My one regret from last fall is not finding the time to plant winter vegetables properly. Perhaps it was the couple weeks of freezing weather in December, or what I’m fairly certain is a pack of ravenous birds, but instead of a wall of peas, there are only a few sad shoots from which I’m lucky to pick one pea pod a day. Instead of kale overload I’m accepting unwanted aphid-infested leaves from garden neighbors. And perhaps most depressingly, there have been altogether too few fava beans, with most of the plants panicking from a couple days of warm weather and starting to flower at all of six inches tall (normally fava plants can be four or more feet tall).
During the brief patch of summer we experienced in January I tried to make up for my neglect by starting new seeds. Unfortunately, it is just in time to start thinking about planting summer crops, and I’m eying my carrot sprouts suspiciously, unsure whether I will have the patience to let them mature before ripping them out to make room for tomatoes. The garden is in limbo, with a few slow-growing tomato plants protected under milk jugs nestled between the kale plants.
While the plants grow at what feels like a glacial pace, I have completely revamped the garden. All the beds have been mulched with tree leaves, and I’m slowing tucking bunny manure under the leaves as the shitments come in. For the pathways I used pine tree mulch to protect against compaction, with the added bonus that for a few days my garden smelled like Christmas. I will readily admit that these changes were mainly motivated by laziness: mulch equals less weeding, less watering, and less work, in that you don’t have to turn over the soil to plant a new crop because the soil doesn’t get dry and hard if it isn’t left uncovered. My only worry with the new mulch system is that the soil won’t warm up as quickly, making it difficult for summer plant seeds to germinate. To combat this, I’ve started some seeds in pots on the balcony by our front door, a location that acts like a solar oven due to surface reflection and a view due south. I’ve also continued to start pepper and tomato seeds under milk jugs directly in the garden. Now if only I can remember which milk jug has the habaneros…
A few details:
- First batch of tomato and pepper seeds started in January. The tomato seeds had a 50% germination rate (planting 9 seeds per milk jug) and were transplanted to their final resting places in late February, now with their own individual milk jugs. The pepper seeds had a worse germination rate of 10-20% so far, although at least one pepper seed sprouted for almost every milk jug. Note to self: don’t be an idiot next year and think you’ll remember which milk jug corresponds to which tomato and pepper variety; you haven’t, you don’t, and you won’t.
- Currently harvesting: lettuce, arugula, kale, china choy chinese cabbage, fava beans, snow and shelling peas, green onions, carrots, radishes, and asparagus.
- The dwarf lemon tree took a hit from the December frosts and is only now starting to recover with some serious new foliage. Mulch and fertilizer no doubt helped.
- The flower garden surrounding the dwarf lemon tree suffers from malnutrition (bad soil) in places. At some point I should finish amending it to decrease sad purple/yellow cilantro leaves. Right now the flower garden sports a volunteer California orange poppy plant that is just beginning to flower, what will be a pink poppy plant, cilantro, fava beans, volunteer purple celery, some sort of spring flower that grows from a bulb (my guess is daffodils), and lots of volunteer nasturtiums.
- The new garden is finally in shape, with a sheet mulch bed covered in straw for planting summer squash, some potato plants that recovered from the frost, and what I believe are baby leek sprouts. The beds and walkways have been mulched, as in the main garden, and upkeep has been a breeze. I also transplanted my mint and lemon balm out of the main garden and into a bed on the edge of the new garden.