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  • Jackie Skrypnek

A Trick or Two

Updated: Mar 8, 2019

Summer has come and gone in Alberta and as you may have heard (or experienced yourself!) we actually endured several weeks of winter before autumn arrived. Yes, we were plunged abruptly from August's heat into what felt like a punishing deep freeze in September, our gardens meeting an untimely death.

Our raised bed on September 16th

Our growing season in the foothills is short indeed and it's easy to despair that it was all for naught when it ends before you can reap what you've sown. You soon realize you need a few tricks to help you outwit the climate, to confer an advantage on your vulnerable veggies. Two such tricks are season extension and choice of plants.

This spring, my husband and I finally made use of some plexiglass we'd salvaged for this purpose and built a cold frame. A cold frame is no more complex than a box with a higher back than front and translucent material (glass, poly film, acrylic...) forming an angled lid. It sits overtop a patch of garden creating a temporary and portable greenhouse of sorts, a warm and sheltered climate for the plants beneath. In early spring, placed on a section of our raised bed, ours heated up the soil and allowed me to plant onions, greens, and pea shoots sooner than I could in the open garden. Now, at the end of October, the cold frame is keeping a patch of kale alive and well despite our frosty nights. Hoop houses are a similar tool - again, like little temporary greenhouses, but made by stretching clear plastic over an arced frame.

Our cold frame, currently sheltering a crop of kale

Another "trick" for gardening in any climate is to select crops that will actually thrive. A no-brainer, for sure, but this one has taken a long time to sink in for me! While I'm scurrying around in the dark with blankets and tarps for zucchini, beans, and tomatoes, other crops are enduring days of snow and frost without flinching. Yes, I'll keep growing little squash and popcorn plants for the thrill of it, but those hardy characters like arugula, radicchio, celeriac, chard, thyme, mint, sage, chives, and rosemary have earned themselves a prominent place in the soil. The hardy characters will vary from climate to climate, but it's just a matter of observing for a season or two and you'll find them (there they'll be, shrugging like it's no big deal while plants around them with more delicate dispositions proceed to wilt, wither, and freeze).

Arugula and radicchio, still very much alive outside, October 25th

It's an adventure, it is, but for all it's challenges we'll be back at it again in the spring. And a trick or two up our sleeves certainly won't hurt!

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