In the dead of winter, the cold can seem endless for teachers and students alike. Those warm, sunny days, like what we’ll experience this week, are often treasured during the bleak months of January and February, but as gardeners, we should be thankful for the cold, icy and snowy days that the winter brings!
Winter is an important time for garden coordinators to rest and recuperate. The down time during these months allows us to think of fresh ideas to implement in the spring time with our students. Spring, summer and fall are busy with planting, watering, weeding and harvesting from the garden, while winter is busy with planning and dreaming for the seasons to come.
The prolonged, frosty temperatures can also help solve a common garden problem: garden pests. Especially cold winters kill bugs that enjoy our garden veggies. Last year’s winter was unfortunately not cold enough, so many gardeners in the area had an especially hard time dealing with pests like Harlequin bugs this past growing season.
To prevent bug problems this year, we recommended that schools not put straw mulch on their raised beds over the winter. The straw usually protects the soil from harsh rain and snowfall that can compact the soil, but straw can also act as a shelter for insects, protecting them from the cold. By leaving garden beds empty of plant matter and mulch, the bugs are more exposed to the elements and less likely to come back around the following season.
Winter also allows for vernalization, the start of a plant’s flowering process due to prolonged exposure to cold weather. Most perennial plants need the cold weather so that they flower appropriately in the spring!
For our schoolyard gardeners who are tired of the cold, just remember that freezing temperatures now can help lead to a healthy and successful garden later!