Saturday, December 12, 2015

When Good Weather Is Bad


Little by little, the last of the gardening chores are being completed.

First up was the asparagus.  I had been waiting a very long time for the ferns to turn brown and the time finally arrived this past weekend:

Browned Asparagus Foliage
I cut all of the ferns at ground level and then topped the bed with a good quantity of compost.

Asparagus stems cut down at ground level
Lastly, I mulched the beds with a few inches of straw.  I normally use my plastic trellising to hold mulching straw in place, but didn’t have enough to cover both these beds and the garlic/strawberry beds.  So I came up with a rather ingenious idea that turned out to be so much easier than the netting – chicken wire.

I had a couple of rolls left over from the fencing and one of them was 30” wide, the exact width of the narrow asparagus beds.  I anchored the chicken wire with pegs at one end of the bed and then unrolled it until it reached the end of the 3rd bed & anchored it with more pegs.  Easy peasy and only a few minutes of effort.

Chicken wire keeps mulching straw
from being blown off the bed
Sure beats having to deal with the tangle of plastic trellising.  If the remaining chicken wire was not inconveniently located at the back of my overflowing shed, I would use this method for all of the mulched beds.  But now I know for next year.

The gardening season this year reminds me of the Energizer bunny.  It keeps going, and going, and going – no small thanks to the above seasonal temps we have been having since September.  I’m very grateful for the extra harvests and not having to don a winter jacket as I do my garden cleanup.  The down side, however, is that I'm getting a bit worried that these unseasonal temps may wreak havoc with some of my crops.  Case in point – the garlic.  Some of it has started to poke out of the ground:

This is something I normally don't see until the early spring
In our area, garlic should be planted early enough so that the roots start to develop, but late enough that the shoots do not break the surface.  Yikes.  This has never happened to me before, so I have no idea what the impact will be.  I’ve read that the garlic may be damaged but whether this means I’ll actually lose some of it over the winter remains to be seen.  Thankfully, there was no evidence of sprouting shallots, so those should still be ok.

The other issue I've noticed is that since the ground is not frozen yet, the squirrels are much more active and destructive this year & they have been digging around in every single bed:

Dang squirrels
Not a big deal in unplanted beds, but a bit worrisome on those that were planted up.  A couple of unearthed garlic cloves had to be replanted and some of the holes were precariously close to the asparagus.

In the past, I usually waited until temperatures were consistently around the freezing mark and then did all my mulching at once – garlic, shallots & strawberries.  This normally worked out to be mid to end of November.  Here we are, almost a month later, and we still haven’t reached that point.

Regardless, I decided to do my mulching now and hope for the best.  At the very least, this should keep the beds a bit cooler and slow growth when our temps go up (we are supposed to hit 12C/54F on Tuesday).

Mulched garlic bed topped with the plastic trellis
For the strawberry bed, you are supposed to wait until the plants go dormant (mostly red leaves and green leaves get a grayish cast).  The inner leaves still look quite green to me, although perhaps not as vibrant as normal:

Strawberry bed before mulching
Good enough – the mulch is now on.

And lastly, I mulched the perennial bunching onions & overwintering spinach that I planted right behind them:

Perennial bunching onions
I wasn't sure if I should cut off the top growth on the perennial bunching onions before I mulched them.  Last year I grew He-Shi-Ko & left the tops on over the winter & they did fine.  The thing is, it's much easier to apply the mulch if all of those long leaves aren't in the way.

This year I grew 2 varieties of perennial bunching onions - Evergreen Hardy & Nebuka.  I'll be eliminating the Evergreen Hardy as I found the onions too large & slow to divide.  Instead of pulling them all up, however, I decided to do a bit of a test & cut off the top growth before I mulched.  Now we'll see if they make it through the winter ok.  The Nebuka, which I really liked and will be keeping, was left as is.

My worries also extend to the fruiting crops, especially the newly planted apple trees & berry bushes.  I planted 3 apple trees this spring and one of them still has a few green leaves left on it:


The leaves on the Granny Smith are a bit hard to see
against the still green grass

I finally got around to doing a nice, deep mulch on all of the blackberry and raspberry canes, which will definitely increase the odds of them making it through their first winter, so at least that’s one bit of re-assurance.

Mulched blackberry canes
I would love to get some fruit next year, of course, but my main concern with these new plantings is one of survival.  Normally, I don’t start feeling the stress of “what damage did the winter do” until the early spring when we get a bit of roller coaster weather.  Seems that this year my worries are starting early.

Till next time...


