by paul spencer
Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 03:49:43 PM EST
This is just one family's approach to gardening, but there may be a few lessons for novices in similar climates. The pictures are of our second garden, which is about 3 years old. (Our first garden was on the other side of our current home, and we used it for about 18 years.) The (sort of) parallelogram borders were picked for aesthetics, more than as frames for raised-beds.
Might be difficult to see, but some of the beds are covered by partially-composted leaves. The leaves are laid down in the Fall, after last harvest and after the rains/snows have started. Composting takes place in situ, and by late Spring the pieces of the leaves are about the size of postage stamps. At that point they are perfect for mulching small plants (sets), such as tomatoes and peppers, that are usually started indoors and transplanted into the garden.
There's not too much to say about the garden in winter, except for five points:
- Remove the residual dead/dying plants to reduce the viable spores of plant diseases that develop rapidly under cold, wet conditions (compost the plant residue if you have a suitable container or out-of-garden location);
- Cover the bare ground with something in order to: a) reduce the compacting effect of rain and snow, b) prevent the weed seeds from establishing hegemony, c) promote fertility (e.g., sowing clover or similar high-value `green fertilizers');
- Prune fruit trees, bushes, and vines;
- Consider `dormant oil' spray (a relatively organic pesticide system based on sulfur) for fruit species that are susceptible of attack from various bacterial, fungal, and mold organisms (this is usually sprayed onto the tree or bush 2 - 3 times during Winter);
- Transplant fruit trees and bushes in the dormant stage.
As you can see from this picture,
some plants can `overwinter'. The Swiss Chard is substantially more coarse in the Spring, but it's quite edible for awhile. (The Peas are more for show - you can't see them in the picture, but there are still white flowers on these, plus a few miniature pods.) Carrots overwinter readily, and they even seem to survive freezing. In our climate, though, given some mulch, the roots rarely see freezing conditions.
A few times in the past, on the advice of several gardening books, I have sowed spinach seeds in the late Fall. No spinach so far, but I may give it one more chance with a change in tactics. The tactic will be to sow the seeds in a lining of sharp (crushed) sand. This type of sand has definite benefits in germination and `protection' of emerging plantlets. The sand stays moist, but drains `standing' water away, effectively reducing conditions of viability for molds and such. The sand is also relatively sterile in its own right. Lastly, the sharp sand seems to be inhospitable to the bug larvae and slugs that eat tender shoots. (This bit is an early-Spring garden suggestion. I'll try to remember to reiterate it in the appropriate diary.)
Pruning - a confusing subject, because there are conflicting theories. Prune as close to the crotch as possible; prune a branch diameter away from the crotch; prune several diameters away so that, if rot occurs at the cut, you can recut behind the rot; paint the cuts; don't paint the cuts. I was raised on `cut as close as possible', but I've modified my approach to the one-diameter system. I used to paint; now I don't.
Beyond those concerns, you have to learn the rules for different species. For instance, apple trees grow fruit on `spurs' that develop on older wood (two-year-old minimum, likely older). In addition they grow vertical `suckers' prolifically. So - first step is to remove all of the vertically-growing, one-year-old `sticks'. Second - for ease of harvest - is to cut back any of the central branches that are tending upward. (After a few years, the basic shape is like an umbrella without the fabric, except that the ends turn upward.) For best harvest conditions, apple trees are pruned fairly severely back to within a couple of cm of the fruiting spurs. (If you don't know how to spot a fruiting-spur cluster, look at an apple tree when the apples are present.)
Unpruned apple tree
Pruned apple tree
Plum trees on the other hand make fruit on new growth. They also tend to extend vertically, so they are pruned to cut back the height of the central leads and encourage the development of the side-growing shoots. The ends of all of the new branches are cut back, but not very far. You can get a notion of how far to go by observing the concentration of blossoms in the Spring: don't eliminate too many by pruning.
Grape vines are pruned severely, even though the fruit grows on new growth. In this case, though, the new growth is the branches that will be formed in the coming growing season. As you can see from this picture,
branches grow rampantly during the growing season. Almost all of this needs to be removed, or the vines will become all tangled wood and leaves with few grapes. Several `leads' are chosen that conform best to the design of your support structure; the rest is cut back to wood (as opposed to `green' branches). The pruning can be put off until the Spring, but the vines will `bleed' copiously. Doesn't seem to hurt them, but why not take care of it while they are fully dormant?
Good Winter project - build an arbor for the grape vines as seen at the far end of this photo. This supports the vine structure in such a way as to maximize surface area to sun exposure, facilitates harvest (and pruning), and makes a nice shaded spot for sitting in the garden. Don't forget the bird bath, too.
Fig trees practically take care of themselves in our area, except for two considerations. First, they can have weak crotches. Some support may be needed. (Even if a branch splits, though, it's a fairly easy repair: pull the branch back up and wrap duct tape around the joint several times. You will definitely need some support in addition: in my case I just took a 1" diameter branch from a Douglas Fir, cut its twigs back to only a Y, cut the branch to the right height to support the fig branch about half of its length from the trunk, and jammed the Fir branch into the ground. A year or two later, the crotch was solid, the tape was in tatters, and I removed the Fir support.)
Second consideration is - as usual - to prevent the tree from growing too tall. The one on the left is at the limit for me (and my ladder).
OK - transplanting - maybe a diary in itself. For now let it suffice to write that late Fall, Winter, and very early Spring are usually the best times for this work. Dig the hole deeper and wider than you think you need; have good, humusy soil ready for use in the process; a little fertilizer is good, but water is essential (rain is usually sufficient in the cool/cold seasons).
Then you have to read the particular instructions for the plant involved. Almost all grafted plants will require that the graft stays above grade. That implies that there is some other reason for digging the hole bigger than `just barely enough'. One reason is to break up compacted soil under the new, to-be-developing root system; a second reason is to allow addition of some of that humusy soil that you have sitting there by the hole (you have it there, right?).
There's enough for you to mull over, as you consume your mulled wine on a cold Winter's evening. Come Spring, I'll present my take on the prep and planting stage. Meantime, I'd like to read about your experiences and advice for the Winter garden.