Gardens - Featured Gardens

Northern exposure: A greenhouse in Churchill, Manitoba

How do you beat -50°C and polar bears, and enjoy fresh veggies in the “frozen north”?

northern-exposure-polar-bear.jpgCompost and polar bears
All gardeners know the rewards of turning kitchen scraps into black gold. Looking at the rich black soil in the gardens, I asked about composting. “Compost isn’t an option,” says O’Leary. “Polar bears love the smell...”

Polar bears? Now, that’s a complicated “pest” problem. Groundhogs and slugs pale by comparison.

“The only critter we’ve ever had was a small polar bear,” says Ratson. “Our dog chased him and he climbed onto the greenhouse roof. Pam and I just stood there, waiting for him to fall inside and destroy everything. It’s still hard to believe, but he distributed his weight so he didn’t fall through. He was roughly 500 pounds and he was up there for about 15 minutes, deciding where he could escape without the dog getting him. We finally got our dog to come and the bear walked off!”

Remind me never to complain about deer again.

The growing season
Looking at their vegetables, I inquire about their growing season. “Last year I planted seeds in the greenhouse on July 12, and we had a small crop by mid-October when it froze,” O’Leary recalls. “I usually buy plants like tomatoes, cucumbers and strawberries, and they give fruit by mid-August.”

They’re still experimenting, though. Says O’Leary: “I planted a zucchini seed and ended up with a plant Paul had to attach to the ceiling, with leaves about 18 inches across and fruit the size of a golf ball. You almost had to take a machete to get into the room.”

“And this year we’re covering the greenhouse at night to see if providing more darkness makes a difference,” she adds.

Feeling relieved I don’t have to watch for polar bears amid my garden beds, I depart, reflecting that this couple are doing well to put fresh produce on their table. With costs of $9.39/kg for (“soft, old”) tomatoes and asparagus at $17.99/kg in Churchill, you can bet this resourceful couple will continue to hone their greenhouse experiment for years to come.

photo caption: Paul Ratson managed to take a photo of the polar bear standing on his greenhouse.


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