“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things” ~~ Robert Brault

20 comments:

  1. Oh, hi, there, Margaret ....

    First: to induce dormancy in the apple and other fruits, pull all the leaves off yourself. Often I have to do this January.

    Second: rolls of wire. I love them. I use pieces as props for dahlias in the summer, trellises for cucumbers and green beans in the spring and just this morning I rolled them out again for duckboards as the clay gets awful mushy when wet.

    Can you cover the beds where the squirrels are with wire and anchor it down with rocks?

    I like reading about these kinds of unforeseen problems and how you solve them creatively.

    Winter will come. We are just beginning to get some of our long-awaited, long-promised rain.

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    1. Hi Jane - I had heard of the leaf pulling trick when chill hours were a concern, but had not thought to do that in my case. I'll be sure to pull those leaves off today - thanks for the tip!

      All of the beds with crops in them are now covered with mulch. I haven't had an issue with squirrels digging into the straw before, so I'm fairly sure they will be ok. That's the other advantage of using the chicken wire as a topping for the straw - the squirrels couldn't dig into it, even if they wanted to. I should have done the wire trick on a section of a bed where I had planted some bulbs from an Easter school fundraiser. Unfortunately, I think the squirrels already got to most of them - I'll make sure to cover them next time.

      And I'm so glad to hear that you are getting some much needed rain!

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  2. I know what you mean about the weather. Although I am enjoying warmer temps I hope my fruit trees will be okay. I have only gotten one of my asparagus plants cut down so far. You are ahead of me! I think they are hard to cut. Do you just use pruners? I don't mulch the asparagus unless I put a little compost type stuff on them. Nancy

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    1. Hi Nancy - the fruit tree situation is worrisome with these mild temperatures, isn't it? I've heard it is supposed to be a very cold Jan/Feb, probably to make up for all this balmy weather. Hopefully it's not too much of a shock for our trees!

      And I do use pruners to cut the asparagus stalks - they are tough little guys!

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  3. Wow, great idea with the chicken wire. Another great option is to use Marsh Hay, which tends to knit and weave together and doesn't lift as much with the wind. It also doesn't have weed seeds in it. I wonder if it would help to heavily mulch the garlic to keep it at a more uniform, cool temperature throughout the winter? I frequently have onions sprouting in my garden throughout the winter. They're mulched, so they just kind of stay static until the warmer weather hits. I noticed my Daffodils, Hellebore buds, and Grape Hyacinths are starting to break through the soil. It will be interesting to see what happens after this weird weather.

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    1. I keep hearing about salt marsh hay, but I'm fairly sure we don't have any around here. I always thought it was because we were not near any salt water, but I'm guessing that you have access to it? Is there a particular type of source that would carry it? I'll have to ask around.

      I do mulch the garlic and shallots with several inches of straw over the winter, but I usually wait until the ground is almost frozen. Mulching too soon can insulate the ground and keep it from freezing for a longer period of time which is why I was waffling as to whether or not I should do it now or wait. Hopefully I made the right decision!

      I wonder if you will be getting a spring flower show in your garden at Christmas...wouldn't that be something? Fingers crossed that your bulbs don't sustain any damage once the weather eventually turns. Have a wonderful week, Beth!

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  4. Hi Margaret
    I'm having the same problems here, though my garlic is fully inches tall. I don't think that bodes well for a crop next year. Keeping my fingers crossed on them.
    What scares me most about this weather---SUDDEN dips in temps for plants not yet dormant. Most plants go through a slow process of going dormant. If winter "suddenly" arrives , it spells trouble. We went through a town in Wyoming last summer that had a late fall and a sudden start of winter. EVERY SINGLE TREE AND BUSH in that town was dead. It was horrible. I am so worried about my newly planted blueberry bushes, etc.
    Well, I guess that's what makes gardening so darn interesting, but the older I get, the less interesting I want--LOL!
    Have a great week, Margaret

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    1. Looks like I wasn't the only early riser today ;)

      OMG, Sue - what happened in that town in Wyoming is so incredibly horrible. Hopefully the rest of December will be relatively cool/cold so that the change in temps is not too much of a shock. It's supposed to get very cold in the new year. Not sure if it will be quite as low as last year, but it's worrying all the same.

      Oh, you are so funny, Sue, and so right - whenever someone asks how things are going and I say nothing new, I always follow that up with "and that's a good thing". These days, excitement can be just as easily good as bad & I quite like some ol' same ol'. Have a wonderful week...and morning!

