By Diane Stockhouse, WSU Master Gardener
As I write this article, the wind is blowing and there is a threat of snow. Winter has a tight rein over Wahkiakum County this early spring, for sure! Rob and I try to take a daily walk, a 2 mile stroll, really, on Puget Island. It's a really pleasant place to walk; we are outraged if we see more than 5 cars. And most of those cars are driven by people we know so we wave and smile and sometimes have a chat. As we walk we can see the subtle changes occurring as the daylight lengthens and warmer weather approaches. We see the horses in the field, the little lambs frolicking, and the weeping willow that is already leafing out. Not to mention the dangling winter coats blowing off the rams and the neighbors geese loudly squawking as they keep our grass mowed and pair up for the mating season.
Meanwhile, my greenhouse is full of trays of seedlings, keeping warm on their heat mats and growing as if it were summer. The hoop houses are beginning to fill up with starts. Direct seeding will soon come.
When there is shelter to protect from the cold wind and rain, this is a perfect time to get peas in the ground as well as greens for salad and the sauté pan. As added protection, I cover the plants with a filmy floating row cover, just to ensure the tender leaves won't get too cold.
Providing a simple hoop house for your early vegetables is an excellent way to get a jump on the gardening season and it increases the ability to grow well into winter. There are many different plans for hoop houses on the Internet, some as simple as a few pvc pipe hoops with clear UV-treated plastic clipped on. Secure clips, mind you as you don't want the plastic to blow off on the first breezy day! Or you can be much more elaborate. Rob built our first little hoop houses from a car port frame, cast-off windows and plastic. Tall enough for me to stand up in down the center and enough space for 160 row feet of planting space! It provides plenty of space for a family season-extending garden and would fit in to most back yards.
We welcome visitors to our farm and would love to show you our hoop houses to get your creative juices going. Or, when you spy a hoop house in someone's yard, stop in to take a look-see. Chances are, the owners would love to show you what they have. Or check out the various options on the internet. I Googled 'hoop house plans' and found a plethora of ideas. Be sure to check out the WSU web site. I've heard good things about its ability to withstand the winds we can experience here. http://clark.wsu.edu/volunteer/mg/gm_tips/hoophouses.html
There are plenty of ideas to dream about and plan for during the last of the winter days. With the forecast for March to 'come in like a lion', I'm hoping that it will 'go out like a lamb'!