A Winter Garden

Things are well underway. Most of the winter/spring crops are in the ground and so far doing well. I decided to move the schedule up a bit and see just how much I could overwinter. All these crops have done well so far. Planting garlic, onions and strawberries in the fall for spring harvest is not that unusual, but I have never tried any other veggies on a serious basis. After watching the success of a volunteer spinach plant that sprouted in the fall of 2022, lived through the winter and put on a lot of growth as soon as there was just a hint of spring in the air, I decided that I might go all in on ‘winter’ garden. So I started and planted out kohlrabi, spinach, lettuce, mustard, kale and fava beans. The weather so far has been mild and all the plants are doing well, and in some cases better than I expected. There is a lot of lettuce that is ready to be harvested. I am hoping it will just hang out at least for a couple of months. I think the lettuce will be fine until there are some really warm days, maybe mid March, and then there might be some bolting. It will be interesting to see how the other veg does. I am even thinking there may be time to slip in some catch crops if I can time it right. I have a few ideas that I am working on incorporating, but this is a learning year. Of course, isn’t every year a learning year?




Endings and Beginnings

When does one year in the garden end and the next begin? It is convenient to use the calendar, but that doesn’t really capture what really happens. December was a time to regroup and reset, but between the end of September and the beginning of October is when most of last year’s garden ended and several things planted that will make up the first harvests of 2024. I have been experimenting with a shift in the garden schedule. After learning a few things last year, I already have most of the spring garden in the ground. This includes garlic, onions, strawberries, spinach, mustard, kale, lettuce, kohlrabi and fava beans. Some of it is under cover, some of it not. The forecast is for a colder winter this year so it will be interesting to see how everything holds up. I will still plant some peas towards the end of January, some cilantro, parsley and dill in February and potatoes and beans in March, otherwise 2024 was well under way back in October.

September

garden in September

October


July 2023, Revisited

To make up for the lack of posts over the summer, here are a few pictures taken at the end of July. It’s amazing how different it looks now in November!

Looking South-East
Looking North-West
Looking North
a shady garden scene
Magnolia ‘Kay Parris’, Bay Laurel, Wax Myrtle and a Fig.
Basil and blueberries in the side garden.
The Belgian fence about 7 months later.

April 2023

Somehow the year always gets away from me – here it is November and I see I have an old post from April. I don’t want it to go to waste, so here it is!

This year I decided to take full advantage of the spring vegetable garden. Rather than leaving a few blocks open to put some of the summer stuff in at the ‘normal’ time, the garden is currently full with plants that started going in, well back in November for some of them, but most were out by the end of February, beginning of March. It seems to be working fine, although it does seem very odd to not have much to do right now. I have planted out a few things, notably some basil and sunflowers, and pulled a few weeds over the last couple of weeks but that is about it. The last average frost date for my area is April 15, so this is normally the time to really get cranking, but I am just enjoying the garden and some beautiful weather. There has been plenty of lettuce, some spinach and most recently some sugar snaps that we have been able to enjoy. Salad days, indeed. But it won’t last, of course, come the mid to end of May, it will be time to turn it over. This will mean both processing the harvest of garlic, onions, shallots, peas, cilantro and dill and maybe kohlrabi and carrots if they turn out, as well as getting the beds composted and the summer seedlings out so they can be settled in before the real heat of the summer. For now, though, there is plenty of time to observe and enjoy.




Max Dogwood

There are a lot of little things going on in the garden that hint at the spring days ahead. The dogwood is the big undeniable thing, shouting that Spring has arrived. When we first moved in, there may have been a bloom or two that first spring. As the trees have been thinned out and the tree has gotten more sun, it has responded with a big show. If I had begun this garden as a blank canvas, this is not the location I would have placed this tree. But it is the one tree in the entire yard I have never contemplated cutting down. Everything else has to work around it.



February Flashback

Although only two or three days shorter than other months, February always seems to fly by. Of course I was busy and even though I wanted to to grab some pictures and post a few, no posting happened. I did manage to snap a couple of pictures, but not as many as I should have. Spring has really taken hold and I love finding all her surprises while wandering around the garden. There was also work to do. I had a crew come and cut down a couple of trees and trim a few others. They left me with these nice piles of firewood and wood chips. I’ll have to wait a while to put the firewood to use, but the chips are spread around the front yard and things are looking tidy.

Bigger than it looks!
Wood chips down, daffodils up!

Although I admire the joyfulness of daffodils announcing spring, the elegant Lenten rose is the first flower in my garden to shake off its winter slumber. I am always glad to see it bloom.

Helleborus ‘Frost Kiss Moondance’

Another flower that surprised me in February was this peach. This tree is a volunteer from the compost pile and seems to like the spot it has made home. I am not sure when I first noticed it, maybe it is 5 years old now. I’d love to get a peach (or two!) off of it, but it is in a shady spot, so I am not getting my hopes up. The flowers are a beautiful and welcome surprise, nonetheless.

A Spring Surprise

February flew by and March seems to be on the same pace. I have been busy in the garden, both planting and building. This time of year is always so hopeful. I know the garden I am going to get in a few months time is nothing like the garden I have been planning all winter. Spring is here, though, and it is time to see what happens when my plans and Mother Nature collide!

