Introducing: The Garden

Deep in the Sky Garden

“I don’t know how you can live in that climate” –More than one friend

This climate is a cold one. We’ve had temperatures as low as -38C, cold that pushes its way into the house no matter how we try to keep it out. The snowpack can linger for as long as six months. It’s Zone 3, which counts as one of the “shameful” gardening zones. We are not ashamed, actually. We truly like it here. Our winters are beautiful, all our seasons are.

There are benefits to growing a garden in the far north. For one, all those YouTube videos that give bad gardening advice obviously don’t apply to us, so there’s no chance of getting misled by those shams. We find little guidance in videos or books or from some well-meaning friends on how to grow a garden in this climate, and that’s a good thing. We have to figure it out for ourselves. We are idiosyncratic.

The Alder Garden

The last snow patches usually melt from Edgewood in the first week of May, and the first, at least non-lingering snows can come in September. The frost-free period can be just 3 months. We live topographically in a cold-air drainage. After the day’s thermal uplift ends at sunset, dense, cold alpine air is no longer kept up in the mountains. It flows down over us and pools about. Even after a hot day, the nights are always chilly. It’s good summer weather for sleeping, but not good for growing melons or eggplants.

The growing season is short here, and intense. While gardeners in lazier climates can linger on their tasks unhurriedly, we have to get it all done very hurriedly, all tasks condensed into few weeks no matter how tired we feel. The weeds must not win. The wilder parts of the land must not be highly flammable. The harvests must be brought in. It is utterly exhausting. But the winter months give us a hibernator’s rest.

And yet…

Our climate is changing fast. In all the recent growing seasons, previous smashing records have been smashed by new records again (we topped 160 frost-free days in 2023), and in that year, we had no frost in May, which had never happened before. Heat waves were the norm in the summers of 2021, 2022, and 2023. What will 2024 bring? So far in our current winter, we’ve bottomed out at only -28C (briefly), which puts us in a warm version of Zone 4. In June 2021, we recorded an impossible +42.7C. Where is this going? Where is this taking us?

In the Gift Garden

Our gardens must work as hard as we do. We rely on the vegetable and grain beds to keep our grocery costs low and to feed us with good quality nutrition. Our crops keep us healthy enough to work hard at growing more crops. We and the garden are in it together.

We experiment with crops, a lot. In the garden blogs, I’ll report on findings that will build on what we’ve discovered so far: foxtail millet is an easy crop, but prone to marauding birds; for early harvests, corn can be sowed in pots in a greenhouse if you let the root-wad density increase until the soil is sufficiently tightly bound to allow gentle planting-out into the garden in May; upland rice will grow here, but (due to the chilly nights or periodically too-dry soil?) most of the florets have so far been empty; teff is the easiest grain to process–no dehulling needed, and we can get three harvests from each plant per year, but the yields are low; jalapeno-type peppers are the best to grow outdoors in a chilly climate, they produce more outside than in the greenhouse…and so forth. We grow a lot of variety in the edible gardens, and what we learn we share with others who live in cold climates in exchange for what they learn.

The upper vegetable garden

Edgewood Garden is a galaxy of biodiversity. Some of it is native, some of it is fostered as garden plants, and some of it is unwanted non-native pestilence (weeds, spider mites, mealy bugs). There is much in the garden that is grown for taxonomic study: native dandelions that have no scientific name, sedges and grasses that are best studied comparatively side-by-side in the living state, seasonally dimorphic Artemisias, and North American and Eurasian species of stemless poppies. Overall, we have in Edgewood’s gardens over 1300 permanently cultivated perennial and woody plants growing for ornamental and scientific purpose. And the gardens are busy night & day with pollinators, songbirds, toads, rodents, spiders, salamanders, and bugs of all sorts.

We may be living in one of the unsophisticated garden zones, but it’s good enough for us. And good enough for an astonishing array of beings, surprising and intentional, who live in our garden. And good enough for a lot of stories. Walks in the garden with a camera never have me coming back to the house empty, or bored. The garden blogs are an invitation to join us on those walks.

In the Gift Garden

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