Seems there is always a battle going on against something in the garden. It is good to see that I have friends in the fight.
This time of year I am full of optimism about the garden. It is full of life and energy, and I love walking around seeing all the plants waking up!
Already going strong:
Plenty of lettuce
Carrots and Radishes just starting to come up
I harvest herbs – green onions, parsley, thyme, oregano and mint all through the winter, but it is now time to start harvesting some lettuce. I have tried to keep track of my harvest in the past and have failed to do it consistently so that is really going to be a focus this year.
Still early but things are growing!
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.
4/21/21 Waxing Gibbous Moon | High 75 | Low 42
I don’t fly the drone around the house much. It is close quarters with all the trees. It is fun sometimes to fly around and get a different perspective on things, though.
4/6/21 Waning Crescent Moon | High 76 | Low 42
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.
About a week ago, I went with the family on a short hike around White Pines Nature Preserve near Sanford, NC. It is a beautiful area, and the spring wildflowers were just starting to show off their blooms.
3/22/21 Moon – Waxing Gibbous | High – 67 | Low – 41
As Spring arrives, I have been reflecting on a couple of things I have learned this winter in the garden. I probably should not consider winter a gardening season, but I can’t stop myself. Every season should be a gardening season. Winter always seems to set the tone for the year, anyway. I am not a great planner and winter is the time to plan. To get better at planning, I have been trying to take better notes about the garden, particularly noting when I do things or just when things happen. This is beginning to pay off, especially with seed starting. I have been starting seeds for several years, but this has by far been the smoothest effort yet. I have been using my notes to build a schedule of when to start different seeds, how many, when to pot them up and when to plant them out. There are still some tweaks to be made, but I am very happy with how the seed starting has gone. Next year will be even better!
On the other hand, I did really push the season this year. I sowed seeds and put out plants way earlier than I have in the past. At first I thought it was great. Things were coming up in January. The growth wasn’t quick, but I thought just getting things established was a good head start. But it turns out just because a plant can survive below freezing temps, doesn’t mean they like it. The pak choi I seeded on 1/1 popped right up, but never grew. A couple of true leaves appeared at some point, but all of a sudden now they are bolting – tiny little flowers on tiny little stalks. It is kind of amazing, actually, but not the result I was hoping for.
I only have a couple of sheets of row cover. In an effort to plant more of the bed earlier, I removed the cover from the first section planted and started more seeds in another section and covered it. In another section, I started other seeds with no cover. It is amazing the difference in germination and growth under the cover. A few weeks ago I considered buying some cover, but didn’t think it was worth it at that point. It was steadily getting warmer, so the cover wasn’t really needed, I thought. I was wrong. The plants under the cover look so much better and have grown so much more. Yes, some plants can survive the cold, but they don’t like it.
The last lesson has actually been learned over the last year. I have been working at home and have been able to observe what happens throughout the day in the garden. The lesson is this- squirrels will eat anything. They are untamed ravenous herbivores. They shredded my overwintering chard. They ate the flower stalk, then the leaves of a pak choi I was letting go to seed. I watch them nibble dogwood buds. I even saw one munch my daughter’s Venus fly trap down to a nub. I thought their crimes were limited to digging through and tearing up beds, but no, I now believe they are worse than rabbits for eating my plants!
3/4/21 Waning Gibbous Moon | High 63 | Low 34
Over the last couple of weeks, I got most of the heavy lifting I wanted to get done around the garden out of the way. It seems like there are always projects to work on, but at the moment I am going to enjoy a little of the calm before the storm. Compost is spread, seeds are started, sprouts are sprouting, it’s too cold for insects, the weeds haven’t woken up yet and the squirrels have almost given up digging around all over the garden. There is not much to do but wait. I did order 2 paw paws and 2 serviceberries so I am waiting for them, as well. It is nice to enjoy the garden with out feeling as though I must do something. It is fun to watch it come to life. It takes a bit of patience this time of year, though. It seems so slow, but with the warmth and the sun, things are starting to perk up. The next few weeks will see big changes.
2/15/21 Waxing Crescent Moon | High 43 | Low 35 | .63″ Rain
Sunday morning saw a few hours without rain, so I trudged back and forth through the muck to get this new bed underway. A pile of soil was delivered Friday and I hoped to have gotten it all moved over the weekend, but it was not to be. I’m just about halfway done. The forecast keeps changing, but this coming weekend is looking pretty good at the moment. It would be nice to get everything done, as the next several weekends after are booked with other commitments.
There has been a lot of rain this year. So far, to date, we are 3.12″ above normal with a total of 8.52″. That is enough to leave my yard a soggy mess, and the low space between my house and the neighbor’s has been a pond for the last couple of weeks. This weekend really piled it on, too. Although I wanted to get out and get some things done around the garden, the cold (30’s) and steady rain kept me inside. I did find time to relax, which was nice. In a few more weeks when spring gets in full gear, there will be plenty to do, both in the garden and in life.
The peas are making progress, but the mustard and pak choi don’t seem to have budged in the four weeks since they sprouted. In the attic, the tomatoes and cucumbers are sprouting. I have lettuce sprouts that need to find homes, and a bunch of brassicas, too. Soon enough there will be green everywhere.
I know come August I will be hoping for a nice cool rain, but at the moment all I can say is ‘Enough already!’
I saw the first robins of the year over a week ago. Seems a bit early, but there are other signs of spring all around.