I did not want to wait for spring to roll around again to wander, sleepy and naked (or nearly so—I usually wear a brimmed hat), out to the garden and grab a fistful of kale. It’s a good morning ritual because I can usually trade a few fresh leaves to my chickens in exchange for eggs. Even the broodiest leaves her nest if I lure her with a dose of chlorophyll. And a couple of poached eggs atop some wilted kale is what I call breakfast.
So in order to keep growing a modest supply of vegetables through the winter, I built two cold frames and a hoop house. The cold frames are simple boxes, a lot like container gardens, but with old windows salvaged from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore (2414 Cerrillos Road, 505-473-1114) that close over the tops to keep things warm while allowing the sun’s rays to penetrate. The hoop house is an arc of PVC conduit, covered in heavy-duty plastic with simple frame end walls.
Once these two projects were stocked with beets, onions, lettuce, spinach, carrots, parsnips, turnips, māche, chard, radishes and other goodies—even as snow became a regular guest in the garden—I started a modest greenhouse project that is now home to all my seed starts and fantasies about lounging in the orangery.
A few hardy plants, such as garlic, leeks and onions, overwintered with only some mounded straw to add insulation. Despite being frozen solid for a couple of months, these plants are now as perky as college students on break.
The cold frames and hoop house have performed equally well. When everyone around you is complaining about never-ending winter, it’s a special kind of gleeful weird to be concerned that your spinach is getting too hot or to walk into a humid, 75-degree hoop house and sit among huge, thriving plants while breathing in the summery scent of moist soil. It’s fun to know that, as your neighbors scrape ice from their windshields, you can casually pull and eat a fresh carrot while wearing nothing but a hat.
Then, of course, the gopher showed up. The hoop house sits in the middle of the garden, which has a modest fence around it. Less modest is the underground fence, designed to keep burrowing little bastards from tearing up my food before it has a chance to grow. But somehow, some enterprising, subterranean savage wizened up and decided to live large in my hoop house in the middle of winter.
Not to be outdone, an army of aphids decided that if that gopher wasn’t taking winter off, neither were they. All the ladybugs, predictably, are in Mexico or somewhere else when you really need them. Create a year-round garden, it turns out, and you’re not fooling anyone, least of all the legion of pests that have realized your property is bathed in perpetual mana.
Gary the Gopher Guy, the legendary trapper of all things cute, fuzzy and intensely maddening, is likewise nowhere to be found in the winter. For that matter, he’s nowhere to be found in the spring. Legend has it he’s so busy he just doesn’t answer his phone anymore. I’ve got half a mind to leave a dead gopher on his doorstep—except that I can’t catch one.
Any day now the ground squirrels are going to quit dicking around with the Xbox or whatever it is that keeps them occupied in their burrows all winter, and they’re going to join the party. I’ve tried to shoot them with my pellet gun, but they live in The Matrix. Time slows down and they do little squirrel backflips while the pellets pass right past them.
I’ll do anything to protect my garden—anything—except use poisons and pesticides. So I wander around with a handful of traps, soapy sprays, neem oil concoctions and pellet guns in desperate war with the animal kingdom.
Otherwise, I’d have to share.
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