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.
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:
- Esopus Spitzenberg
- Newtown Pippen
- Kidds Orange Red
- 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!
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!
Great gardens start in the winter. Or at least that’s what I tell myself. I enjoy working in the garden in the winter. It doesn’t take long to get warmed up and there is always lots to do. This winter’s list has some usual winter chores and other things that might end up on the spring to do list. I don’t feel bad when I roll over my garden to do list items. That’s just the way it is around here.
- Rain Barrels – SW corner of porch
- Build swing and hardscape (remove grass, path along back of house)
- Cut and organize wood pile
- Plant trees for espalier by porch trellis – Oranges?
- Front west corner, more plants. Azaleas?
- Gum trees down, shitakes
- Big rhododenderons, SE corner
- Irises to back
- Cut Pines
- Trim oak
- Trim crepe myrtle
- Prune hollys in SW corner
- Finish front stone path
- Asparagus bed south side?
- Belgian Fence with Apples
I am starting this year with a plan. I won’t say I never start the garden without a plan, but I usually don’t start with a well thought out, good plan. The garden is usually just an idea in my mind. Of course my vision is lush, beautiful and productive, though I am well aware of what the vision usually turns into. Regardless, I kind of know what I want to accomplish and then I see what happens as the season develops. I decided this year would be different. I decided to commit to something, by putting it down in writing and then spending the money.
I am prompted to do this because I have a lot more area this year, and it deserves more than just a haphazard attempt at a garden. After the last couple of years of trying to get the backyard in shape, I finally have an area that could be really productive. So rather than just grabbing a few plants from the big box store and sprinkling seeds around wherever I could, I sat down with some seed catalogs and a garden map and made a plan. Then, I actually ordered the seeds. And today I went and got some new seed starting trays and cells.
I bought a lot of seeds. I have just about used up my stash of old seeds doing random cover crops, but there were still a few old seeds that I worked into the plan, as well. I am not sure how these older seeds will work out. I plan on going overboard with the seed starting, anyway, and adjust depending on how it goes. I also think my rotation plan might be overly optimistic with some of the turn around times. Overall, I reserve the right to make changes as the spring goes along.
This is the plan for now, though. It is a better plan than I have ever had before. I am not one to press on through when things don’t go right though, so the garden that I end up with may look very different from the one presented here. It is always an adventure and a surprise, and that is why I enjoy gardening so much.
It was an eventful year in the garden. Like most of the garden seasons lately, it was a transition year. I have been cutting down trees slowly over the past three years maybe, 2,3,4 at time and this was the year that a few key ones came down and portions of the backyard went from shady to possibly partly sunny with maybe 4-5 hours of sun at the summer solstice. This is a big deal. One 4 x 8 bed on the south side of the house only gets possibly 3-4 hours of sun in the summer and that has been the sunniest spot for years and the main productive area of the garden. This newfound sunlight was like opening virgin territory for expansion. True, it is not the recommended 6 hours for vegetables but I didn’t let that deter me.
A second hugel bed was built within the first giving me approximately 300 square feet of garden bed. I went with a hugel style since there was a good deal of wood left from the tree cutting. I hauled in a lot of soil and compost and filled the hugel as well as topped up the older one, now going into its second winter and really settling in. I began planting early, in January, with some cold weather crops under row cover and seedlings up in the attic under lights and on a heat mat. The cold weather crops began with peas and then later, lettuces, mustard, kale, cabbage and bok choy. The inside seeds were tomatoes (San Marzano), cucumber and jalapeno peppers, which were planted in a large amount because I wanted enough of these to preserve. There were also some butternut squash, chard, basil and maybe a few other random things that I had seeds of laying around.
The spring garden started out great, albeit slower than I wanted. Although many of the outside seeds sprouted, they seemed to be in suspended animation as the weather cycled through very cold days into warmer days. This didn’t harm the peas or the mustard or lettuce, they just hung out until it got warm enough to really get going, which was probably early March. The bok choy was not happy and never grew beyond a couple of inches, and then just flowered when it warmed. The season was great though, bug pressure was minimal and the new sun was amazing to follow through the garden. As it got higher in the sky, with no deciduous leaves and the pine needles still thin, sunlight really filled the garden. I was excited to see what the summer would bring, but as the trees filled out, I realized that peak sunlight was sometime in mid spring. I noted the trees that would need to be cleared for maximum sunlight return in future years.
