It is always interesting to get off the ground for a bird’s eye view. Although it feels like spring is coming on fast, it would be nice to see a little more green in these pictures. In the coming months, I’ll post some more of these. It will be quite a contrast. At least, I hope it will be!
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!
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.
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 To Do
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
2023 Starts Now!
Here in the Piedmont of NC it is hard to say when one gardening season ends and the next begins. We just had our first hard frost, so the peppers, tomatoes and beans were knocked out. Mustard, turnips, kale, lettuce, celery and carrots continue on. With the peppers gone it was time to plant next year’s garlic. Soon those new green shoots will be poking through. Peas will get planted out in just over two months.
The garden looks nice with summer’s plants out of the way, though. There is just a little time to enjoy it and get some rest right now around the holidays. A long list of projects awaits to get everything ready for spring.
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.
2021 in the Rearview
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.
A Different Perspective
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.