It was 18 degrees (-8 C) this morning at 11 am but the sun was bright and powerful causing the pump on my solar water heater to be doing its thing. Free hot water today.

Our normal high for today is 40 degrees (5 C) but we won’t be seeing a temperature above freezing until Saturday. Since the start of December we have had consistently colder than average weather. We have had some snow but mostly it has been pretty calm. We see reports of huge storms but they have been going north or south of us. It is actually going to be a dry winter if this keeps up, though we have had snow cover almost continuously.

A normal winter we get some snow then it melts, then we get some more. Even in January the January Thaw is normal, though this was the first year I can remember that we didn’t get one.

Actually, we never have normal weather — every year is different and rarely follows “average”. Averages are calculated over decades and hold pretty true but any individual year invariably varies from it.

Last fall for instance, we didn’t get a killing frost until the end of October with the average first frost being Oct 7th. Which was fine for all the greens and late stuff in the garden like Brussels sprouts but didn’t really help the tomatoes because once temperatures start going below 50 degrees (10 C) the compounds, one of which is called (Z)-3-dexenal, that give tomatoes their flavor degrade and they start tasting like store bought tomatoes. And it does get cool in October, even if it doesn’t frost.

I like to plant rye on the beds after cleaning them up but until the tomato plants frost they are still full of moisture and hard to deal with. Once they frost they dry down and become brittle so it is easier to get them out of the cages I use for support and not so heavy to carry.

By the time I got the cages cleared off and the beds rototilled so I could plant the rye, it was well into November which usually is fine but then December came in cold and hard, the 11th coldest on record, and with snow cover so I don’t know how well established the rye got, it seemed like it was just sprouting out of the ground so I don’t know how much biomass it will accumulate in those beds. Most of the beds I got in a little earlier and they look lush and green.

I spread compost and then plant the rye so fertilizing is out of the way for the spring. I till the rye in and that gives a lot of organic matter for the biotic life in the beds to chew on. As the saying goes, “Decaying organic matter is the engine that drives soil fertility.

I just got my seed order from Berlin Seeds, an Amish business nearby in Ohio. I got some buckwheat to use for green manure on empty beds for the summer and for next fall I got some of what they call N Vest Ground Breaker Plus, which is a mixture of Austrian winter peas, a deep tap rooted radish, and some forage turnips. These are all things that will do well late into the fall, with the peas accumulating nitrogen from the air. They winter kill but leave a lot of organic matter on the soil for cover and when the radishes decay the roots leave deep channels in the soil, ergo the “Groundbreaker” part of its name.

Or so they say. Sounds good in theory so will be interesting to see how it goes and the effect it will have on the 2012 garden.