A Winter Garden

Things are well underway. Most of the winter/spring crops are in the ground and so far doing well. I decided to move the schedule up a bit and see just how much I could overwinter. All these crops have done well so far. Planting garlic, onions and strawberries in the fall for spring harvest is not that unusual, but I have never tried any other veggies on a serious basis. After watching the success of a volunteer spinach plant that sprouted in the fall of 2022, lived through the winter and put on a lot of growth as soon as there was just a hint of spring in the air, I decided that I might go all in on ‘winter’ garden. So I started and planted out kohlrabi, spinach, lettuce, mustard, kale and fava beans. The weather so far has been mild and all the plants are doing well, and in some cases better than I expected. There is a lot of lettuce that is ready to be harvested. I am hoping it will just hang out at least for a couple of months. I think the lettuce will be fine until there are some really warm days, maybe mid March, and then there might be some bolting. It will be interesting to see how the other veg does. I am even thinking there may be time to slip in some catch crops if I can time it right. I have a few ideas that I am working on incorporating, but this is a learning year. Of course, isn’t every year a learning year?




Endings and Beginnings

When does one year in the garden end and the next begin? It is convenient to use the calendar, but that doesn’t really capture what really happens. December was a time to regroup and reset, but between the end of September and the beginning of October is when most of last year’s garden ended and several things planted that will make up the first harvests of 2024. I have been experimenting with a shift in the garden schedule. After learning a few things last year, I already have most of the spring garden in the ground. This includes garlic, onions, strawberries, spinach, mustard, kale, lettuce, kohlrabi and fava beans. Some of it is under cover, some of it not. The forecast is for a colder winter this year so it will be interesting to see how everything holds up. I will still plant some peas towards the end of January, some cilantro, parsley and dill in February and potatoes and beans in March, otherwise 2024 was well under way back in October.

September

garden in September

October


Max Dogwood

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.



February Flashback

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.

Bigger than it looks!
Wood chips down, daffodils up!

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.

Helleborus ‘Frost Kiss Moondance’

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.

A Spring Surprise

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!

Spring Plans

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.

strawberries planted on black plastic
Very Professional!

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!

Spring!

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
Cilantro
Cabbage
Garlic
Peas
Onions
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!

It is going to be a good year!
Future blueberries

Swinging into Spring

4/6/21 Waning Crescent Moon | High 76 | Low 42

Dogwood – Cornus florida

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.

Apple blossoms. Malus spp.

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.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail – Papilio glaucus

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.

Too hot in the attic so the seedlings had to move to the less sunny porch.

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.

First harvest of the season. Delicious!

Road Trip!

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.

Virginia Spring Beauty Claytonia virginica
Bloodroot Sanguinaria canadensis
Slender Toothwort Cardamine angustata
Round-lobed Hepatica Hepatica americana
Trout Lily Erythronium americanum
Northern Spicebush Lindera benzoin

Lessons Learned

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!

Lactuca sativa ‘Yugoslavian Red’

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.

Covers off for the picture, but I will be keeping them on well into the spring.

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.

Happy lettuce.

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!

Garden terrorist. Sciurus carolinensis