The Winter Chill



By: Jannie Vaught

Can you say Burrr?

I can and it has taken a large toll on the garden and the creatures that inhabit it.

Even my artichokes are looking like they are surrendering to the frozen effect  of winters domain. I have done chop and drop, a simple cut down and leave in place and have let the hens in to scratch and eat the greens. Yes they are bug eaters and this fall there were a landslide of cabbage worms. So eat up girls, and make next spring a little less buggy!

Even when the garden is resting I am still working on the 2 season theme. Lets take a look at the garden verses the natural wild. One of the biggest contrasts between our tended garden and a natural landscape is that, if left unattended, a garden falls apart, while nature doesn’t. You return from a few days away and the garden is drooping for lack of water, bug eaten and weed filled. It is returning to wilderness. While the natural landscape if still intact and thriving.

What are the lessons we can take from nature and apply to assist our gardens?

We can design gardens that will become more fertile, healthy and well watered with a strong resilience of the natural ecosystem. Soil building. The bottom up, from below the top layer down is where we build. The better the soil the better the plant, no matter how expensive or heirloom you put in the soil. It is only as good as the soil. I compost down deep by planting in the fall deep rooting plants. Turnips, beets, rutabaga and icicle radish. I do harvest for our table some but leave most to break up the deep soil and leave behind the root to turn into deep compost.

Now for top down. Applying deep mulch and minerals. I use my chicken to do most of the composting for me. In their run I break a bail of straw or coastal hay and spread it around. They peck and scratch and essentially decompose this for me. Then I rake it up and apply new straw or hay. As well as the feeding I do direst to the new plants when the garden is flourishing in spring and summer.

Together, the bottom – up and the top – down techniques will “Quickly” generate the finest soil you have ever seen. Using perennial verses annuals. Nature emphasizes perennials rather than annuals. At first glance perennial vegetables seem a tough limitation for vegetable gardens. For instance Good King Henry a perennial Kale and collards and tree collards which can be propagated by cuttings, grow great and abundant, French sorrel, and there are perennial onions which I grow, using the tender green tops all year and they really are good at choking out weeds, a plus. They tend to spread but simply dig some and give away or take them to the kitchen. There is asparagus, artichokes, berries, fruit and nuts.

Don’t get me wrong I grow a large patch of tomatoes, peppers and basil but now the majority of my garden has slowly become perennial. Making your garden Multiple stories. Nature has layers, from low herb layer through shrubs, like blueberries to the over story such as peach and plumb trees to even taller Pecan trees. Each layer can contain ornamental and food variety’s. You are building a  ecosystem. When the sun is burning down the top story is making dappled shade for the second story, who is making again the filtered shade for those at the low level. All working together. Yes sometimes you have to take out the clippers and hand saw and thin to get the amount of shade you want. I have a large raised bed area. I have one shade tree in the middle and around the outside border are fruit trees and crape myrtle.

There are also vines on the outer fences adding some protection for the interior and  trumpet flowers for the pollinators and humming birds. As we grow and plan we first of all need to be patient and practical observers. What is working and what isn’t. Lessons we learn in the garden also apply in our everyday life. Yes the garden is a reflection of our world. And I see the beauty of every gardener no matter what they grow is expressed around them and the chilling factor is working for us now.

Growing green with  Jannie