Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Gardeners' Holidays 2016: The Changing of the Garden

As you can see from today's cute Google Doodle, today is the start of winter, and thus time for the final Gardeners' Holiday of the year. This year at our house, The Changing of the Garden is extending beyond the vegetable garden and into the front yard. As you know, we've had very uneven results trying to grow flowers in front of the house. They looked great to start with, but eventually they all flopped over in a strong storm, and they never really recovered. Our first attempt to tame the unruly flowers with of stakes and string proved unsuccessful, and our second attempt this spring was doomed from the start because by that point, the bachelor's buttons had completely taken over, crowding out everything else. I finally got fed up and decided to yank them all out, and once they were gone, we discovered there was nothing left but a few scraggly daisies and poppies. It looked less like a bed of wildflowers and more like an abandoned plot of land in which a few wildflowers had managed to pop up.

So we decided that this fall, we'd just pull everything out and reseed the bed, this time with an all-perennial mix that doesn't have any of those pesky cornflowers in it. However, this plan was complicated by the installation of our new front stoop. We didn't want to put the seeds in before the stoop was completed, for fear the workers would just end up ploughing up the area and disrupting all the seeds. Unfortunately, while the steps themselves went in at the start of December, the railings didn't get installed until this Monday. (First we had to wait for the new railings to be constructed, and then our appointment to have them put in kept being rescheduled on account of freezing temperatures that made it impossible to use the water-cooled drill.)

So it wasn't until Monday afternoon, after the ironworkers were gone, that we finally managed to get seeds in. We ended up having to use our big spade to dig up—or more accurately, chip away—the area immediately next to the steps, which had been soaked with the spray from the drill and completely frozen over, but we eventually managed to scatter the seeds and compress them into the dirt, leaving them uncovered as the package instructed. Now we just have to cross our fingers that they manage to germinate and give us something nicer-looking than we had the first time around. (We'll probably want to install stakes and string with the new bed, too, as the new perennial mix also has some very tall blooms in it.)

Once that was taken care of, we were able to turn our attention to cleaning up the vegetable garden. On Tuesday, Brian tore out most of the withered remains of this year's crops. It turned out to be impossible to pull out the squash vines without ripping out most of trellis netting with them, so he just ended up pulling the entire mess out, leaving that trellis bare. He'll have to put new trellis netting in next year when we plant our spring crops on First Sowing day.

Before he can do that, however, he'll most likely have to replace the entire garden bed frame. His home-grown design for raised beds constructed of 2-by-4's has held up remarkably well until now, but after eight years, the boards are starting to warp and decay to the point that the bed can no longer hold itself together. So next spring we'll have to replace at least one of the beds, and possibly all four. This time around we'll most likely use pressure-treated wood, which should hold up better to the elements. I was unwilling to use it last time because I kept reading warnings about the dangers of the arsenic used in preserving the wood leaching into your soil. But it turns out this particular chemical, called chromated copper arsenate (CCA), is no longer used in pressure-treated wood sold for domestic use, and newer preservatives appear to be much safer. So I figure at this point, I figure the only real downside to using this material is a somewhat higher one-time cost, and it's well worth it if we don't end up having to replace the beds every eight years.

As you can see from the pictures above, we haven't completely stripped the garden bare. The parsley and the winter lettuce are still green and growing, so we've left them in place in the hope that we can continue to harvest them throughout the winter or, failing that, let them overwinter and pop up again in the spring. We've also left in the Brussels sprouts plants because they actually do have tiny but identifiable sprouts on them, and we can't quite bring ourselves to pull them out if there's even a chance those sprouts could survive to become big enough to eat. It's a long shot, but we have nothing to lose at this point. However, given the distinct lack of success we've had with this crop over the past three years, we're definitely not devoting any of our precious garden space to it next year.

Another crop we've decided to leave untouched, sort of as an experiment, is our raspberry canes. When we first bought these plants back in 2013, we decided to follow the cut-every-year method of growing, which gives you one large crop in the fall instead of a steady stream of berries throughout the summer. We chose this method mainly because it's a lot easier than the more traditional method of growing them, which is to selectively prune the bushes each year, cutting off the two-year old "floricanes" while leaving the one-year-old "primocanes" intact. However, this year, it occurred to Brian that, since we've been cutting everything down each year, we know that what we have out in the bed right now is nothing but primocanes—so why not just leave them there to develop into floricanes and let next year's primocanes come in behind them? That way, we'll get a crop off the floricanes in the summer and off the primocanes in the fall—and after that, we can just cut everything down and start over again. So we're giving that a try, and if it turns out to give us a better yield overall, we'll stick with this two-year cycle from now on.

The other bit of garden-related news is that our new Fedco seed catalogue has arrived. So as per our new holiday tradition, we'll bring that with us on our Christmas jaunt to Indianapolis, perhaps even taking it in the car so I can browse through it and propose new crops to Brian as he drives. By the time we return home, we should have it all figured out what new goodies we want to plant in next year's garden. (We'll probably be devoting a bit more of our time to the garden in 2017, as focusing on the one bit of the planet we can control should be a welcome relief from all the upsetting things happening elsewhere in the country and around the globe.)

So that wraps up our Gardeners' Holidays for 2016. We're off to Indianapolis shortly, and I may or may not have time to update the blog while I'm there—so in case I don't post again this year, a happy Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Yule, or winter solstice holiday of your choice, and I'll see you all in 2017.
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