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A Year in Our Garden - 2012
December 24, 2012

In a gardening season that had the worst drought we've experienced in thirty years, where both of our main computers suffered terminal failures, and the Senior Gardener was gimpy for over half the season, it might be easy to dwell upon what went wrong. There certainly were more than enough disasters to go around, but our 2012 gardens also produced some wonderful successes. So while I'll mention some of the failures where they may prove instructive, I'm going to mainly look at what went right.


Getting Things Started - January and February

Onion seedlingsPetunias in egg cartonsWe generally grow all of our garden transplants and flowers from seed under a bank of fluorescent lights in our basement. We seeded two flats of onions in mid-January and a couple of old egg cartons to petunias just a few days later. The egg carton planting was to illustrate a still unfinished feature story on growing garden transplants, and the egg cartons quickly moved to a kitchen windowsill shortly after germination. The nostalgic experiment, as my mother used to start flowers in egg cartons on a windowsill when I was young, proved immensely successful. The petunias remained in the windowsill until they outgrew their egg cartons and were transplanted to traditional fourpacks and went under our plant lights...with an egg carton of herbs taking their place on the windowsill.

Baby Glox in Six Inch Pot
baby glox in 3" pots
Red gloxinia bloom

Part of the reason for experimenting with windowsill gardening is that our plant rack gets really crowded when we start our transplants until they begin going outside under a cold frame in the early spring. Adding a bit to the congestion was a pleasant surprise in late December (2011) of tiny gloxinias growing around some mature potted gloxinias. Somehow the blooms had pollinated, produced and shed good seed. The tiny babies got transplanted first into fourpacks, then into 3" pots, and finally into 4" pots, producing mostly red velvet blooms by mid-summer!

peat pellets
Survivors

Getting a little reckless with experimentation, I seeded almost all of our geranium seed to peat pellets in February on a suggestion from a reader. The pellets and some bad seed proved to be just one more chapter in our long history of disasters growing geraniums from seed. Fortunately, I put a few of our precious geranium seeds in traditional pots with sterile planting mix (and germinated some others on paper towels), so we still had a good many geraniums to mark corners and rows of our vegetable garden. For 2013, I've already ordered quality geranium seed from Stokes Seeds and will totally ignore any old peat pellets we have lying around.

seeding peasAmish Snap and Champion of EnglandWith lots of warm weather in February, I moved our sage plants from a raised bed to an area by our shallow well that I hope will eventually become a raised herb bed. Only one of the two sage plants took, but it was a dandy. Towards the end of the month, I was able to hoe the seedbed I'd prepared in the fall and seed our first row of peas! February 28 is the earliest I've ever planted peas, and considering the dry weather that followed, it was good that I got them in so early.

Not all the peas germinated well in the cool soil. We'll have to treat our Mr. Big pea seed, purchase treated seed for next year, or just wait to plant it until the soil is warmer as that variety's seed just rotted in the cold, wet ground. But plantings of new, heirloom varieties for us, of Amish Snap and Champion of England germinated well and produced acceptable crops of tasty peas in the later dry spring that we'll not only grow them again in 2013, but will probably save seed from both! (Oh no, another couple of varieties to isolate for purity of seed!)

Crocuses in FebruaryThe Amish Snap variety suffered a bit more from the dry weather than some of our other pea varieties, but did produce a good many fully filled pods. The Champion of England variety turned out to be a very pleasant surprise, producing long, thick pods filled with up to ten large, sweet peas in them. A replanting of Mr. Bigs produced large pods, but weren't filled out well as the variety matured when the drought had really set on.

Between starting geraniums and seeding peas, we got all of our spring brassicas started as well. With lots of warm days, we were also treated mid-month to seeing crocuses emerge for the first time (that we noticed) in the back yard in the eighteen years we've lived here. How the bulbs got there, or if they were always there, I don't know. But I did grab the camera to record them.

Sadly, February's meager 1.10 inches of precipitation would turn out to be a harbinger for the rest of the growing season. March was only slightly wetter with April being the only month until September in which we received normal and adequate rainfall. June's 0.15 inches of rainfall pretty well changed our gardening season to one of just getting what we could, instead of our normal, plentiful harvests.

