Already Over Winter

by Ken Greene

Snow day! Snow day!

This morning, our dog Kale was transformed from an old dog of 12 to a young pup by 6 inches of fresh snow. He bounded through the white fluff with a big grin that said, "It's snowing let's play!" His namesake Dinokale, however, was feeling a bit differently. Its brittle leaves and sagging tops said, "I'm so over winter."

Although many of the plants from which we save seed are annuals and can be grown from seed to seed in one season, the biennials, like the kale, need two years to muster up the energy to flower and go to seed. That means as seed savers, we need to help our brassicas, roots, and parsley get through the winter. The creative process of getting plants that normally would not survive the cold on their own is called over wintering.

Dinokale covered in row cover before snow fall. Dinokale covered in row cover before snow fall.

Some gardeners a lucky enough to have a microclimate, such as near a warm building, where the tougher biennials, like kale, will survive winter with no help. This happened to the Seed Library accidentally one year with some brussels sprouts that survived in front of the Gardiner library building. The next spring, library patrons continually complemented the tall masses of yellow blooms wondering what exotic ornamental shrub had been planted.

For those of you who garden in a colder climate, row cover, plastic grow tunnels, and cold frames are some easy ways to protect your plants. Try putting a simple wood frame with an old storm window on top of your parsley and enjoy meeting one of our native pollinators next spring, the parsley fly. For the harsher winters, some plants, like carrots and kales, can be dug up, stored in buckets of sand in a basement or root cellar, and then replanted in the spring.

Row cover blown off during the storm. Row cover blown off during the storm.

Parsnip is one of the easiest plants to over winter. Just mulch the bed to insulate the ground a bit and next spring you'll be rewarded with five to six foot high plants covered in yellow flowering umbells.

So, although we may only be at the beginning of winter, get over it! Help a few of your biennials make it through and see what they do next spring.