City Grown, 2.10.16, "Microclimates"

It’s cold outside. BREAKING NEWS, I know. And I get that DC ain’t Massachusetts, nor Michigan, nor Manitoba. But the February temperatures here are, during many days and most nights, quite inhospitable to life. As in, my life! I’ve learned that lesson a lot recently, as I’ve worked on our new high tunnel, as I’ve managed our compost system, as I’ve jerry-rigged a winter watering setup. No matter how many layers I put on, the cold eventually seeps in, and the resulting shiver is deeper than you thought possible. My fingers are often blue and chapped. My sinuses are perma-congested.

And yet, the warmth cometh. To grow as much food as possible on a small urban farm, you’ve got to expand the shoulders of the season, and you’ve got to execute intricate sequencing, so that every bed is always actively engaged in some part of the food production sequence, so that nothing lies fallow for too long.

To that end, I seeded the high tunnel this past week with quick-growing, cold-hardy crops like arugula, tat soi, mizuna, mustard greens, radishes, and winter lettuce. The new seeds have yet to germinate, but it’s beautiful in there, a cool-yet-balmy microclimate, protected by a thin layer of plastic from the whipping winds and frigid nights that lie right outside. Moisture rises up from the soil, collects on the ceiling, and drips right back down. If everything goes to plan, we’ll have delicious and bountiful salad greens by the end of February, using no energy but that of the winter sun. I think that’s pretty cool.

Our other microclimate can right now be found in my attic, where – through our heating system and fans and grow lights and heat mats – I’ve approximated a greenhouse. Soon, when all of the details get finalized, I’ll move everything to an actual greenhouse, but the planting calendar doesn’t wait for me to get my act together. Since they take a very long time to get established, I’ve seeded all of the alliums to be planted outside in the spring – purple bunching onions and summer leeks – along with sweet peppers and eggplants that’ll be grown in the high tunnel. It’s hot and dusty up there, but it’s a place of pure potential, as the trays of seedlings already hold the summer’s production in their cells.

This is just the beginning, of course. Soon, I’ll be seeding cabbage and kale and collards and chard and tomatoes and okra and cucumbers and zucchini and…

Now I just need the macroclimate to match my microclimates. I need it to warm up! But I’m in no real rush, because once that happens, the season will really be a boulder rolling downhill, and I’ll be sprinting after it, trying desperately to both catch it and not get crushed by its momentum.

You know, maybe the cold ain’t so bad after all.