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!
Although the month between Thanksgiving is pretty quiet, there is isn’t much time to rest in the garden. Things have already started happening and if I don’t get items done on the winter to do list, then they never get done. It is always interesting to me the emptiness of the big box garden stores when I go pick up some random supplies. It is a big contrast to the hordes of people there in the spring. I can’t be alone in loving the peaceful quiet of winter work, but maybe I am. The climate of North Carolina is perfect for it and certainly some of the more intense jobs are much better done in the cold of winter than the heat and humidity of the summer. I love getting started in the cold morning, my body heating up and then the warmth of the sun making it impossible to be cold at all even though everyone else walking by is dressed like an Eskimo.
This past weekend, I took advantage of a cold sunny day to do some hard pruning and wood pile maintenance. I only get the chainsaw out once or twice a year, but, or because of that, I am always surprised at the physical intensity of cutting wood. I was thinking about my dad, at my age now, keeping the shed full of wood that provided the majority of heat for our house when I was a kid. Of course, he had me and my brother to do a lot of the grunt work, but running a chainsaw is serious business. At the end of the day I was beat. As I stretched out and rested, though, it was a good feeling, a feeling of physical accomplishment, of getting real work done in the real world.
Winter is a time when it feels like something is actually getting done in the garden. I can stand back and see the work that I have done and feel good about it. In a few months, nature will take over and run riot over all my plans. As I look around the garden I already see Spring is well on the way. It is an exciting time in the garden!
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?
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.
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!
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
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?))