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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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:
Kidds Orange Red
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!
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!
I was just out of town for a week and, as usually happens, the plants that I had ordered at least a month before showed up a couple of days before I was to leave. It was only four, two paw paw and two serviceberry and they went into the ground without much fuss. The weather wasn’t great while we were gone. A pretty strong storm moved through and then the temperature dropped, maybe giving us the last frost of the season. We’ll see.
Everything was safe and secure upon return. The new plants seem just fine in their new home. Now the heat is on. I removed the last of the row cover as some lettuce underneath was on the verge of bolting. That part of the bed is now exposed to the rabbits and deer and squirrels, so we’ll see how that goes. Although I was trying to wait until at least the weekend, I couldn’t help myself and today I planted out a few cucumbers. Of course, I had to do it because I needed the pots for some squash that was outgrowing its cells.
I have way more seedlings going than I have room for. And I mean in the garden, not just inside. I’ll plant them in any sunny spot I can find, though. If I run out of sunny spots, I’ll just give them away. Too many things can go wrong, and I like to start thick and then thin if there are too many survivors.
Today was also the first real harvest of the year (there are always some herbs out there that I can scrounge up). 10 1/2 ounces of mixed lettuces, with some pea tendrils and mustard sprouts thrown in, just because. Plenty for some beautiful salads, and even more out there if the rabbits don’t get to it first.
It is hard to believe, but I have cut down a lot of trees in my backyard. When we first moved in 15 years ago the landscaping could best be described as a thicket. There were a ton of small sweet gum trees in the 4 to 12 foot tall range that blocked the whole back half of the yard off like a great green Berlin Wall. Within the thicket, there were tall spindly pines, quite a few already dead, starving for light. And, of course, the gravy on the biscuit, the icing on the cake, the cherry on top – poison ivy was crawling and climbing over everything. Over the years I managed to clean it up, at least enough so it doesn’t appear to be such a thicket. I have gradually thinned it out, focusing on the northeast corner since it was the most open to begin with and because my neighbors to the south and southeast have their own thickets it is the spot with the most potential for open sky. Too many trees, that is a problem most people don’t have out here in this suburban sprawl. For whatever reason, this neighborhood was not clear cut when it was built and there are a lot of big old trees all over. Things are done differently now though; most new subdivisions are scraped and flattened, everything gone before the houses start to go up. More sun in my yard would be nice, but I don’t think I would be happy in the barren wastelands created by these so-called developers.
I have cut down some quite large trees myself, but I am beginning to reach the limits of my confidence. I had a crew come out and cut down five trees yesterday. It is a hard decision to cut down a tree. I know a lot of people don’t like to do it. Trees are remarkable, yet sometimes they just aren’t in the right place. I have thought a lot about how I want this yard to ultimately be, and there are several big trees that are part of the plans. There are others, however, that must go. I take it slow (obviously, going on 15 years) and see how removing a few trees affects everything else, before choosing the next ones to cut. Right now I think I know the next ones to come down, but until I see how the remaining trees leaf out and the light falls, I won’t know for sure. In case you are worried, I did a basic tree inventory not long ago and had about 50 significant trees in this quarter acre. I am overstocked, and it is not healthy for the trees. A fair number of pines have died over the years. The sweet gums get contorted and unbalanced, trying to find some kind opening in the high pine canopy. Nothing else gets enough light to grow.
The tree guys are kind of expensive, but I am glad I had them handling these five trees. There were a couple that I contemplated long and hard doing myself, but I opted to let the pros do it in the end. These guys are crazy, though, that is all I can say. Having some experience in what they were doing, I couldn’t help but be stressed out watching them trying to wrangle these things. Everything went off without an issue, though, and it was simply amazing how quickly they did the job. Now I can move on with getting ready for the spring!