Tuesday, January 3, 2012

In the Winter Garden

I readily admit that I’m a reluctant gardener, maybe even not a real gardener at all. Many of my neighbors actually seem to enjoy gardening. I can't decide if I admire or pity them. To me it’s mostly a bunch of endless boring chores. I have one word to say to you - weeding. Case closed.

So why garden? Well, for the harvest of course. Bringing home brimming bags of collards, kale and chard for Green Gumbo; probably costing $50 at Whole Foods. It’s the economy stupid, I remind myself. Freshly picked vine ripened tomatoes and raspberries, which can't be bought at any price. But they can be grown in one’s garden with a little care. And yes, weeding.

Also, to enjoy the outdoors. To have a personal place to soak up the sun, see the sights, hear the birds, smell the scents. To chat or dine with friends and read a good book under a broad umbrella in a comfortable lounge chair, preferably with a tall cold drink at hand.

There are probably more than a few gardeners who share my take on our arduous avocation. These souls need some coping tactics. I have some suggestions, based on the fact that gardens are embedded, as we are, in an endless, year-around cycle and change in small increments. The overall strategy, therefore, is to do small, discrete garden tasks continually throughout every season of the year.

"This is the dead season, though, it's January!" True, but the garden's far from dead, it's just sleeping, awaiting to awaken in the spring. There's plenty we can do, little by little, while it's resting. And these ongoing off-season attentions to its welfare will greatly reduce the workload and stress during the busy planting, growing and harvesting seasons. Here are some suggestions.

Clear the planting beds, vertical growing frames, cages, stakes and fences of all annual plant materials. Set aside to add to the compost pile.

Turn the finished compost and brown soft plant materials from the composters into the planting beds. Leave the beds ungroomed, with just rough clods of soil. This will aerate the soil to aid decomposition of the brown materials and promote good drainage when the spring rains hit.

You may want to further build the soil with: additional purchased compost, peat moss (for nutrients and instant soil structure), vermiculite (for even water retention and structure) and perlite or sand (for good drainage).

Pave the paths and patios with wood chips. These provide superior water drainage, allowing you to work clean and dry in any weather, and eliminate weeds.

Prune trees, shrubs, vines and canes. Cut up the smaller of these woody plant materials and add to the wood chips.

Feed and watch the birds. Seed and suet feeders will bring hungry hordes and reward you with hours of happy bird watching. While you're at it, sit, relax and enjoy yourself in the winter quiet, so unlike the frenzy of spring.

You might want to raise the planting beds, if they are currently at ground level. Raised beds are good for many reasons. We'll cover the subject of in future articles. It's a bit of work but worth it. A reasonable approach might be to do one bed a year.

If you enjoy planning your garden for the upcoming growing season, by all means do and now's the time to do it. And here come the seed catalogs.

Now's also a good time to schlep and lay in garden supplies, building materials and tools.

Build garden structures and furnishings. These include: raised garden beds, vertical growing frames, composters, fences and gates, paths, patios, bird feeders and stations, tool sheds or boxes, cold frames, arbors and gazebos, an outdoor kitchen, garden furniture, ponds, and perhaps a sunroom for year-around comfort.

... In the works.

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