Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Winter Breeds Thoughts of Spring

University of Victoria Campus Community Garden 25 Jan/14
It's raining here today--which is a good thing actually. We've been having a pretty mild winter this year, even while the rest of North America is experiencing winter.
I find it interesting that everyone is so shocked by the weather here in Canada. Honestly, it's just the weather we used to experience in the 60s and 70s. When I was growing up in Edmonton, there was a period of over thirty days where the temperature didn't rise above zero degrees Fahrenheit. My dad's  first year of owning a farm, the snow thrown up by the snowplows keeping the roads open was so high that you had to be careful not to touch the hydro lines when you climbed over them to look at the farm in winter. Now, we never saw that again afterwards, nor did we get the extended cold again. But When I went back to the farm, the first winter we made it to  -60 C.
This winter isn't the same as those, of course. This time it's the breakdown of the polar vortex brought on by the lack of sea ice on the Arctic Ocean that's bringing the cold air south. But here on Vancouver Island, we've been under the influence of a succession of high pressure systems that have meant a dryer than normal winter. So much so that there's some concern about reservoir levels. Every summer it surprises everyone when we have six to twelve consecutive weeks without rain--even though it's a pattern repeated every summer. Winter is when we get the metre or more of rain. But the weather gave us a break in mid-January. The rain stopped, the sun came out, and all of a sudden it was May.
It reminded me that this isn't Alberta, and that you can garden here all year long. Paula and I headed down to the garden and started preparing our space for another season. We've emptied one bed and sieved the soil, trying to get the invasive grasses out of it. Turns out I missed a half-dozen shallots in the covered bed last fall, and they've already sent out this years shoots.
The kale and cabbage have made it through the cold and dark times, with only minimal damage. And most of that is on the cabbage from slugs. Paula has plans for a teach-in in the new gazebo; how to propagate strawberries (ours are under the plastic).
Paula has since started some squash in transplant pots, and I've started peas: both Oregon Giant snow peas and Sugar Ann snap peas. We've grown both varieties before on the farm, and had great results. The Oregon Giants gave us snow peas bigger than my hand that were still flat and edible (you just needed a really big wok). The Sugar Ann's were our go-to variety that we introduced to market. We would grow snow, snap, and shelling peas, and the snap peas were our best seller--once people understood the whole "eat the shell" concept.
We would also grow three varieties of bush beans; green, yellow, and purple. I liked the purple, because when you blanched them for freezing, as soon as they turned green, they were ready to bag.At first the loss of colour when cooked was a disappointment, but they deep green they took on always looked good in a stir-fry, and they tasted great.
Potatoes were the same; yellow, red, and purple. The purples (Skerry Blue) kept their colour when cooked, and the kids ate a lot of lavender mashed potatoes. But the purples were a good all-round potato. Bake, boil, mash, in soup, and, we found out later, as fries, they performed well. We also loved the banana potatoes my brother grew. They appeared to be impossible to over-boil; keeping their texture even when the water had boiled away (by accident, of course!). Today I would plant Skerry Blues, banana, and Cranberry (a red-fleshed variety). All good potatoes, and all getting a good customer response.
But I don't currently plant for market, just to supplement our trips to the market. I'm not entirely thrilled by that, but there you go. But still, a sunny day will remind me that spring will come, that plants will grow, and that the planet will keep on turning--whether I'm there to man the machinery or not. Winter may be coming on Game of Thrones, but around here, Spring is Coming.

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