Gardening in the Snow

And then it snowed. Again. And again. And again. The children now look forward to school as a pleasant interruption to their days in pajamas playing with Legos and building snow forts. The snowblower to which I reluctantly agreed now seems like an old, and well loved friend. Our chats about someday screening our porch or building a fire pit have given way to discussions about wood stoves and window replacements, blown in insulation and how to move the common entry to the garage before the salt, sand and chemical crud eat the flooring in the house.

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my sick of being cold face

I make no pretense that it never snows in the Mid-Atlantic, that we’re being subjected to some major injustice, or that these snows have been spectacular individually, but as with most folks in North America, I have now had enough.

We’ve eaten soup.

We’ve baked cookies and banana bread.

We’ve created worlds and watched curling (okay, not for long, but I had to know).

Whether the weather is ready or not, we are quite ready for Spring. The best antidote for my winter hostility is to focus my thoughts on the months to come. What better way to anticipate the end to the seemingly endless Tundra than by planning the garden and planting some seeds.

If you’ve been playing along for a while, you know that when it comes to following directions, I prefer an abstract approach, and this has presented me with some challenges in my gardening efforts in the past. Get up and go get it done only helps you if you’re doing the right things… or at least things that aren’t clearly wrong. In an effort to increase my garden success I’ve decided that, in addition to implementing the Big Dog Protection System, I will try to do some helpful reading in the cold months to improve my garden outcomes. I’ve also become interested in some new (or very old) gardening practices and am considering ways to implement them in the garden.

To that end I’ve been taking a spin with some of my old favorites to read about “crop” rotation. I use quotes because I feel silly using the word crop for my backyard garden, but the principles still apply.  I find Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch to be unbeatably reasonable on this topic (and all others that I’ve referred to them for) and my original garden guru, Mel Bartholomew, indicates that crop rotation is important just by building it into his square foot gardening approach.  I’ve had some trouble with various diseases and decreased production over the last few years, so this year I’m going to move some things around in very specific ways – get those plants helping each other and rebuilding the soil a bit.  We shall see.

I’m also super interested in implementing some permaculture strategies in the garden, although I confess that the extent to which these methods depart physically from what I’m only barely managing to do now is a bit intimidating.  But when a local landscaper,Michael Judd, writes a beautiful book on the subject that includes his pictures taken in the county you live in… well you don’t get much better advice than that. It’s like learning from a neighbor who takes great pictures. Reading… reading… reading.

In time honored tradition, I’ve already made my first gardening mistake by failing to realize that the extreme and persistent cold that we’ve experienced this winter has an impact even on my little indoor seed starting efforts. While I would usually remove covers from mini greenhouses once seedlings have sprouted, the constant blowing of warm air from the heat being on ALL THE TIME has proven far too drying for going topless. Overexposure led to terrible embarassment, and a trayful of VERY dead seedlings.

Even with one failure under my belt, looking at my stack of books, my graph paper, and the feathery alien seedlings growing in my living room fills me with hope that perhaps this will be the last snow for the season, that maybe, just maybe, the heat will turn off someday soon. I’m going to go make some soup and read about raised beds on contour to capture the rain. How about you? I hear we may get more snow on Thursday. For now I shall continue with the investigations and planning that are the unsung heroes of any human endeavor. Faith, hope, and a little optimism in a little seed in a little dirt.

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How Does Your Garden Grow?

I’ve just had a glorious week at the Chautauqua Institution in NY with my family and my parents.  This year I really detached from everything – which is largely why you’e not heard much from me.  I needed a break and while I was taking that break I learned SO much.  Personal growth aside, I had a fabulous week learning more about gardening.

I got to take a class on garden design with one of my mothers (I am lucky enough to have two) and while I am not much for aesthetic gardening,  have to say that it just may be time to turn over a new leaf (yes, I know it was too easy – grown away – har har – somebody stop me).  I spent a week learning a lot about perennial gardening from the nicest collection of gardeners.  For once I was the spring chicken in the room, and I have to say I was delighted to be so.  These folks got me so charged up I began having wild and ambitious ideas about changes to make to our little piece of the suburbs – even changes that can’t be eaten.

Whilst spending all this time smelling the roses, or the butterfly bushes I prefer, I also did some long overdue reading pertinent to food gardening.  I am just too practical to go all floral – and besides, I’ll need snacks while I’m pruning (or whatever it is I’ll have to do if I go through with all these flower based plans…. I brought my copy of Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture with me on my trip and devoured a good half of it.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the book, it’s about permaculture for the backyard.  Hunh?

Permaculture is, and this is my own terrible definition, growing plants in a way that most closely recreates the interactions between living things in the natural environment.  The bad thing about permaculture? You have to learn a lot and the plants that many suggest are not as readily available as the ones most yard gardeners are accustomed to using.  The GREAT thing about permaculture? If you get it right, you don’t have to do NEARLY as much WORK.  The plants feed each other, attract appropriate pests, the soil stays healthy and angel choirs sing 24/7.  Okay, that last bit was over the top, but seriously if this works as they say, and there’s a growing number of people who say that it does, I am in, at least a little. Let the research on perennial vegetables and fruit and nut trees begin!

My borrowed blister beetle photo.

Now that I am home with all this information, I have to face my current situation. I spent the morning saving the lawn and the shrubs from the weeds. I tore out two long dead shrubs with visions of flowering things in my head.  My boy and I spent the afternoon reclaiming the veggie patch from weeds.  WOW what a week (okay more than a week) of rain and reasonable temps did for the weeds. We harvested while we weeded and ended up bringing in quite a haul given what it looked like when we started.  Still no tomatoes, but plenty of blister beetles.

IMG_9649The good news is that their presence in the garden likely means we’ll have a few less grasshoppers at some point (the larvae eat the grasshopper eggs), but they are damaging to veggie crops, so I went straight for the big gun (well, the biggest one I will use on food crops) and applied Captain Jacks Dead Bug Brew. Thank you for eating the grasshoppers; no, you can’t stay. And you harlequin beetles over there on the kale, you’re going too.  Sorry. No, really, I’m a little sorry.  Yeah, I’m weird.

My aesthetic lanscape also took a hit in the bug damage department.  A few of the shrubs that line our front walk seem to have been consumed by some sort of tent caterpillar.  They were healthy when we left and now…. Truth to tell, I don’t like these shrubs anyway – who plants pricker bushes on the front walk? Welcome, don’t touch, owwwwwwww.

 

Healthy Shrub

Healthy Shrub

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Nearly Dead Shrub

IMG_9664I gave these a dose of Captain Jack’s as well, just in case any of the little buggers were still in there and are getting ready to move on to things I DO care about.  Now I have an excuse to pull those dead ones and replace them. YAY! I’ll add these to the list I made of plants that are dead, dying, or misplaced that I get to pull up and add to the deer barrier bramble behind the fence (the latest in a long line of deer disuasion devices while we look for a new canine friend). What I really need to do is find a way to bottle some of this enthusiasm for use in the spring. In the meantime, I’ll be tearing things out, reading about perennial edibles and lookables, and building new beds with Amazon boxes, leaves, and soil. How does your garden grow?