Larry Hodgson has published thousands of articles and 65 books over the course of his career, in both French and English. His son, Mathieu, has made it his mission to make his father’s writings available to the public. This text was originally published in Le soleil on November 19, 1988.
Now that it has snowed once or twice and the soil is frozen in the early morning, there’s no doubt that the gardening season is over. Or is it? Not necessarily, because it isn’t too late to do some last-minute work.
Bulbs in the Snow
For example, hardy bulbs can still be planted at this time of year. Admittedly, the choice is very limited this late in the season, but at least stores sell them at a discount. Narcissus and hyacinth don’t like such late planting, but there is no problem planting about tulips. I’ve even seen people plant them during a January thaw. They bloomed perfectly well in the spring, though their bloom was delayed by a few days.
If planting late, it is doubly important to plant the bulbs deep enough. 25 cm isn’t too much under these circumstances. After planting, the soil should be covered with a thick layer of mulch. This last point is essential, because we want to prevent the newly turned soil from moving during freezes and thaws and thus causing damage to the bulbs.
Did you know that parsnips, carrots, beets, Jerusalem artichokes and leeks can be harvested well into December and even throughout the winter? In fact, all of these vegetables are cold resistant enough and, on top of that, cold improves their taste. Anyone who has never tasted a parsnip that has spent all winter in the ground really doesn’t know this vegetable at its best! However, to do so, they must be well protected now if they are to be harvested later.
Cover these vegetables with a thick layer of mulch (12 inches or 30 cm of fir branches, straw, or dead leaves) to prevent the soil from freezing deep. Later, when you need to, pack down the mulch, dig up the vegetables and cover the soil immediately to protect the other vegetables from the cold. When the snow falls, it’s best to pack it down in order to have access to the mulch, which doesn’t freeze and remains easy to move. Leeks are less cold resistant and should be covered with 30 cm of soil before mulching.
One important note: all vegetables (except Jerusalem artichokes) are biennial. It’s essential to finish harvesting them as soon as snow melts in spring. Otherwise the vegetables will quickly go to seed and lose their taste. And even though Jerusalem artichokes are perennials, they too become unattractive if not harvested early in the spring. Their tubers, usually so sweet and juicy, disappear. All that remains, at least until the following fall, is its unappetizing foliage!
The bark of fruit trees is sweet and attracts field mice and other hungry rodents during the winter, even in cities. They gain access to the trunk through the tunnels they dig under the snow, so it’s not until spring, when the melting snow reveals the ravaged bark, that the damage is noticed. The tree may even be so damaged that it does not survive the summer.
Fortunately, it is easy to protect bark from rodents. I simply wrap a piece of chicken wire around the trunk, keeping at least a 1/2 inch (1 cm) between the mesh and the bark. The height of the wire mesh will necessarily depend on the amount of snowfall that is common in your area. Three feet of wire may be sufficient in some cases, while 5 feet is not too much in others.
Commercial “tree protectors” can also be used for this purpose. These are rolls that spiral open and are placed around the trunk. In addition to protecting trees from rodents, they help prevent “sunburn” (damage to the bark caused by cooling down too quickly after a bright day) and from the ravages of snow blowers and shovels.