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Pull Up a Chair: Tote That Barge, Shovel That Snow

11:00 am EST, Thursday: Air temperature, 55° F. The sun is shining; the sky is blue, the snow is filthy and I think it might just be moving toward spring. Aunt Toby is in Upstate New York. Do I wait for the sun to do all of its work, melt the snow, warm up the ground and then maybe I can plant some cool weather stuff?

NO. We take things (or actually, a shovel) in hand here at Chez Siberia. What’s sitting on those garden beds at the moment is 7 inches of a combination of frozen snow, sleet, rain, ice, dirt, and goodness only knows what else. Today’s lesson: Never Underestimate The Power of the Sun.

I could wait for the sun to do its work, but up here in the Great White Whatever, we could still get snow and cold weather between now and the end of April and Aunt Toby craves that ‘dirty under the nails/seeds in the ground’ experience. Since I need that dirt to be 50 degrees F. or better, there is only one way I know of to get it when we have snow on the ground.

That’s right: Get the snow off the garden beds so that the sun can do its work. Now, with the air temps nice and high that day, some of that snow would melt. But for all the dirtiness, the snow is white. It is reflective, so the sun can not work as efficiently at the ground level as I want, so I have to ‘open the window’ so to speak for the sun by shoveling off the snow. Which is what I did to a patch here so that you can see just how effective the sun can be.

The soil underneath that frozen snow is not exactly frozen – I left a couple of footprints in it. And the temperature? 34.9 degrees F. Under the snow. So something has been happening already under that 7” of frozen guck (that’s a technical term).

In the third photo, you can see the temperature much more clearly. And four hours later, at 3 p.m., which is about as warm as it got on Thursday (Friday it got even warmer), the soil temperature got to…..39 degrees F. OK, so it’s not instant karma. But 4+ degrees increase in soil temperature over 4 hours is pretty darned good. Now, the air temperature gave us a hand here, that is for sure. In January, we can have extremely sunny days – and it can still be 0 degrees F out there. So, it is not just the sun. But on the other hand, by shoveling off that reflective surface, I enabled the sun to hit the dark soil and warm that up. By that afternoon, all of the snow that I left in this picture here, was completely gone. By the end of this month, with a little bit of cleverness, I’ll be able to raise the temperature in that bed to 50 degrees F and will be therefore able to put in seeds for greens, lettuce, beets, chard, and anything from the cabbage family. Yes, I will be growing them under plastic or old windows or those funky pieces of glass from our old greenhouse that we saved, but we’ll have greens to eat before May and a great jump on the spring garden.

Now, having said this, I see from the weather folks that next week, it’s going to get cold again. So why bother at this point?

Well, you have to harness the sun whenever you can – the shoveling only took me a little bit of time and effort and like many things in life, the earlier you are prepared, the better able you are to take advantage. And by warming up the soil over the next couple of days, even if the air temps go down into the 30s and we have a bit of snow (which is what is predicted), the soil will not cool down that much and because it is warm, the snow will melt off. So taking advantage of the sun like this now will pay dividends even next week when the weather will not be as good.

I know there have been economists out there who have done all the ‘break even analysis’ and what not about whether or not home gardening ‘pays’. Frankly, I couldn’t care less and the reason is this: I really do like to have control over what goes into the mouths of my family. Yes, our local farmers’ market is getting very much better at getting local growers to get involved in ‘high tunnels’ and getting veggies out there for consumers earlier and earlier (I remember when the earliest we could have a farmers’ market was in June – now they get started AND have veggies in early May and it’s not all climate change). But gardening is a big part of our ‘entertainment’ here at Chez Siberia so we put in a good bit of work so that we can get the most enjoyment out of it. And that means getting out into the soil as early as humanly possible.

So. For those of you in Zones 6 through 8, who are still thinking, “I really SHOULD do something about a garden this year but I think it’s already too late,” my message is this: If you have never done a garden before, and are not too sure about what to do, then go to your local nursery (don’t go to the big box home/garden center), ask for recommendations on tomatoes and pepper plants, get a couple of big planters or grow bags, buy two or three tomatoes with cages and a half a dozen pepper plants and put them on your deck. Keep them watered, and when you have tomatoes and peppers ripened up, go out on the deck with a drink, a plate and a knife and cut yourself a little slice of heaven and start planning and digging to create your garden (nothing too big – one 3 foot by 10 foot bed is a great way to start and won’t get away from you). Put in the work this year and this fall, set up a compost pile and put all your leaves and veggie trimmings and egg shells into it and then early next spring (when YOUR soil is 50 degrees), then you can put seeds in the ground. For those of you who had a garden last year but have not gotten out yet – grab your forks, compost and the soil thermometer (you’ve got one, right? I consider a soil thermometer one of the most useful garden tools that there is) and get going.

For those of us who are still looking at frosts (that’s Zones 5 and below at this point), the message is this: If you had a garden last year and it’s still covered with snow, go ahead: shovel off part of the garden in the sunniest part of the area and get that baby warmed up. Find some old windows or storm doors, or heavy clear plastic and some timbers or if you want to go all out – aluminum conduit that you can bend into a hoop. Warm that soil up and I bet by April, it will be 50 degrees F in there which is plenty warm enough for early spring crops.

Worth the effort.

Anyone else got some ‘get the jump on spring’ tips?

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Snarky housewife from Upstate New York. Into gardening, fiber arts, smallholder farming.