Sunday, December 16, 2012

2012: A Year in Gardening

Sunflower photo by Shane Vano

Before my thoughts shift into 2013, I thought I'd reflect on some of the memorable items of this past year's gardening adventures. I tried new things and kept in mind Albert Einstein's famous quote: "The distinction between the past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion."

Here are a few highlights from my 2012 gardening season.

The 80 degree March days followed by freezing cold nights destroyed every flower bud on my five pear trees and seven apple trees. Nearly all of Michigan's tree fruit crops were also ruined by climate change.

I bought a tiller. Not a wimpy little tiller, but a big one that actually works. It has an 8 HP engine and cultivates my heavy soil beautifully, backwards or forwards. 

Before I tilled my vegetable garden in May, I asked my dad to move the drip irrigation tubes to one side. When I went back to check on him I discovered, to my horror, that he had ripped up the entire drip system and tossed it in a broken, tangled heap. My dad does not follow directions well. 

I covered one row in my vegetable garden with Agribon cloth. Beneath the "floating row" I grew pest-free lettuce, cabbage and broccoli. Once or twice I applied the organic insecticide Spinosad, a naturally occurring bacterium that kills soft-bodied insects. I have never had such beautiful, pest-free lettuce and cole crops. I planted a second crop of lettuce in August, which I harvested through November. 

I tilled up a small section of field and put in a pumpkin patch, far enough away from the vegetable garden so that the vines could not creep in and strangle everything. (Overturning un-tilled sod always yields an explosion of weeds the first couple of years.) If you're lucky you'll get something benign, maybe clover and golden rod. I got poison ivy, a truckload of it. Thankfully I'm not allergic to urushiol, the plant's volatile oil that brings affliction to many a soul.

In August, a weasel infiltrated the chicken pen and stole some eggs. (Seriously angry birds.) I trapped the weasel inside the hen's roost box. It escaped, because weasels are shape-shifting demon spirits. Then I put out a weasel trap for several weeks. No luck. In October, the weasel returned and this time, four of my hens died from heart failure. Two survived, along with my brave lady duck, although she held a grudge against me until I hired a friend to come out and re-screen the entire pen with 1/4" hardware cloth. I also buried a trench of wire in the soil around the perimeter to prevent weasels from tunneling. The hens are now truly safe. It cost me a small fortune.

Art by Claudia Pimentel

My friend Kevin's old dog Sydney died the same week I lost my hens. We buried her on my property, out by Shed 2, together with the birds. We fondly remember Sydney as "Flower Crusher" for her joy of charging into the large border of Coreopsis blooming along the driveway, and sitting on them. 

My dad and I installed 150' drainage pipe to move standing water away from the backyard (cat-tails were actually sprouting in the lawn). We rented a trencher. After our neighbor and his son helped us pull the trencher out of the mud where I had gotten stuck, the results were uneven, literally. The trench became deeper the closer it got toward the water source. Fortunately we got smart on that project and hired two hunky college dudes to finish the job with long-handled shovels.  

I introduced a couple of friends to the Top-Bar beekeeping method. It was nice to have some bee buddies on hand to bounce things off of. Top-Bar is a small but growing method for hobby apiarists. We need to help each other out. Right now my hive is jammed with honeycomb, workers and a healthy queen. I sure hope they make it through the winter. 

For the first time, my potatoes were invaded by Colorado Potato beetle larvae. I spent a few early evenings picking them off by hand. Problem solved.

Finally, I gave a handful of garden lectures. At one lecture I discussed things a gardener can do in the fall. A woman brought me a three-page list (double-sided), an A-Z of every perennial in her garden. She hoped I'd tell her specifically what to do with each plant. My answer? "Cut it down if you want, or don't cut it down if you don't want." That's the same advice I give everyone who asks this question, because there's no profound secret to cutting back perennials at the end of the year. (I leave most of mine up for insect habitat and to feed the birds.)

Another couple at this same presentation complained to the event coordinator, "All he did was show pictures of his garden."

I apologized for not showing pictures of other people's gardens.

See you next year.

327767_2012 - MANTIS 4-CYCLE DELUXE TILLER PAGE - 300 X 600

1 comment:

Ryan White said...

My wife and I are wanting to give broccoli and lettuce (and hopefully carrots) a shot this year and I'd love to hear any other tips you have on how to do that well ie. specific varieties to grow, when to start them, and what to look for in pest control.

Ryan White