Winter Gardening in Michigan

cold frames winter

With my mitten-encased fingers, I pry the layer of ice off the Plexiglass windows covering my cold frames. John built these ten foot by three foot wooden boxes using the design from Eliot Coleman’s books The Four Season Harvest. Every September, we haul them out of the barn and position them on plots closest to the garden gate. I plant them with varieties of greens and winter lettuce that withstand freezing temperatures. On this sunny, forty-degree day that feels more like March than January, I tip back the windows and inhale the sweet scent of humus and chlorophyll, a gardener’s perfume.

During the long lake-enhanced growing season here in Michigan, I take the fragrance for granted. On a warm September afternoon when the air is thick with the scent of ripe grapes and late blooming roses, I may pause to revel to appreciate those odors, but for most of the summer, my senses are saturated. And watering house plants is no substitute for a morning spent in a lush garden. I long for the smell of compost.

Within the cold frames, rows of Winter Density lettuce and Tat Soi-Savoy gleam against the dark earth. A few kale seedlings fur the soil. I thin the plants, adding them to my salad greens. The wind is calm and the sun warms my back. Casting aside my coat and scarf, I hunker down and weed.

In July, when endless rows of beans and Swiss chard wait for me, weeding is a chore. But January weeding offers respite from the dry air of my wood-heated home. I toss chickweed into a bucket, an offering for my flock of hens. Overhead, chick-a-dees, tufted titmice and goldfinches zip back and forth from the bird feeders locate near our house. In one corner of the cold frame, a clump of violas grow, tiny buds waiting for longer spring days.

A few minutes pass of work and the rows are tidy.  I replace the windows, making sure not to leave any cracks where cold could seep down to the plants. All seasons are precious in my garden, but few moments are as peaceful and satisfying as picking greens amid snow and winter sun.

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