Manitoba – The Frozen Province

Walking around outside right now, it’s hard, very hard to imagine that summer exists here.  Everything is frozen.  The pond, my fingers, lake Winnipeg, the pipes in our washroom.  Everyone has these lovely ideas of walking outside at sunrise when it’s 30 below, cup of boiling water in hand, ready to make a nifty little arc of ice crystals around and above your head.  Maybe I’ll try that someday.  For now though, there are other priorities.

The morning chores are a little different in the winter.  Waking up and walking outside to -30C, eyeball freezing air to get firewood is usually the first thing to get done.  Once the fire is crackling away, out comes the space heater and the shop vac.  Time to thaw the pipes.  There’s a small access door under the sink that we aim the shopvac hose into on reverse.  A space heater pointed a the pipes in the cabinet helps warm things up a little while the shopvac blows the warm air into the space below.  It’s usually a 20-30 minute procedure.  Luckily, PEX piping has quite a bit of patience when it freezes.  No burst pipes yet – knock on wood.

Once the pipes are thawed and the house has started to warm up a little, it’s time to say hi to the chickens.  I’m sure they’re enjoying the weather about as much as we are.  A few mornings I’ve gone into the coop to find that their heated waterer has frozen through the night.  The crowd is a tough one when I go in on those mornings.  Screaming at me like it’s my fault that this part of the earth has become an ice cube.  Thaw the waterer, snatch the eggs and top up the feeders.  Poor buggers are literally cooped up until its warm enough outside.  They don’t even bother trying to escape at this point.  It’s horrid outside and they know it.  They dig the red light, though.  Sometimes I catch them hanging out in the window trying to attract the local grouse population.

Just as the sun rises, the birds start to congregate in the tree in front of the deck.  As it warms, they take turns flickering to the feeders for a sunflower seed or corn kernel.  The chickadees and common redpolls show up first.  The Nuthatches and Bluejays are next.  Feathers fluffed out keeping warm.  As soon as the sun is above the trees, a pair of Pileated woodpeckers shows up, like clockwork.  They’ll hang around for an hour or so every morning, then disappear until late afternoon.  When the sun is falling towards the tree tops.  They’ll hang around for a while again, pecking at the suet before disappearing for the night.

Female (left) and Male (right) Pileated Woodpeckers – Manitoba

The Winter Solstice passed just about two weeks ago now.  The days are getting noticeably longer, especially without the perpetual light of the city, where it never seems to really get dark.  With the days getting longer, I’ve had the itch to start getting some seeds into the dirt.  If only to remind me that yes, summer exists in this frozen province.  But there are other reasons to start thinking about the garden now, too.  We learned last growing season that we’re going to have to start our seeds a hell of a lot earlier than we did last year.  It was around April 10th or so when we started the first of our tomato and pepper plants, inside, under some really crappy lighting circumstances. We paid for it…We weren’t harvesting either vegetable until mid to late August.  Our broccoli and brussels sprouts we planted about a week later.  We harvested nothing from those plants.  They didn’t make it far enough before the province froze.

This year, we’re starting much earlier.  With the greenhouse we built in summer 2017, we can move plants outside much earlier this year to harden them off and let them begin to enjoy the Manitoba sunshine earlier in the spring.  And that will hopefully result in earlier harvests for many of the vegetables.

We invested in some LED lighting to start our seedlings indoors.  The four, 4 foot, 75 watt LED light fixtures we bought in a boxing day sale at Peavy Mart should help us get roughly 200 plants started.  That might seem like a lot of plants to folks who are used to gardening in their yards to have fresh produce through the summer months.  Fact is, though, we want food produced here to be available year round.  Canned and frozen, mainly, with some dried goods as well.  Those 200 plants don’t include what we’ll end up sowing directly in the ground once the soil is warm enough in May.  Radishes, beets & lettuce are the first things we’ll be sewing in the soil outside.  All are short, cool season crops that did well here for us, aside from some munching by the local deer population.  Carrots – those too grew quite well for us.  We ended up with about 50 pounds of them.  We’ve been getting as creative as we can in using them.  They go in just about everything now.

To start inside we’ll we looking at longer season crops.  Tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, kale….there will be others, I’m sure.

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