This weekend (after receiving five inches of snow in Santa Fe over the last couple days) I rolled up the plastic covering on our south facing, elevated cold frame. This allowed the melting snow from the roof to run onto the winter-established greens and the harvesting of more of the hearty lettuces, spinach and arugula for a couple of welcome meals with amazing taste and nutrition.
As I’ve said before, my favorite time to garden in Santa Fe is in the winter. We are about to be arriving at the bonus time for this first crop of the year! There will most certainly be numerous fresh salads, herbs and other vegetables for the picking that were mostly planted from seed in November. As the days have been getting longer, the plants that mostly sat there freezing and thawing for a month or two have begun to grow into very satisfying sustenance. Even so, things progress slower in the winter (leaving more time to curl up with a book – my favorite this year is Michael Pollan’s Cooked).
Interspersed throughout the 4’ X 22’ unheated cold frame are at least eight different lettuces, spinach, three kales, bok choy, tatsoi, edible-tendril peas, chard, cilantro, dill, parsley, arugula, cauliflower, mizuna and mache lettuce or corn salad greens.
Come April 15th, this same garden bed (after removing a significant amount of soil for a basis in pots, and then feeding with rich compost) will become the home for growing tomatoes and basil over the summer. Before fully removing the plastic cover and frame for the summer, I will be able to start these tender warm season plants to get an in-the-ground start to the season. With this type of intensive gardening, one needs to add nutrition rich amendments in the form of compost repeatedly throughout the year. In September before frosts happen, I will reinstall the cover to extend tomato ripening into the fall, before again starting the winter greens by November – I’ve worked this out over the course of thirty-five years of gardening in the same spot!
My main point is that one can actually garden in the winter in Santa Fe [requiring only a bit more preparation and patience], and that the payoff is big in the very early spring – in fact, before spring! Join me to dispel the misconception that freezing actually kills all plants [tomatoes yes!] and plant a winter garden next year.
If you have not started seeds, Agua Fria Nursery will have a good variety of early season greens, peas and such ready to stick in the ground as soon as you have a spot ready. Add a little protection early on and you’ll have your own most nutritious greens by late March or early April!