Waiting

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.

Yugoslavian Red Lettuce. About to plant out.
Kale. The seed starting area was getting crowded, so some things had to be moved out.
Sown radish and lettuce coming up under row cover.
The section planted 1/1 has been out from under the cover for almost two weeks. Looking good, but growing slow. Garlic along the front is starting to look alive.
Blueberry buds. Vaccinium spp.
Lacinato Kale. Standing tall through the winter.
Daffodil ‘Dutch Master’. Narcissus spp.

Progress

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.

About halfway done.

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.

Slow growing in February.

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.

Chillin’. Mourning dove, Zenaida macroura.

I know come August I will be hoping for a nice cool rain, but at the moment all I can say is ‘Enough already!’

Looking for spring. American robin, Turdus migratorius

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.

Weekend

2/9/21 Waning Crescent Moon | High 53 | Low 25

It was a busy weekend. The tree guys didn’t exactly leave a mess, but there was a bit to clean up. Their work was also a roadblock holding up some other things. When they moved out, I got busy. I laid out the new hugel bed, cut a couple of smaller trees myself to add to it, spread the leaf/compost pile around the poly-corner, moved about 1/2 the wood chips they left, putting some in the poly-corner and some in the strawberry/wine-cap bed around front and if that wasn’t enough, I planted some seeds, both outside, under the new bit of row cover, and some in trays in the attic. Hopefully, I will get the soil delivery during the coming week and finish this all up next weekend, although the weather continues to look a bit rainy.

Ready for some more green, but progress is being made.
Planted in about a six foot section of the hugel:
  • sugar snap peas
  • parsley
  • dill
  • radish
  • lettuces
    • Ice Queen
    • Yugoslavian Red
    • Black Seeded Simpson
Planted in trays in the attic:
  • Tomato, San Marzano
  • Cucumber, Pickle Bush
  • Jalapeno, saved seed
  • Bronze Fennel, saved seed

The hugel section planted about 4 weeks earlier is doing well but seems to be in a wait and see mode. The mustard and pak choi have not put out any true leaves and the peas, while standing tall, are not shooting up. Maybe they are just waiting for longer, warmer days. I can’t say I blame them.

Some of the plants that are overwintering, like these purple mustards, are starting to perk up a bit and enjoy the sunnier days. Spring is coming to the rescue soon!

Purple Mustard. B. juncea

Trees

2/4/21 | Third Quarter Moon | High 50 | Low 31

Nothing under the row cover was harmed.

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.

This was the tricky one.

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.

This one hung pretty far into the neighbor’s yard. Wonder if they’ll notice it’s gone!

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!

Sprouts

2/1/2021 Waning Gibbous Moon | Hi 38 | Lo 33 |Rain 1.06″

Sugar Snap Peas

There is always a little thrill to discover a seed you had planted has germinated and is bringing forth new life. This is especially true in the middle of winter when everything is so dead and lifeless. The peas I planted on New Year’s have finally begun to poke their little green heads up. The mustard and pak choi, already up for 2 or 3 weeks, look fine but they seem to be in some kind of suspended animation, waiting for a little more warmth, a little more sun, a little more – spring, maybe? Definitely not more water, we have had plenty of that, somewhere around 5 inches of precipitation for January. At least it is too cold for the snails and slugs, but I am fearing an explosion come warm weather. I am plotting my counter attack, but in the meantime, I’ll enjoy these little gems in the garden and a few others that are basking in the soft fluorescent glow of the attic.

Red Cabbage under the lights in the attic. (The only spot with a South facing window.)

Strawberry – OK, not a really sprout, but I was still happy to see it perking up. Definitely means spring is on the way.

Before

1/27/21 – Full Moon! | High 53 | Low 40 | Rain .30″

Current Conditions

The tree guys were supposed to come on Monday, but due to the pretty crummy weather, they have been unable to come out and take care of the trees I have scheduled for removal. This doesn’t really put me behind, but as I mentioned in the previous post, I am feeling like I have a lot to get done and the clock is ticking. Today did turn out pretty nice in the afternoon (although snow is in the forecast tonight), so I decided to get the drone out and take some ‘before’ pictures for posterity. This corner of the property is where my focus is going to be this season. First, four trees come out. Then I’ll build a hugel bed with some of the wood just inside the current one. I plan to put the wood chips from the trees in the corner and begin to build the soil for a polyculture bed, probably adding some Wine Cap spawn to speed break down of the chips. Right now, I am thinking a couple of paw paws here and maybe a hazelnut, but I really haven’t worked all of that out yet. They aren’t visible in the picture, but against the fence behind the blackberries, there is a volunteer peach and a fig from a cutting I planted. Although maybe not this summer, I will probably have to add some trellising for those two fruit trees to be espaliered on. If I come across an interesting blackberry, I might add that to the current bed. I definitely need to upgrade the trellising I have in place for the blackberries. It is just 5 foot T posts and a few wires. It barely kept things under control last year. This is the second season for the blackberries, so I expect them to really put out some growth this year.

