I spoke at the Connecticut Horticultural Society's monthly meeting last night Lovely people. And definitely one of those situations where I learned more from them than they learned from me.
At the end of my talk, which revolved around soil management, with detours into parasitic worms, sanitary conditions in military camps and cow manure, a distinguished gentleman stood up. I asked later, and he was David Smith, the retired longtime horticulture director of White Flower Farm.
He said I'd reminded him of something from his childhood. His father was head gardener on a British estate. And they'd used piles of manure and straw to create hotbeds.
These hotbeds were basically cold frames set up on a bit on fine soil over a compost pile. They'd seed tender vegetables in them, and the heat generated by the composting process would protect them.
As he was talking, a vision flashed before my eyes: melons. The great frustration of my gardening life. Almost impossible to grow in Zone 4. You can't start them more than a few weeks early indoors, or the plants start vining around your lamps. They sulk when stuck into the garden in early June and will disappear entirely after a cold, rainy night or two. The plants are healthier when direct-seeded. But then the fruit fails to ripen before it gets cold again.
And such a delightfully low-tech solution! Using a free energy source provided by the soil microbes! So perfect for a minimalist gardener like me!
I have to try a hotbed or two in spring. Of course, I've read about hotbeds before, but sometimes you just need to hear from somebody who has seen it done.
Photo credit: Bill Ebbesen