can be harvested right up until the ground is frozen solid.
A Friday visit to the Hoop House project that I have been involved with for a couple of years revealed a very different story. Inside the Hoop House there were many rows of flourishing vegetables with no snow to be seen. And incredibly planting was continuing with beds of radishes and spinach being sown.
What is a Hoop House? It is basically an unheated greenhouse – a tunnel made of polyethylene usually semi-circular, square or elongated in shape. The interior heats up as incoming solar radiation from the sun warms plants, soil, and other things inside the building faster than heat can escape the structure.
I have had the privilege of being part of a group of 18 enthusiastic gardeners (some experienced, some novice) over the past two years as we learned about the potential to prolong our gardening season and expand our gardening knowledge. This opportunity was created through the generosity of the owners of the Hoop House who determined it was no longer required for their use. Our Hoop House creates 1500 square feet of ‘indoor’ gardening space.
The garden has been operated as a collaborative garden – no gardener has an individual allotment. Most of the work gets done in a weekly Friday morning work party. Short meetings are generally a part of the work party as is coffee and a chance to socialize. A couple of half-day planning sessions and pot-lucks have helped to solidify a team with shared goals. The organization is the antithesis of a hierarchical structure and has evolved with little conflict as members have assumed roles over the year.
One of the most important goals is to share food with the community. More than half of the produce, a thousand pounds, has been donated to the Lanark County Food Bank. A second goal is to advance our own gardening knowledge. This has been accomplished in spades as experienced gardeners share their knowledge and we all learn about the tremendous potential in extending our gardening season. A third goal is to document what we are doing so that we can share our experience and knowledge with others. This we are starting to do.
One of the major revelations for me was that the Hoop House quickly cools down over the night until the inside temperatures are the same as the outside temperatures. The rapid build-up of heat on sunny days means that plants will benefit and grow faster but the reality is that without over-night heat in the Hoop House we are limited to plants that can tolerate cold temperatures. A big part of our learning experience is finding out which vegetables are appropriate for the early spring and late fall seasons. This year we were able to plant in mid-March and we expect to be harvesting until the end of December. In mid-March we had planted vegetables such as spinach, lettuce, radishes and endive. By early April the radishes and spinach were off and running. Over the summer we grew tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, peppers and eggplant. So what is growing now? Again it is many of the usual suspects such as turnips, Bok choi, spinach, kale, beets and endive.
Claytonia made a slow start but is probably the most cold-hardy vegetable grown. Claytonia perfoliata is a rosette-forming plant, growing to a maximum of 40 cm in height, but mature plants can be as small as 1 cm. The common name miner’s lettuce refers to its use by California Gold Rush miners who ate it to get their vitamin C to prevent scurvy. Most commonly it is eaten raw in salads, but it is not quite as delicate as other lettuce. Sometimes it is boiled like spinach which it resembles in taste.
Build a Mountain
A reminder that Build a Mountain comes to Patrice’s Independent in Almonte on Saturday November 12 from 9am to 4pm with all donations of food and cash going directly to our local Food Bank. This is a huge event for local Food Banks as shelves and bank accounts have become depleted over the summer.
Again this year, the Town and Country Chrysler Build a Mountain of Food Campaign will take place in 11 local towns and villages in support of local food banks. The communities include Almonte, Carleton Place, Perth, Lanark, Smiths Falls, Westport, Elgin, Portland, Merrickville, Athens, and Delta. Over its nine year history Build a Mountain has collected over 550,000 pounds of food and over $260,000.
A number of food blitz days are scheduled at area grocery store locations to help ‘Build a Mountain of Food’. Town and Country Chrysler will be on hand with Dodge Grand Caravans, and along with participating media partners, will be asking people to help Ram the Vans with food to help support our local food banks. All food and money collected in the community stays in the community.
Great news on the gardening front! Circle the date of Saturday February 11, 2017 on your gardening calendar! Local entrepreneur Johvi Leeck of Beyond the Garden Gate has announced that Seedy Saturday will return for a second year to Almonte’s Civitan Club.
The inaugural year of 2016 was a tremendous success and Johvi plans to build on that success. And of course all of our local gardening groups will be well represented – the Neighbourhood Tomato, Almonte District Horticultural Society and the Lanark County Master Gardeners are all enthusiastic supporters of Seedy Saturday.
Winter appears to be getting an early start this year and by February 11, local gardeners will be more than ready to get out and talk gardening!