Monday, December 12, 2011

A Jekyll and Hyde December

.09 Acres is having an identity crisis this December, and I fear that Dr. Henry Jekyll and Mr. Edward Hyde are living in my garden shed.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in the well-appointed garden shed at .09 Acres. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Let's start with Dr. Jekyll, shall we?! The vegetables at .09 Acres are much like Jekyll. They are mature and respectable. The lettuces and chard are good looking, tasty, and protected by the mini hoop house. The carrots, beets, and broccoli are doing just fine while prominently exposed to the elements. At this point in the year, they are all content in their beds until harvest. I'm not one to boast, but my greens look like they belong in a gardening catalog. If you were to walk by the lettuce bed, you might even respectfully tip your cap as if you were passing Dr. Jekyll on the street.

On the flip-side, my fruit trees, shrubs, and brambles are behaving in an irrational and unpredictable Hyde-like fashion. The inconsistent weather, much like Mr. Hyde's strange potions, is triggering all kinds of strange reactions from the plants. Raspberries continue to mature on a  semi-regular basis almost like it's early fall. The Celeste fig tree and espalier dropped all their leaves weeks ago. In contrast, my Violette de Bordeaux and Negronne fig trees are still covered in leaves and figs. It is quite grotesque to see them growing side-by-side. My Red Russian pomegranate is the only "normal" tree in the yard, having gone dormant in November. But who may be inwardly lusting for some sinister transformation.

A little bit of Jekyll, but certainly a lot more of Hyde at .09 Acres.

If .09 Acres is Dr. Jekyll (and Mr. Hyde), I guess that makes me Jekyll's loyal servant Poole. This December I've been out in the yard early in the morning and late in the evening to cover the greens in plastic. I've also changed quite a few things in the yard to keep Jekyll happy and productive. I dug up and potted my in-ground blueberry bushes and replaced them with a young Angel Red pomegranate tree (visible on right side of above picture in middle of straw mulch). I also transplanted a Peter's Honey fig and an unknown fig from my yard to my aunt and uncle's property and replaced them with Strawberry Verte and Hardy Chicago figs (visible on left side of above picture in middle of straw mulch).

Hopefully this will decrease the likelihood that Mr. Hyde shows up again at .09 Acres, but I may be losing my mind in the process...

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Raspberries in December

It's December 10th and my Kiwi Gold raspberry canes are still producing berries. I don't know what to say. I guess the warmer weather and protected location of my berry trellis has something to do with it.

Kiwi Gold raspberries in December. Definitely a rare occurrence in southeast Virginia.

I regularly get a large early summer and fall harvest, but never a third harvest. Don't get me wrong...I'm not complaining. It's just strange for me to see these things in my yard in December!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Same Day, Different Leaves

Check this out. Here is a picture taken last weekend of my Celeste fig. All leaves dropped, looking dormant and ready for winter.

Celeste fig. I'm trying to keep it pruned as a multi-stem shrub.
And here's a pic of my Violette de Bordeaux (VdB) fig taken on the same day. Keep in mind that this fig is planted only about 15 feet away from my Celeste fig with the same general southerly exposure.

Violette de Bordeaux fig fully leafed out in December.
This VdB fig has all of its leaves with only minor brown/dry damage from a recent frost, and it is also still loaded with figs. The difference between this tree and the Celeste is really quite amazing.

I guess variety is the spice of life, even in the world of figs!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Frost Protection

We had our first frosts of the year in late November. Two or three of them. Fortunately all the fall/winter veggies survived, but I'm making preparations to protect the crops once the temps remain consistently cold.

Last year I constructed two experimental mini hoop houses in mid January after the frost had already taken a nasty toll on the greens. This year I expanded the idea by building one long, continuous hoop house.

PVC hoop house frame built over raised beds of lettuce, spinach, chard, and other tender greens. Plastic will be attached soon.
Currently only the PVC has been added to the raised beds. I used 10-foot sections of 1/2" PVC pipe and pushed it directly into the soil within the raised beds. I bent each pipe by hand over the bed, forming the "ribs". I then attached the "ribs" to a long "spine" with plastic zip-ties. The structure is fairly strong and will withstand wind and snow. We are expecting warmer weather for the next 5 days so I likely won't secure the plastic covering until sometime next week.

Note how the PVC is pushed into the soil against the interior sides of the raised beds. No screws, brackets, or fasteners are required. It's an easy, effective, and inexpensive setup.
I only opted to cover my more tender vegetables like lettuce, arugula, spinach, and chard.  I did not cover the kale and root crops like carrots and beets. They are, however, heavily mulched with a thick layer of wheat straw for protection. They withstood just about everything last year and I'm hoping they do the same this year.

From left to right: Buttercrunch, Winter Density, Parris Island Cos, and Rouge d'Hiver lettuce. Spinach is barely visible farther down the bed. This hoop house will function like a mini refrigerator once it is covered with plastic, protecting the vegetables and keeping them cold but not frozen.
Colorful head of Rouge d'Hiver lettuce.
Ruby Red Swiss chard. I planted these seeds on September 15, but they took a long time to germinate because of very hot temperatures in late September and early October.
Not everything in the garden looks great right now. I had a heck of a time battling  caterpillars on my broccoli and kale. Fortunately they only seemed interested in those two plantings and not the other veggies, but it didn't take long for them to completely defoliate this poor plant.

Kale that was completely devoured by caterpillars. Lots of carnage and not a lot of leftovers.
There are a handful of chemicals and products (organic ones too) to battle these beasts. I did buy a bag of powdered Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), an organic bacteria that is effective on caterpillars, but I got lazy and never applied the stuff.

Now I just need somebody to play Taps on the trumpet while I add these remains to the compost pile and pay my respects.