And So the New Year Begins…
By Sherry Smith
Here we are in the new year. The winter solstice has passed and the days are getting longer. Gardeners all over the country are dreaming of spring planting season. Here on the coast, we’ve experienced our usual flighty weather patterns, albeit this winter is warmer than usual. Two weeks ago, we had three days of cold winter weather, and in the days since, temperatures have been in the seventies. Unfortunately, the unexpected freeze left our yard and garden full of frostbitten plants. We managed to bring all of the container plants inside, but the garden and flower beds were hit hard. Apparently, the plants here are as cold-hardy as the people…that is to say, not at all. We don’t do well with cold weather. Temperatures below 40 degrees are enough to send us all to the store to stock up for Armageddon. Once the weather warmed back up, I went outside to take stock of the damages.
The bush beans were history and the peppers were nothing but a memory. However, the Chinese cabbage is bigger and greener than ever, the garlic is still going strong, the Sonoran white wheat is thriving, and the peas are hanging in there. The funniest thing is all of my roses were basically untouched. The parsley, chives, yarrow and rosemary are happy as can be, but my warmer season herbs will have to be replaced. The almond verbena is no longer blooming, but has been replaced by sweetly scented jonquils. The clerodendrum has died back to the ground, but the elders are green and happy.
Pretty white jonquils
This is all new for us. We’re not accustomed to dealing with temperatures below freezing. We cleaned out the garden casualties and took stock of what was left. We planted the empty beds with mustard, beets and carrots. We cleaned up the dead vegetation in the clerodendrum bed to prepare for the new growth that will come in the spring. We cleaned out the existing herb bed and turned the chickens loose in it to clear it of any weed seeds or pests. I’m working on raking up all of the dead foliage to prevent pests or diseases from overwintering in it.
Some of the more tender perennials didn’t make it through our short bout of winter weather. I will clear these beds and prepare them for new tenants. In March, we will be putting in two bee hives, so I’m planning a sizeable bed of native wildflowers. I also plan on another herb garden that will be filled with bee friendly herbs such as lavender and borage. In the meantime, the seed catalogs are pouring in. My wish list is getting longer and longer. My husband is already picturing the time he’ll be spending with shovel and tiller and cringing.
Our pest management experts
We save seeds from our favorite crops from year to year, but of course, plant nerd that I am, I can never resist trying new varieties. This is the time of year that I work on dividing perennials, starting seeds, and sketching out plans for new projects. I’ve potted up a myriad of volunteers from plants that reseeded themselves this past autumn. These coupled with divisions will be used to fill in holes left by the cold weather. Trays of peat pots will be seeded with vegetables and flowers for spring planting. Cuttings will be taken from shrubs and rooted in small pots. By the time spring planting is upon us, I will have trays of healthy new plants ready to be transplanted.
Having built the new chicken coop, we will be tearing down the old one. It was here when we bought the place, and is poorly built. Once it is gone, we will use the wood to create a new garden bed that I will fill with new crops. After two years of chickens scratching and pecking, there are no weed seeds or pests there, and there is ample fertilizer. It will likely be planted with either grains or fruits. A border of chicken friendly flowers and herbs will be planted around the new coop, including lemongrass to repel the snakes that like to snack on eggs.
Yes, the winter rains are here along with unpredictable weather. It’s January on the Texas coast. I’m still barefoot and dirty when the weather permits, but when it doesn’t, I’m still gardening, still growing things. When I’m inside watching the rain come down, I’m planning and dreaming of the new things I will plant and grow when spring comes again.
Many of us garden for food, whether to save money or because we want to know where our food comes from and how it is grown. For some, planning a garden around a hobby can be just as rewarding.
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