We had snow in the Seattle area! We get snow here during the winter some years. Generally it is about an inch and our city can’t handle it well. We have had an unusual amount this winter (a whole week). Last week I woke up to the power out and 7 inches of snow on our deck. We typically don’t get that much snow. Eeek, I was worried about my poor garden. I will share the improvements I will make and the successes I had in handling the snow.
This last year is the first year I was organized enough to plant in October and November. I have onions, garlic, and snow peas growing. Everyone has different opinions about caring for them during the winter months in my area. Our climate is typically temperate during the winter with an average low temperature of 36 degrees F. I was cautious and I went for a little more protection for my plants as long as I didn’t have to water them (i.e., no cloches). Therefore, I used row cover for warming most of my plants. It is estimated row cover can warm up the soil about 10 degrees F on a sunny day. I additionally used mulch to keep the plants warmer and prevent nutrients from leaching from the soil with all of the rain we have.
With 7 inches of snow, some of my row cover was flattened and I couldn’t even tell plants existed.
Someone told me once to treat plants like people. When they are seedlings, care for them like babies. Check them often and make sure they always have their needs met. When they get a little larger, treat them like toddlers. As toddlers, they don’t need quite as much care. For some reason, that idea made me want to treat my plants a little nicer, rather than letting them grow and just seeing how they end up. Previously, I would have just waited for the weather to pass and see how they handle it. Now, I rushed out to clear the snow off of them and adjust things as needed.
Had the temperature outside been very cold, I may have left the blanket of snow on the plants to help keep them warmer. The snow may be warmer than the cool air. But it wasn’t that cold out, so clearing off the snow seemed to make sense.
What did I do?
As I mentioned, everyone give different advice regarding the use of a cloche, row cover, nothing, and/or mulch. I tried 5 different things:
- Planted snow peas with row cover
- Planted onion seeds with row cover and mulch
- Planted onion sets with row cover and mulch
- Planted garlic with row cover and mulch
- Planted garlic with mulch
Planted snow peas with row cover
This is my first time growing snow peas. I love peas and the idea of having some in the early spring sounds great to me. My snow peas are on my deck in planter boxes. The boxes are 1 ft x 1 ft, 1 ft x 2 ft, and 1 ft x 3 ft sizes. The peas that are close to the house stay warmer and are definitely the healthiest, but the peas that are farther and get the most sun are the tallest.
I use 9-gauge utility wire to hold up the row cover and attach the row cover to the wire with clothes pins stretching the cover tightly (see image below). I drilled holes into the planter beds to hold up the wires. My problem is, not all of the row cover could hold up the 7 inches of snow. I noticed, if the wires were close enough, it was fine. I likely won’t get to purchasing more wire and drilling more holes in my planter beds for this winter, but next year I will add wire every square foot. This appears to be the distance that held up the snow for my plants.
Overall, they look pretty healthy and I think with that one change, they will improve next year.
Planted onion seeds with row cover and mulch
I made a big mistake with this one. I planted my onion seeds in the beginning of October. They were growing great. I then read multiple places to add mulch to onions to keep them warm enough. I actually read to mulch 4-6 inches. I am sure that would have kept the plants nice and warm, but I didn’t have 4-6 inches of empty space on the top of my beds to fit the mulch. Additionally, I created my own mulch and didn’t have that much to use. I have read recommendations to use row cover on onions to keep them warm. I am sure that some people have success doing nothing, but I really wanted some onions this year and I felt it couldn’t hurt to keep them warmer.
My mistake was to use the mulch. Right after using the mulch, it smothered the seedlings and they died. A few of them were able to poke through and those couple may make it. For the most part, I consider this an unsuccessful attempt and won’t do this next year.
Planted onion sets with row cover and mulch
For this one, I definitely have an improvement to make, but I will have to wait to see if my mistake was too much for the onions to thrive. They don’t look the best, but they are still alive. The onion sets seemed to do great with the mulch. As soon as I planted the onion sets in the beginning of October they grew wonderfully. I mulched them, and it looked like they were handling it well. My problem is my row cover design. The picture below shows it didn’t hold up the snow and allow enough room for the onion growth. For next year, I will have to improve my design. I will likely use PVC pipe instead of the chicken wire.
Planted garlic with row cover and mulch
Right now, the garlic under the row cover and mulch is thriving. Even though it is under the same row cover as the onions, it isn’t as tall and therefore not as smashed. The row cover (with a better design) is definitely worth placing over the garlic.
Planted garlic with mulch
The garlic is growing without row cover also. I did add leaf mulch to warm it a bit. It isn’t thriving as well, but it is still growing. I find it interesting how the colors are so different between the garlic under the row cover and the garlic not. It may be hard to tell from the pictures but the garlic below has more red and a darker green even though the varieties are the same.
Last fall, I made my own 100% organic mulch. I shredded the leaves in my backyard. We have a lot of leaves and it provided enough for a good 3 inches (not compacted) on most of my beds. I placed it on my empty beds to prevent the rain from leaching away the nutrients in the soil. I learned the importance of waiting for a few dry days before shredding the leaves. Shredding wet leaves is so much more work, but it can be hard to find a few dry days in the fall. I was cautious to combine different varieties of leaves and not use leaves that would cause my soil PH balance to change.
Previously I have used only row cover and cover crops and I haven’t experienced what the mulch does to the garden beds long-term. I worry that it will leave larger bits of debris in the garden beds. I typically like to filter out large debris to create a nice fine soil before adding it to the beds.
My Row Cover
I often wonder what the temperatures really are under the row cover compared to without it. One day I plan to test it out. But for now, it made a difference for my garlic, so it must be working. Next year, I want to give onions and snow peas a try without the row cover to see the results.
- 10 minutes of cleaning off the snow and tightening up the row covers
What are your favorite vegetables to grow in the winter? How do you protect them, or do you need to? Please share about it in the comments!
[Image Credit: ©2017 Garden4Dinner]