The spring also brought a project that had been in planning for several years, a new patio. The job was hired out and it turned out great. It represents a major piece of the backyard puzzle and left some areas that needed to be planted. As I only have a rough schematic of the future of this garden, I had no idea what would need to go around the patio, but seeing the finished space really helped to inspire me. I wanted to create a room like feel, and, since the patio is close to the neighbors, soften the view of their house, if not screen it. So perennials that had potential to fill out, while leaving space to walk and not overwhelming the patio, was my main goal. Another goal was to have a variety of flowers throughout the seasons, and I wanted to get some bee friendly natives in, too. The existing large dogwood and camellia, which was saved by building the patio around it, gave the space a good start. I settled on Clethera alnifolia as a ‘wall’ plant. It has the potential to grow to seven feet which, while not enough to totally screen the neighbors will do much to soften the view. It is a native and has lovely fragarent flowers that bees, especially native bees, seem to love and stay busy with through several weeks in early summer. Other plants that went in this spot, what I am calling the patio garden, were Magnolia figo and a few hydrangeas. The Magnolia is not a native, but it is on the smaller bushy side. Since we have wanted a magnolia for a while, but lacked the space, this seemed like a good compromise. It’s flowers are small compared to a real southern magnolia, but they are supposed to be very fragrant. Unfortunately, it was planted after it had flowered, so I’ll have to wait to see about that. The hydrangeas were a mix of what I could find a big box store. I have been happiest with the oak leaf hydrangea. Depending on what happens with the others, one looked pretty sickly all summer, I may add another oak leaf. It held up great through the summer and my poor watering habits. It did not flower, however, but it’s leaves turned brilliant reds and oranges and lasted for a few weeks in the fall.
Another area that was opened up by the tree trimming was the back corner, what I am calling the food forest. It also got a few plants. I bought two paw paws and two serviceberries to anchor this area. They were mail ordered and a little scraggly. The paw paws adjusted pretty well, though they didn’t grow much. The serviceberries were more suspect. Although they were healthy upon arrival, they both dropped most of their leaves. Some new growth appeared later in the summer, so I am hopeful they will come back strong next year. Although I call it a food forest, I didn’t get much else into it, except a few random seedlings that had no other home, like bronze fennel and butternut squash. There is also a peach that volunteered by the fence where an old compost pile was. I put in another volunteer peach that I had to keep it company and squeezed in a fig cutting I had that was outgrowing its pot. The peach and fig are doing great in their new spots.
Possibly because I was so busy with these other areas, I didn’t pay that much attention to the annual garden. Things got planted out and then were left pretty much on their own. I harvested plenty of greens and some peas in the early spring, then some beans and a couple of early peppers. The tomatoes were growing well and setting fruit, but many developed blossom end rot. The cucumbers, though, were a disaster. They were a different variety than I had grown in the past and while the seedlings came up nicely, they never amounted to much. I was able to harvest a few here and there, but nothing like I envisioned when I planted them out. The winner though was the jalapenos. Besides some fresh eating, I was able to pickle 3 pints in midsummer and another 8 in the fall. Overall, though, the garden didn’t feel that productive. I tried to keep track of the harvest, but was unable to keep up with it. Although I didn’t feel like it was a great success, the veggie garden wasn’t a total failure either. It provided a somewhat steady flow of produce, if not much extra.
I wanted to plant a fall garden, but to my dismay, after the summer solstice, the amount of sun in the garden steadily decreased. By planting time, it was only a couple of hours at best. I did manage to get some mustard and sugar snap peas to produce a few meals, but the lettuce didn’t really work out. I didn’t even bother with the second block of lettuce I had planned. It was amazing the difference in sun amount between spring and fall, caused of course by the deciduous trees having leaves and the pines having full needles in the fall. I did not notice the year before since that fall garden was decimated by snails before it ever got going. So I count this year as an improvement.
In early fall, I picked up some native perennials from a local nursery. I added false indigo and boneset to the food forest, a blazing star to the patio garden and some Pennsylvania sedge to a bed in the front. I also got three blue-eyed grass and some gaura from another nursery that found different homes around the garden.
By late fall, most of the garden was cleaned up and I was ready to give it a rest, but two opportunities came up. First, a neighbor who was cleaning out their garage, asked if I’d like their ‘greenhouse.’ It is just a 6×8 clear tent with a sturdy metal frame, but free means it is worth a shot. I put it up in early December, but with the weather beaing unusually warm there hasn’t been much need for it. It will be a good place to keep the lemon and lime trees for the winter and I am considering using it as my seed starting area. Stay tuned.
At Thanksgiving my mom announced she would be selling her house and moving to something smaller with less maintenance. I had been wanting to take a cutting from a rose that was originally at my grandmother’s house, now at hers, but I had never got around to it. I told my mom I would come over and take the whole plant rather than let her leave it behind. ‘Fine,’ she said. I came over one Saturday mid-December and ended up with 3 roses, 4 echinaceas, some black eyed Susans, a bag of daffodil bulbs, a rosemary plant, some lemon thyme and a couple of hostas. It was a pretty big haul and I spent the next day getting it all in the ground. It will be pretty amazing to see all of that come back in the spring. Hopefully they all handled the transfer well.
So that was 2021. It was a great year of big changes around the Quarter Acre. I am already plotting 2022, and I am getting very excited for it.