If a Northerner, you must appreciate the brisk restorative nature of a crisp 20 degree winter morning as well as the comforting feeling of rolling out of your bed in the summer to a delightful 75 degree day with birds chirping in the background from an open window. OK, perhaps I am rationalizing, but regardless it is a good idea to get children out in the garden during all the seasons so they can see and feel how nature changes and how the environment is not as they imagine it should be.
In the past few months we have had a great success in the garden at Green Chimneys being able to harvest food until mid-December. Since then between the occasional snow and the constant cold, our harvest has been more mental than physical. But with the prospect of a warming weekend, we decided last Thursday to clean the snow off the hoop houses. We had to do this before and it was a big hit with the kids as they lifted hunks of snow, made snow angels and had a good time in addition to working hard.
My first charge, David, had done this before and he was up to go outside rather than to seed yet another flat. Thursday was an ideal winter day. It was sunny and windless with a temperature a little under 30 degrees. We attempted to open the padlock to the garden, but as it was frozen we had to enter through the handicap entrance that was recently built on the side of the garden.
The garden seemed quiet and lifeless as everything was covered with an undulating layer of smooth white snow that was marred only by the few animals that had scurried around the landscape leaving undistinguished footprints. Dried heads of dill as well as a few sunflowers were the only reminders of past crops.
When we opened up the shed, a white moth fluttered out not realizing that its prior home was a much better place to be. We retrieved a set of shovels and started to clear the snow off the hoops. The snow that had rested on the top of the hoops had started to melt from the heat and came off in icy clumps. But soon we were able to get all the snow off and wanted to see how well the lettuce and mustard greens were doing. Upon pulling off the tarp we were greeted by a rat.
It was as surprised as we were. The hoop house is not a bad place if you are a rat. This one contains left over greens, drips of water from the melting snow and a warmer dwelling than one would have under or in a log.
It scampered around looking for a place to hide, only finding hard ground or soft snow to tunnel through. It was scared.
“Let’s kill it!,” yelled David.
“With what?” I said, remembering the episode at my house when my wife said that if I had a gun I would have been able to shoot the rat that had taken up residence under our bed while we were on vacation. “We have shovels,” replied David.
“Let’s just let it alone because we could hurt it rather than kill it, which would be cruel,” I replied. I have never been a big hunter and the idea of flailing around in the snow with a shovel and a rat had all the makings of a comic disaster. We put back the fabric and started to clean off other hoops.
My next child, Charles, was interested in seeing how well the carrots were doing. As it was later in the day and the raised beds were warming, the greens were beginning to re-hydrate though the ground was still like a rock. In pulling off the Agribon fabric draped over the plastic hoops, I noticed a brown spider that was clinging to the underside of the cloth.
I thought it was dead but after a few minutes it started to twitch and move around. I felt bad that I woke it up as it will need to find another place to settle in for the winter.
As I was looking at the spider, Charles was trying to dig out a carrot. The ground was still very frozen even though the carrot tops and surrounding weeds were hydrating and greening up. They looked very alive and tempting. The carrots currently in the garden, if you can remove them, are very sweet. Storing them in the frozen soil causes their starch to be converted to sugar, thus making them increasingly sweeter as the season stretches on.
Charles knew this and was becoming very frustrated at not being able to get a carrot. I told Charles that he needed to be patient, but with any hope evaporating for success he soon was on the verge of tears. I needed to think of something fast.
“Charles, let’s look for a carrot at the edge of the garden. If the carrot is close enough to the boards, perhaps the sun has had the opportunity to melt some of the soil that is holding it into place.”
We were able to find such a carrot quickly and I was able to insert a trowel between the boards and the carrot. I wiggled it around a bit and then gave the carrot a tug. No good. I then pushed the trowel through the soil on the other side of the carrot and was able to loosen it enough so that Charles could pull it out.
“I got a carrot!” Charles was beside himself as his emotions altered from agony to ecstasy. He said that he was going to bring the carrot home so that his mother could make a healthy soup for the family. Even though he was tempted, he didn’t try to eat it.
There are still plenty of carrots in the garden that we can harvest once the weather breaks. I just hope the rat (and it’s buddies) doesn’t get to them first.