Not to boast, but this past winter I regularly harvested chard and parsley from my garden. It was great to have fresh greens, even in the bleakest days of January! And looking out the window right now, I see my neighbor bending over his thriving bed of over-wintered mustard greens.
Now I've found additional companionship in a brand new book called "Cool Season Gardener," written by Northwest gardening expert Bill Thorness.
This comprehensive guide has a remarkably sunny disposition, considering that its aim is to goad readers into extending their vegetable gardening into the coldest, dampest, darkest months of the year.
Thorness begins with practical advice on understanding your microclimate, siting your garden and ensuring soil fertility. I found his chapter on composting and soil chemistry to be more understandable than the wonkier discussions I've seen in other gardening books.
In one chapter, titled "Expanding Your Seasonal Perception," he cheerfully explains how he has re-conceptualized the calendar. "I am a modern American who is used to more of everything and four [seasons] just does not seem like enough," he explains.
He describes his "seven seasons of veggies" - the first sowing can take place right now - and he provides a guide that suggests which seeds should be started indoors, which can be sown right into the ground, and which might be planted outside provided they're given some extra protection at first.
Thorness is big on "season extenders" and he has lots to say about raised beds, cold frames, cloches, floating row covers and more. There are plenty of sketches and photos to illustrate his ideas, and an appendix at the back of the book sets out step-by-step instructions and an explicit list of materials for several do-it-yourself projects that will enhance your success as a cool season gardener.
Thorness also provides good advice on succession planting - I will take to heart his rotation mantra of "leaf, root, legume, fruit."
But when it comes to pest control, I am a live-and-let-live gardener, opting for deterrence over death every time. Consequently, the author's draconian advice regarding slugs and snails fell on deaf ears in my household. I will continue to escort my gastropod friends to the wild corner of my garden - I'm of the firm opinion that every garden should allow space for a wildlife sanctuary.
Overall, however, I applaud this book's emphasis on sustainability and organic solutions, and Thorness's down-to-earth pointers surely will turn your thumb the loveliest shade of green. You'll understand why it's good practice to blow gently on your seedlings every day (they appreciate the carbon dioxide - isn't that delightful?) and you'll learn how to chit, scarify or leach seeds for faster germination.
The act of organic edible gardening, from the work of preparing the soil and planting, all the way through to harvesting your own delicious, nutritious food, is a productive and beneficial pastime. The techniques described in "Cool Season Gardener" will assist you in enjoying this activity all the more. Start planning for planting now!
Barbara Lloyd McMichael writes a weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org