Spring Plans

I sketched out my planting plans a couple of months ago so I could go ahead and order any seeds I needed. Of course I was well aware that things could change, but I was feeling pretty good that I had made thoughtful, well reasoned choices. I am focusing a lot on the Spring season this year. Previously I had limited the Spring plants because I wanted to get the warm season plants in and then out for the Fall plants. But Fall is terrible in this garden, too much shade and too many bugs, and sometimes that doesn’t matter because it is just too hot to get the seeds started anyway. So the plan is to let Spring ride for a while and get the Summer crops in later than in the past and try to keep them producing for longer. Basically I am abandoning the Fall season, though I’ll probably put out some kind of cover crop if there is open space due to whatever complication (insects, weather, rabbit, deer, etc.) arises. So I filled the Spring plan with a couple of my recent winners and a couple of new items, like kohlrabi and shelling peas, ordered the seeds and was ready to go.

I started planting this weekend. Of course, this being the second year of this ‘full’ garden, I had no idea how many seeds I needed. Usually a pack of seeds might last 2 or 3 seasons. Unfortunately, the peas I got only filled about a quarter to a third of the space allotted. I wasn’t going to purchase more seeds. I was looking through my bin of old seed for alternatives, when I had my genius idea of the week. I’d planted a few strawberries in a shady front bed where not much grew as a ground cover. Of course they took the place over in a couple of years. They flower and send runners everywhere and I see some fruit which of course always disappears before I can get to it. But what if I dug some of those plants and moved them the garden on plastic the way the pros do? Spread them out, protect them? Worth it? I guess I’ll find out. A harmless experiment. Around here the PYO strawberry places run for about the month of May, so I’m hoping I can get a few strawberries around that time and then be able to move them out. Sweet Potatoes go in these beds for the Summer so they’ll have to share the space for a month or two, but it should work out OK.

strawberries planted on black plastic
Very Professional!

I love being able to make changes in the garden and try new things. Although things don’t always work out, I learn and move on. Maybe my experiments are more successful than they used to be, maybe not. It is nice to think I might be getting better at this gardening thing, but it doesn’t take long to be brought back to reality when the season really gets going!

Winter Work

Although the month between Thanksgiving is pretty quiet, there is isn’t much time to rest in the garden. Things have already started happening and if I don’t get items done on the winter to do list, then they never get done. It is always interesting to me the emptiness of the big box garden stores when I go pick up some random supplies. It is a big contrast to the hordes of people there in the spring. I can’t be alone in loving the peaceful quiet of winter work, but maybe I am. The climate of North Carolina is perfect for it and certainly some of the more intense jobs are much better done in the cold of winter than the heat and humidity of the summer. I love getting started in the cold morning, my body heating up and then the warmth of the sun making it impossible to be cold at all even though everyone else walking by is dressed like an Eskimo.

This past weekend, I took advantage of a cold sunny day to do some hard pruning and wood pile maintenance. I only get the chainsaw out once or twice a year, but, or because of that, I am always surprised at the physical intensity of cutting wood. I was thinking about my dad, at my age now, keeping the shed full of wood that provided the majority of heat for our house when I was a kid. Of course, he had me and my brother to do a lot of the grunt work, but running a chainsaw is serious business. At the end of the day I was beat. As I stretched out and rested, though, it was a good feeling, a feeling of physical accomplishment, of getting real work done in the real world.

Cut and Stacked!

Winter is a time when it feels like something is actually getting done in the garden. I can stand back and see the work that I have done and feel good about it. In a few months, nature will take over and run riot over all my plans. As I look around the garden I already see Spring is well on the way. It is an exciting time in the garden!

tiny fennel plant
Signs of Spring – Bronze Fennel

Belgian Fence

I set up my first Belgian fence this weekend. Now I just need the apples to cooperate and grow this spring. I feel pretty good about that. They are really nice looking trees. I got them from Century Farm Orchards, a small family run outfit that specializes in old Southern apple varieties. I’ve ordered fruit trees from a few other places and these are probably the best I’ve seen come through the mail.

bare root apple trees ready for planting

As usual I ignored the conventional wisdom and went with six different varieties rather than just one or two. If you can’t read the tags in the picture, they are:

  • Esopus Spitzenberg
  • Newtown Pippen
  • Kidds Orange Red
  • Blacktwig
  • Summer Pearmain
  • Magnum Bonum

It is an eight foot fence with the trees 16 inches apart. The geometry isn’t perfect, but not so bad for a first try. I’m working with nature here!

belgian fence with newly planted apple trees

This trellis takes the place of what was the original vegetable garden bed that I built maybe 12 or 13 years ago. The non-treated wood was falling to pieces and I wanted to do something different. This past summer I had some beans and peppers planted here. They did very poorly. In large part I think this was due to my neglect, I just don’t go around to this side of the garden that often now that I have the larger area in full swing in the back. This narrow side yard is now all fruit! In the picture below, there are eight apple trees, five or so blueberry bushes, a grape vine, a service berry and two figs! One fig is really coming into production and the two columnar apples and blueberries are settling in. If I can beat the squirrels and birds, I should be really getting some good fruit production in the coming years!

a narrow fruit orchard