 

March

Plant rack and lights plants lining kitchen wall

Cold frameAs we continued to start various flower and vegetable transplants indoors in March, things got really crowded under our plant lights until we began to move early crops such as onions, brassicas, and lettuce out under the cold frame. Since the weather continued to be really warm, we also began moving our hanging baskets of flowers out under our back porch about a month and a half earlier than usual.

Of course, even with an early spring, we had nights where not only was the cold frame closed, but also covered with blankets. Hanging baskets lined our kitchen walls several times on frosty or snowy nights during the month.

The wonder of the month was that things actually started coming up out of the ground. Our garlic had actually broken the soil surface in late December or early January, but seeing asparagus begin to sprout, if only a few shoots, and peas breaking through the soil, renewed the thrill of another gardening season beginning.

Garlic in snow Asparagus Peas up Porch plants
Garlic up in January First asparagus shoot - March 14 Peas up - March 18 Porch plants out - March 18

Amidst all the transplants downstairs, a couple of gloxinias burst into bloom, demanding a showy spot in our kitchen window.

Gloxinias

April

Transplanting brassicasBroccoli headApril was a fooler for us, as rainfall levels returned to normal, giving false promise of a normal growing season. Our soil did seem a bit dry from the previous dry months, and we were able to jump right in transplanting things at the first of the month. Our first planting of brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, etc.) went in on April 2. Our transplants were an ideal six weeks old, protected initially with paper cup cutworm collars, and later were heavily mulched with grass clippings. By mid-May, we were cutting large main heads of broccoli. Since we usually do well with fall crops of brassicas, I was generous in giving away broccoli to friends and family.

Silly boy!

Brassicas and garlic

Almost every garlic set we'd planted in the fall survived their early emergence. Once we mulched the garlic, it even looked better than above.

Throughout April and May, it seemed that I was constantly planting, mowing, and mulching. The heavy mulching of most of our crops probably saved what harvest we got once the drought's full effects began to be felt in June. Besides suppressing weed growth, grass clipping mulch helps hold moisture in the soil.

Main raised bed

By month's end, our entire main garden was planted. The large, main raised bed had (front to back) spinach, peppers, lettuce and onion, garlic, brassicas, and tomatoes planted or transplanted.

Marking rowsOnions in holeOur newest raised bed (inside dimensions 3' x 15') contained an intensive planting of onions, carrots, and beets. I spaced the rows closer than I ever had before, only to find that the 4" spacing was pushing things a bit too far. It was difficult to cultivate, pull weeds, and even mulch because I got the rows so close together. As the drought set in, plants obviously were competing for moisture.

In previous years, we've had great success using a 4" spacing between double rows of onions, carrots, and beets. But we also left eight inches to a foot between the tightly spaced double rowed crops.

There's always something to learn about gardening.

East Garden - April, 2012

Things usually dry out enough for an early tilling of our large East Garden plot sometime in March or April. I was able to till the whole 75' square plot by mid-April this year. Timely, as as it turned out, welcome rains delayed planting anything there until May, but getting the plot completely turned once fairly early helps hold back spring germinating weeds. Note that we don't help ourselves out much with such weeds, as much of the East Garden is mulched each year with grass clipping mulch, which includes a good bit of weed seed.

Asparagus

Grandkids picking asparagusOur asparagus bedThroughout April, we picked lots of nice asparagus. Our asparagus patch is now six years old and produces a good picking every other day in the spring, if not every day. We actually began light pickings in mid-March, as the warm winter allowed the roots to begin pushing up their delicious shoots rather early this year. Our harvest was augmented by a light, first picking from an old asparagus patch just behind our property that the landowner had abandoned and suggested we tend.

Knowing when to stop picking asparagus can be a little tricky. When new shoots obviously thin in diameter and number is a good sign that it's time to let the patch begin to rebuild its strength for the next season. We picked this year through the end of May and from the size of the shoots, could have picked longer. But the dry weather had me worried, so I let the patch begin to rebuild in June. Considering the lack of rainfall throughout the summer, I'm glad we backed off picking when we did. The summer growth on our asparagus patch was fully a foot shorter than usual and not nearly as abundant as usual.

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