Green over white

Jan. 3, 2017

By Richard Burke

Finding green on a white, wintery day is difficult, especially if you’re a passionate gardener who can’t wait for spring.

At the end of last season, which was really just over a month ago given the remarkable November we had here, we had already started a list of things to improve the garden next year. Topping the list was a resolution not to travel mid-September to Thanksgiving, while the harvest was just taking off. Leaving the bounty for someone else to enjoy has its benefits, certainly for them. Sharing is a good thing. But there is the risk of frost trashing it all, since the average frost date here is Sept. 18. And besides, why plant it if you’re just going to desert it?

Despite the negligence, we did manage to process a good part of a bumper tomato crop, so part of prolonging the garden is to enjoy canned tomatoes and salsa most of the winter. Pitted and frozen Evans cherries – which make excellent wine, to say nothing of pies and muffins – and frozen apple slices can also help recall a bountiful season and beat the January blues.

But still, it’s difficult to look outside and see white for four or five months, even though Chinooks occasionally bare the ground. So, thinking ahead to figure out improvements to next season’s garden can be productive. Can’t recall a year in the last 15 or more when we haven’t created a new bed for flowers or vegetables, or added a new shrub or three, or tried out new perennials.

This year, we’ll  be armed with the awareness that Lethbridge has been reclassified to 4B from 3 as a hardiness zone. We had heard about this last year, from Karen at Green Haven. According to Natural Resources Canada, new plant hardiness data compiled over a 50-year period show climate change has “signalled an increase in the productivity and diversity of plants that can be grown in Canada.” The zone changes were updated on the Natural Resources Canada website Dec. 20, 2016.

Climatic variables, “including minimum winter temperatures, length of the frost-free period, summer rainfall, maximum temperatures, snow cover, January rainfall and maximum wind speed” are used to determine a plant’s chance of survival, or hardiness.

Good to know.

Also to help in your planning for the coming season, the Lethbridge and District Horticultural Society, at its regular monthly meeting Jan. 23, will hold its annual book exchange, at which you can swap books on gardening that will help you increase your knowledge of horticulture and plan for the next season.

At the February meeting, the society organizes a seed swap, a good chance to try something new that has worked here for others.

If none of that gets you thinking green instead white, you can hover over the Christmas cactus in the front porch that started blooming late, or the orchid buds. Or look forward a month, when you can plant lettuce and spinach seeds in the greenhouse. Or ahead a little further to the anticipated first blossoms of the crocus, hepatica and new helleborus sometime in March.

And, you could always consider shovelling snow as a tune-up for shovelling soil.

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