of blizzards and baby greens

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If I tilt my head just right, I can get the sideways blown snow to pour into the gap above my scarf and melt against my neck. A chilly rivulet runs into the hollow above my collarbone. I spent countless hours as a kid trudging through heavy snows and odd as it seems, I feel at home amid the smell of snow, the feel of it against skin, even the flavor of a good blizzard

I've been out three times already this morning to knock the heavy spring fall off my greenhouse roof. It's coming down hard and I need to prevent a collapse. I'll head back out again as soon as I finish writing this.

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This spring marks the third season for the modest greenhouse we erected. At the time, the dog thought it was a doghouse. I suspect he has never completely disabused himself of that notion, as he follows me inside every time I visit and seems vaguely perturbed to find the shelves and floor space crowded with trays and plants in various stages of growth.

On the Front Range of Colorado, we've had a warm, dry winter. Disturbingly warm and dry. So there's reason to be cheerful after two snowstorms in the last five days have brought welcome moisture to the region. Even so, there's a strong sense among fellow gardeners that warm temperatures will arrive early this spring, which has led me to push my seed starting ahead a couple weeks. I use a redundant pattern—I start small quantities of all seeds on a weekly or bi-weekly schedule so that if predictions of early spring are correct, I'll have things ready; if frost wipes out the first line of transplants, I can follow with the next wave, and the next if necessary, assuring the earliest garden start possible. A combination of an indoor light table and a greenhouse facilitates this approach.

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This year, I'm experimenting with a system for growing baby salad greens, one I've seen in several different places. I visited my local hardware store and purchased two ten-foot lengths of vinyl gutter, along with eight end-caps. Cheap, cheap. I cut the gutters in half, drilled a few drainage holes in the base of each, and end-capped all the sections. Et voila! Four mobile, five-foot long, shallow troughs for planting lettuce and spinach.

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I like to dream, but even more, I like to seize an appropriately sized dream by the scruff and wrestle it down into the real. In this case, I dream of tender, delicious baby greens on my plate early this year, maybe even by the end of March when there are still falling snowflakes and killing night frosts. If my experiment goes well, I might just live that dream. I'll be able to harvest baby greens easily and keep the plants producing for a long time. When the greenhouse gets too warm, I can carry these trays to shady places in the garden, extending the yield.

Subsequently, I'll plant a regular salad garden in the soil of my outdoor beds as soon as it seems reasonable to do so. Typically, that can be done in mid-March, providing a second blast of salad greens and radishes into and through April-May. A third wave is also possible if I can use these troughs for a late season planting that can be moved to the greenhouse after the fall frosts, giving me yet more greens into Nov-Dec.

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The greenhouse is, as noted, a modest affair, and not insulated. However, I've found that an inexpensive space heater can keep the temperature as high as 60 degrees through a cold night. The thermometer read 32 degrees this morning as the snow flew; I trekked down to the local hardware store (yes, a bracing mile-long walk—wonderful in the snow!) and got a new unit to replace the one that died last year. Within a few minutes of plugging it in, the temperature began to rise.

Cold weather crops like a chill, so for now I'll keep things a bit cool at night and let  daytime sun run temps up to 80 degrees, as was the case yesterday and will be the case again soon. It's never snowy for long here on the Front Range. I expect good daytime sun and heat to return within days.

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Kokopelli has his work cut out for him today. He's the mythic flute player of southwestern Native Americans whose music chases away winter and ushers in spring. There he is now, piping his tune as the wind blows the snow into drifts around him. It may seem like a lot to expect of this spirit but you know, I've never known him to fail.