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  5. Your beds look great, all cleaned up and tucked in for the winter! I know what you mean about the unseasonably warm weather. It has been warm here to, up to 70F here yesterday. My garlic sprouts every winter, with the shoots getting several inches tall. It's so hardy, it has never frozen out, at least not in my winters. But I don't think there's anything one can do other than give them some mulch.

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    1. Thanks Dave - that definitely gives me some reassurance that my garlic will pull through. I'll still be setting aside some cloves from each variety, just in case. Although spring planted garlic is not ideal, at least I won't have to try sourcing all of the different varieties if my fall planting doesn't make it.

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  6. It seems we always have something to worry about whatever the weather. It's turned cold here this weekend and it never stopped raining yesterday, I feel so sorry for the poor people who are suffering from flooding at the moment, there's more to come too. One good thing about the mild weather is the opportunity to get more jobs done than usual. I'm usually playing catch up when spring comes around.

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    1. The flooding is devastating - when I read about yet another evacuation, it really puts my relatively inconsequential worries into perspective.

      I was so far behind practically the entire year that I was grateful to be able to do a lot of catching up in the last couple of months. Some tasks, like mulching the garlic, would have been completed regardless - I was just much more comfortable doing them than I would have been had it been colder. Others, like picking up and applying the mulch for the berry bushes, would not have been done at all were it not for the warmer weather. Next year I "plan" to be much more on top of things :)

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  7. Ah, the vagaries of the weather. I think most gardeners become amateur meteorologists. We had a long warm autumn here and that did a quick turn to what seems like a pretty "normal" winter for us - cold and rainy. I'm not complaining,it's been scary dry.

    Pesky squirrels! I'm glad that's one critter that doesn't bother my garden.

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    1. That 2nd sentence made me laugh! When I first started a garden many years ago, the weather network was a relatively new channel and I was glued to it, day in and day out. Nowadays, I let my clicker do the walking and go to their website several times a day - it's not like the weather prediction is going to be that much different now vs. a few hours from now but I simply can't resist checking :) I'm hoping to get one of those weather stations like Daphne and Dave have someday - it's on the wish list.

      Oh, you must be relishing the rain - hopefully this is the start of the end of the drought.

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  8. You have done a nice job of preparing your beds for winter. It's up to nature now. I think your garlic bed will do fine. I have had a few small sprouts show in late fall with no ill effect. So the garlic is mulched, snow cover will come (boooh) and the worst that can happen is some nipped tips which does not affect the garlic at all. Time for a glass of port or sherry, put your feet up and peruse the seed catalogs.

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    1. That's two votes for "don't worry about it"...so I think I'll try to take that advice! When you look up these things, it's a bit scary as you get such vague descriptions - reading that this may "damage" the garlic can mean practically anything. A few nipped tips I can definitely handle (and probably wouldn't even notice). And that's very good advice....the High Mowing catalogue will make for some good reading this evening :)

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  9. It's been crazy warm here, too. I have a few plants that have started to break dormancy and I was out in the garden telling them all to go back to bed. I even have a few plants blooming! Love the chicken wire idea. Don't you love it when you discover easy, obvious solutions? :o)

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    1. Yes, I LOVE it when that happens! I hope that your plants heard you (did you do the wagging finger thing?...I can totally see that!) and they are able to "weather" this crazy weather :)

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  10. mm well for here its normal to have growth on my garlic this time of year, its up and up good in some cases LOL . Its also normal or my fruit trees and other things like berry bushes to think OH ITS SPRING and start acting accordingly. Its just part of where we live. Knocking on wood it seems to work out okay. But I have no idea if that would be the case where you live. I am still waiting on my asparagus to die off completely so I can cut it back. I do not put a mulching over mine but we do not get anywhere near as cold as you do either! Its so interesting to see how the climate changes how we all garden! :O).. we hit 80 this last Friday. That is warm even for here :O)

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    1. We get very cold in the winter and last year we had record breaking lows in Jan/Feb. - so low that there was no difference between Celsius and Fahrenheit (-40!). In fact, even the schools shut down because it was too cold - something that I had never seen before. I'm not sure what zone my plum and cherry were rated for so I was worried that they wouldn't be able to withstand those low temps, which are more indicative of 1 or 2 zones colder than we normally get.

      Thankfully, they both pulled through just fine and I even had the biggest harvest ever since planting them a few years ago (which isn't actually saying that much, but I'm hoping that each year the #'s will improve!). The thing is that last year, it turned cold and stayed cold. Hopefully the trees are "hardened off" enough over the coming weeks to withstand whatever weather the new year throws at us.

      Enjoy your balmy weather - must seem strange when I say that we are having "warm" weather when it's 11C/52F (which it is right now)!

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