Sunday, January 8, 2012

Where is winter?

We have had an unusually warm winter here in the Mid-Atlantic.  It has only dipped down into the 20's twice, and we have had days near 70 degrees, with most days in the high 50's to low 60's.  It was difficult to even think about the Christmas season with the warmth in the air and my daffodil bulbs sending up tender little shoots.  I haven't seen a single Junco, which is one of the signs I look for to tell me that winter is here.  The columbine and heuchera think it is spring, as well, and have tiny tender little leaves that I'm sure about to be burned when winter finally shows up.

Despite a feeling of uneasiness about our lack of usual cold weather, I have been enjoying the ability to go out into the garden and work on small projects that I didn't have time for back in the fall.  As I may have alluded to in earlier posts, I was in grad school and planning a wedding last year.  That is all wrapped up now, and I am the new Mrs. P!

4" long tomato hornworm from last summer
With all the hubbub of the wedding, the garden reverted to its wild side last year.  We had neglected the weeds popping up between the raised beds, which gave all the garden pests a very nice haven from which to launch and feed on our veggies.  Most of our crops had some kind of failure: flea beetles ate the eggplant, the cantaloupes and watermelons were leggy and produced deformed, tiny fruits which rotted on the vine, the tomatoes were all sorts of diseased, chomped, and chewed.  We tried planting soybeans, and they were so slow to put out a pod that it took the entire growing season for them to produce anything.  They matured and dried up while we were on our honeymoon.  They took up precious real estate in the garden and we got nothing from them!  Cabbage moths chowed down on the Swiss Chard while turnip flies and their...ahem..."babies" tunneled their way through all of our root crops.  Harlequin bugs, brown marmorated stink bugs, and white flies devastated the kale.  We had an excellent crop of Provider bush beans and yardlong beans, and once the Jade okra FINALLY started growing it gave us plenty of pods to nibble on.  We did manage, through all the devastation from pestilence, hurricane Irene, drought, and garden neglect, to harvest nearly 115 pounds of produce from our eight 4x4 beds.  I canned as many tomatoes as I could, made salsa and several different kinds of pickles, and gave away what felt like bushels of tomatoes and cucumbers.  I salvaged as many of the greens as possible and blanched and froze them.  We ate green beans and Chinese Red Noodle beans until they were coming out our ears, and I froze several quarts that we have been savoring this "winter."

June: Chinese Red Noodle beans, coming out the ears!
Even though I will have much more time to devote to the garden, I have decided to cut back on the number of plants for the upcoming gardening season.  Who really needs six different varieties of tomato when two good varieties will give you all you need for fresh eating, canned tomatoes, and sauce?  I had such good luck with the Provider beans that they will definitely have a spot in the garden this year.  I will try my hand at the peppers and eggplant again, but will try growing them with floating row cover to keep the flea beetles away.

Mr. P bought me some weed fabric for Christmas (romantic, eh?!), and I was thrilled!  He also pledged to help me keep the weeds and bugs down this year, as he was saddened by my utter frustration last year.  He lacks the green thumb I have, but is a great support with projects and watering.  He has also promised me a rain barrel this spring!

Yesterday I went out in the gorgeous 68 degree weather and decided it was time to tackle the plantain weeds that had a firm stronghold in the garden.  I used muscles that haven't been used since last summer, and it felt amazing to get out and dig in the dirt.  I was extremely pleased to see loads of earthworms come up with each shovel of dirt.  When we moved into this house two years ago, the soil was incredibly poor and there were very few worms.  We have gone with the no-till method and have layered compost, newspapers, leaves and grass clippings in the raised beds, and used layers of cardboard and bark mulch around the beds.  The soil has obviously improved enough that worms can thrive, and this makes me happy.  I have improved a small section of our ecosystem!

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