Just like children, the main desire for plants is simply to grow.
And if conditions are right, they will grow, whether we want them to or not. In most cases, we do and this is how I felt about my little greenhouse raised bed garden that I had so much success with last year.
It was late last spring that I asked my husband to build me a small raised bed along one wall inside our little, backyard greenhouse.
The greenhouse, constructed from a kit a few years ago, is heated, but we seldom turn it on. There really is no need because if you plan it right, you can grow vegetables through most of the season, even in winter, inside an unheated structure, as long as you have the proper cover.
I've mentioned before that when you cover a garden bed with plastic or even something as porous as floating row cover, you can stretch the growing season a couple weeks and up to a month. And when you add a second cover, you can stretch the season even longer.
Less than two weeks ago, in my little raised bed, I planted two varieties of radish and spinach, as well as beets and lettuce. It was an experiment, of sorts, to see how long it would take the seeds to germinate with no heat while temperatures still dipped below freezing every night and boots were required just to get to the greenhouse door.
On sunny days, the roof vent on top of the greenhouse opens, indicating the inside is starting to heat up. The heat generated during the day is often enough to keep the inside from freezing at night. By morning, the temperature has dipped, but then the sun comes out and it all begins again.
Last week, I put new batteries in the electronic sensor that sends temperature readings to a thermometer that sits on our kitchen windowsill. From the kitchen, we can tell what the temperature is inside the greenhouse as well as what the highs and lows were within a 24 hour period.
Over top of the seedbed inside the greenhouse, I placed the shade cloth we used on the greenhouse roof last summer. It kept the sun from beating down on the houseplants I moved out there for the season, But now it is acting like a thermal blanket. I knew once the seeds germinated and sent their first leaves (cotyledons) above the soil, the blanket would have to be removed. I don't know what the temperature is beneath the blanket. The thermometer sensor won't send a reading under there.
A day or so ago, my husband, who shares the duties of removing the cover every morning and putting it back on every evening, told me he noticed some things starting to emerge. This morning, I went out to the greenhouse to remove the blanket and was delighted to see that every row I planted less than two weeks ago was filled with little plant seedlings. I saw the red tinge of beet greens, the frilly leaves of loose leaf lettuce, the wrinkled beginnings of savoy spinach and the odd-shaped new leaves of radishes. Everything was growing.
According to the weather report, the temperature last night dropped to 41 degrees, not freezing, but still cold by my standards. According to the thermometer, the lowest temperature inside the greenhouse was 53 degrees. Under the blanket, it was probably at least five degrees warmer than that. All my little seedlings were comfortable and warm.
There is still a pretty good chance we'll get more snow, but that doesn't worry me. My little plants are of the cool-weather variety anyway and the head start they have will keep them going.
The point to this story is that anyone can do it. You don't have to have a greenhouse. A simple cold frame, built as a raised bed directly on the ground and covered with old windows will hold enough heat during the day to grow cool weather crops even when snow still covers the ground. Put another cover beneath the windows, a plastic or thermal blanket of some sort over the rows where you've sewn your seeds, and you can start even sooner.
The sun can heat through plastic or glass so much during the day that with an adequate overnight cover you can keep those plants warm and cozy enough to thrive. You can be making salads and adding fresh, homegrown greens to your soups well before your neighbors have even tilled their soil.
I'm already planning my experiment for next year. One of my favorite things is to plant spinach in August. Even unprotected in the garden, it will sleep through the winter and wake up early enough in spring to be the first vegetable to harvest, even before asparagus. This year, I'm going to put some of those seeds in the greenhouse garden. I'm thinking I might just get enough for a salad next February.