I walked over the Community Garden today to see how my plot survived the fierce Montana winter under it's row cover blanket. What was underneath?
Surprise! Greens! Alive and growing. Beedy's Camden Kale, Winterbor Kale, Olympia Spinach, Giant Winter Spinach, Tango Lettuce, Winter Marvel Lettuce, Krausa Parsley, and Rocket Arugula.
I had started these plants as seeds back in late September and they grew about an inch high before a foot of snow fell in late October. I chose these varieties because they are supposed to be cold-hardy. Theoretically, if cold-hardy greens grow big enough before winter starts and you keep them under a low hoop tunnel, you can harvest greens all winter long. Well, this didn't quite happen in my garden. The many feet of snow collapsed my row cover tunnel and buried the garden alive. There was so much snow and ice that I couldn't even lift the cover. Bozeman had fluctuating temperatures this winter; one week the temps would be steadily -20F at night and not above 0F during the day, and the next week the nightly lows would be about 0F with day highs up to 40F. There were about 5 cycles like this. The snow didn't melt off the garden until a few weeks ago and we're still getting occasional snow storms.
I'm entirely shocked that these greens survived the winter. I thought that since my quick hoops collapsed and that the temperatures were so low, all of the greens would have died. What a wonderful Spring surprise! I'll probably be harvesting fresh greens in a few weeks, after we get some sunny days and the plants grow a little bigger.
Interestingly, the Bloomsdale Spinach that I started in September and covered with six inches of straw and leaves, was not alive when I uncovered it today. Another theory is that you can start spinach in the fall, cover it with mulch to insulate it during the winter, then uncover the mulch to find spinach growing in the Spring. I'm not sure if this method failed because the straw smothered the spinach or if Bloomsdale is not the right variety for this over-wintering method.
The other thing that I did at the garden today was snatch the pile of rabbit droppings that I'd been eying all winter and sprinkle it in my garden. There is a rabbit family that lives at the Community Garden and one rabbit had a spot this winter where it liked to sit and nibble on a dead sunflower stalk. It obviously sat in that spot quite a bit because it left a big pile. Rabbit feces is kinda neat: unlike other animal feces, it comes out of the rabbit completely composted and can be added straight to your garden.
P.S. I saw a gopher at the Community Garden today and it is living under the old house. Rabbits are one thing, but a gopher is bad news!