Notes from Windward: #63

Gardening Update - Mid-March

     January in the wintry woods is always a challenge, as once the fun of the Christmas season is behind, the long winter stretches out ahead. One way to cope with the mid-winter doldrums is to cast the mind forward to spring, to get out the seed and garden catalogs and make plans.

     The hardest part involves setting a reasonable budget, and then sticking to it. It' so easy to order way more plants than one is going to actually be able to get into the ground, and once there, nurse through that crucial first season.

     It's not the money budget one has to watch so much as the time and attention budget. Because of our location, we have wet winters and very dry summers, and while perennials will thrive here, they do need to be planted correctly and receive supplemental water if they're going to make it through the first dry season.

     Our soil has a substantial clay content, and if one just digs a moderate hole, inserts a bare root tree, and then just fills the hole back it, that tree's not going to make it. The problem is often called "the clay pot&quto; effect as the clay in the surrounding soil prevents the fine root hairs from being able to grow out away from the tree to the degree needed in order to sufficiently increase the water up-take zone.

     In order to counter that, we need to dig a planting hole at least some three feet in diameter, and then refill it with a mixture of dirt and compost such that the transplant will have an easier time getting its root system established. Like so many things at Windward, the key work goes into the underground systems that aren't visible to the casual observer, but have to be there in order for the plan to succeed.

     The final step is to build up a ring of clayish soil around the outer edge of the pit so that water will be caught and allowed to soak in rather than just run off downhill.

     Equipped with it's own water catchment, the transplant will be able to make good use of weekly watering through the dry season. Since we can easily go three months without rain in the late summer, there's no point in purchasing stuff unless there's going to be time and energy enough to follow through.

the first leaves of spring
are the most beautiful
     Last year, we planted a patch of bush cherries and raspberries, and thanks to Tara's steadfast attention through the long dry months, we're looking forward to our first production from that planting later this spring. The cherries are still dormant, as of mid-March, but the raspberries are starting to leaf out.

     We also planted some apricot and plum trees, but they were savaged by a very late frost, and we lost at least half of what we planted. We're holding our breath this spring to see what made it through the winter. Once they make it through their first winter and first dry season, there's a good chance that they're going to thrive.

     This year, we've decided to plant pecan trees and blueberries in the upper garden (the area we fancifully call "North Umbria" since it's north of where our original property line was). We're intending to plant the pecans along the new fence line where they won't shade out anything else, and then to establish this first test plot of blueberries just to the south of the trees.

     At this point in our development, we focus our organizational gardening efforts on short term and long term plantings; i.e. salads for the kitchen, and fruits and nuts for the pantry. In time we'll do more in the middle, i.e. potatoes, tomatoes and such, but since those items can be readily gleaned locally by the pickup load, we'll continue for now to focus on the items which we would otherwise have to buy.