No contemporary discussion of a Pacific Northwest garden would be complete without a discussion of The Three Harsh Winters. (Read The Three Harsh Winters in a deep voice with maximum reverb.) The Three Harsh Winters were what we call an act of God.
I will admit, when it comes to winter weather, people in the Pacific Northwest are spoiled rotten. Most of western Washington and Oregon are protected from ocean storms by the Olympic Mountains, and Coastal Range. I sit in an even more protected area, an island in the middle of the Puget Sound. The Pacific Ocean is warm enough to keep the coast warm. The Puget Sound is about fifty-four degrees year round. The water seems cold in the summer, but on frosty winter mornings, the steam rising off of the warm water into the chill air is absolutely mystical.
So, my garden sits about eight hundred feet from the Puget Sound. I hate to confess this to other northern gardeners, but a killing frost is unusual for me. I garden year round. In December, I spend the few hours of daylight we have getting bulbs into the ground. I still harvest greens and winter blooming honeysuckle for bouquets out of the garden. My December bouquets are really some of my most beautiful all year. The winter garden still produces kale, carrots, beets and cabbage. My everbearing raspberries will still give me enough berries for garnish or a smoothie as late as mid-December.
January is my month for topping up beds with new soil. I work on the garden structure in January. This is the time to add new gravel to paths or repair a raised bed. The garden beds can be edged. This is a good time for some of the heavy chores that would be uncomfortable in warm weather. Of course none of this can be done when the garden is covered with snow.
February is time to weed. It saves so much time later in the year if I can get the overwintering and newly sprouted weeds hoed up in February. This is the month I add duck-yard litter to the vegetable beds and prepare them for the peas, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower. It is impossible to do this when absolutely everything is covered in a quarter inch of ice.
Another hazard of The Three Harsh Winters was the down trees and tree limbs. It is just hard to garden with large branches and half of a madrone tree on top of the beds. I needed to get someone with a chain saw to go out between storms and cut the trees and branches out of my beds. Of course the man with the chain saw couldn’t work in the snow or the ice. He objected to going out in a gale. He refused to work with an electric chain saw when the rain was blowing sideways through the garden.
For three years in a row, I left my usual winter garden chores undone until April. I like to have most of the garden planted and the rest ready to plant by April fifteenth. The Three Harsh Winters meant that planting was delayed at least until mid-May. I then needed to do three months of garden work in two weeks. At the same time I needed to do the summer chore of mowing and running the weed eater. My body was not going to do that much work all at once. The man with the chain saw had limited time to work in the garden. I had to choose between having him cut up the limbs and trees or run the weed eater. It was a tough call. The weeds had grown up to hide the limbs and down trees.
Thankfully The Three Harsh Winters are just a nightmare in our past. This past winter was quite reasonable. We hired help to finish cleaning up the down trees and limbs. I will go out in a few minutes and harvest the snapdragons that over wintered. My peas, cabbage and broccoli are doing their thing. I think I will harvest the overwintered artichoke tonight. Ah, it is good to have had a normal mild Pacific Northwest winter.