In a few months, I will try to post the ‘after’ portion of this entry. Everything will be green and alive and much more interesting than these drab pictures!

The Basic Plan

Winter

1/23/2021

Chipping Sparrow – Spizella passerina

Sometime in December, the last of the leaves are raked, all the dead plants are composted and things are cleaned up and put away from another year in the garden. It is an odd feeling when the weekend rolls around and there is nothing to do. Of course, something to do can always be found, but maybe it is just the time of rest that me and the garden are looking for. I am always thinking and planning and shuffling priorities and ideas around in my head but I am content just to let things be for the short days of mid winter. Then, as the days start getting just a little bit longer, I start to feel anxious that I will run out of time. The days and weeks until the garden springs to life are beginning to count down, slowly, steadily. Before it is too late and keeping the garden under control is a full time job, there are things to be done.

When I was a kid, winter was wood cutting time, and somehow I have been able to keep that tradition alive. I don’t use wood for heat and my woodlot is not that big, but there sure are a lot of trees on my little lot. In winter, I prune and cut, moving always toward that perfect blend of shade and privacy and sun in the garden. There is always a lot more shade than sun, so every year some more trees come down, more limbs are pruned back. I have reached the point where there are only a few trees left that I am comfortable taking down. What is left are a bunch of 50 – 80 foot pines, any one of which could hit my house or either of three neighbors’ houses, not to mention assorted fences and sheds. So I pay some one to do the tricky part of bringing them down to the ground. I’ll clean up a lot of the mess, sorting out the wood for its highest value and cycle back into the garden, as chips or mushroom logs or the basis for hugel culture mounds or firewood for next fall’s camping trips. The tree guys are coming Monday. Winter break is over. They will cut up and chip most of the trees they bring down. This will provide most of the raw material for some of the things on this to-do list. The list is ambitious but doable. I am looking forward to getting started.

Winter 2021 To-Do List

  • Build new hugel
  • Wood chips into ‘polyculture corner’
  • Top up existing hugel
  • Remove landscape fabric from under Japanese maple
  • Unload compost tumbler
  • Move tumbler
  • Build firewood rack
  • Wood chips in front beds
  • Prune corner holly bushes
  • Rear fencing on blueberry bed
  • Girdle gum by fence
  • Cut 2 gums (by raspberries, by playset(enough for shiitakes?))
  • Disassemble play set(?)
  • Upgrade blackberry trellis
  • Rain barrels, south corner

1/13/21

Sprouts!

Pak Choi – Brassica rapa

The first sprouts of the new season have emerged. The mustard and pak choi planted 11 days ago are up. I lifted the cover to check for peas, but those are still sleeping. I am not expecting the cilantro any time soon, so I was not surprised they were not up. The miracle of seeds is always amazing. These seeds were saved from the previous spring’s plants. Now, a new generation is here. I have never started any this early and I am interested to see how things will grow with such short days.

Mustard – Brassica juncea – ‘Giant of India’

High: 56 | Low: 34 | Moon: Waxing Crescent | Daylight: 9hr 59min

1/2/21

Earlier this fall, a nearby market gardener mentioned that he planted his peas on January 1st. I’ve never planted anything out in the garden this early by at least six or eight weeks, but I thought it might be worth a shot. I have never had much success with peas either, so maybe planting time is my issue and this will be the year.

I spread some fresh soil on a section of the hugel that seems to be get the most winter into spring sunlight and planted two six foot rows of peas. I also filled in the gaps with some cilantro, pak choi and mustard. All seeds were saved from 2020 and are plants that seem to be good candidates for an ultra early planting try. I covered the section with lightweight row cover as much to keep the squirrels out as to keep the heat in. It is forecast to be mild for the next couple of weeks- highs in the 50’s, lows in the 30’s, but also a little rainy and cloudy. I’ve had seeds rot in the early spring, so I am concerned about that here in the beginning of a wet winter, but maybe being up on the hugel in some fresh, fluffy soil will mitigate that some. We will see!

High: 55 | Low: 50 | Precip: 1.5in | Moon: Waning Gibbous

Some might say it’s not a real hugel, but I am working at a small scale here!