Winter Protection

Winter in Tennessee… yesterday was sunny, calm, and a comfortable high of 45 degrees. But the temperature has been dropping steadily since then, with a forecast of 1°F by midnight tonight, with possible flurries. BRRRRR.

In the fall, I dug up and potted some of my favorite and most tender perennials to ensure I'd have them for my garden when the weather warms again. In my south facing basement window are aloe vera, chocolate mint, lemon grass, bay leaf, and stevia. I have a small winter vegetable plot going at the front of my recently re-fortified vegetable garden, with patches of collards, spinach, leaf lettuce, onions, arugula, and some little seedlings of corn mache. The cold frame is planted with more spinach, and a bunch of swiss chard plants seeded next to the cold frame last year and have given me small harvests continuously.

All of these garden vegetables are described as "cold hardy," but single digit temperatures will be damaging or fatal even for these plants. To keep the low temperatures from ending my winter harvest, I went outdoors in yesterday afternoon's sunshine to protect the garden. First, I picked big bags of collards, spinach, and chard. I picked the tender young tips of pea pod plants which I know won't survive the cold - pea leaves are edible, delicate, and delicious. I rounded out my harvest of greens with big handfuls of wild chickweed, which seeds itself and grows profusely in winter, especially in the rich soil around my compost bin. Chickweed can be eaten in salads or cooked gently. It has a mild flavor which reminds me of corn on the cob. If you raise chickens, find some for them... I hear they love it.

Wild chickweed grows well all winter and it's delicious.
I wanted to insulate my veggies with layers, so I raked wheelbarrow loads of fallen leaves from the driveway drainage ditches (doubling the value of my labor) and packed them gently around the stems and over the tops of the plants. Our winter thus far has been mild and wet - proven by the 3 flowering daisies and 2" shoots of early spring daffodils which I spotted while raking. On top of the piles of leaves I spread big bedsheets (retired for garden use) and canvas tarps, anchored with rocks around all edges so the wind won't disturb the coverings. Not enough protection to keep Maggie Mae from disturbing it however; I had to go out and recover the patch of spinach today after she dragged the covering off and up the front stairs. Never a dull moment with an overgrown puppy! A fitted sheet was the perfect cover for the cold frame, which is buttoned down tightly.

We enjoyed a delicious dinner of sauteed greens with spaghetti, mixed with homemade basil pesto from the freezer, toasted sunflower seeds (my substitute for pinenuts, which I can't find a source for in the US) and parmesan. Tonight I'll be making collard leaves stuffed with mixed grains and veggies, topped with tomato sauce and cheddar. Hopefully, I'll uncover the garden after the cold snap to find happy greenery continuing to feed us fresh garden produce through spring.