After a brief but refreshing stretch of almost “spring” weather, a couple of 20 degree nights are sweeping down upon north Georgia again. This is actually not bad timing all things considered; the garden beds are almost fully prepped for the season and the only “new” plantings out there right now are a few dozen young shallot seedlings.
The early spring seed starts have long since sprouted and have been moved out of the hot box to make room for tomato and pepper starts. These should be well hardened off by now having spent the the better part of the last two weeks in this makeshift cold frame:
But 20 degrees is too much for these semi hardy little plants, even on the sun warmed patio bricks, so Mrs. Cohutt’s sunroom once again offers temporary refuge.
Since the garden has been at its dead low point on activity worth documenting of late, I’m just going to fill the rest of this post with baby pictures- my baby lettuces, kales, cabbages and chards.
I’m happy to report this morning that the second edition of “Winters we aren’t supposed to have in Georgia” is almost over.
Let’s hope there isn’t a third edition.
I never expected that my task of keeping the artichokes alive throughout the harsher than average winter here would include any “sub zero” temperature readings. In fact, I rather hoped that I would never personally experience temperatures below zero (F) again in my lifetime regardless of where I happened to be at the time.
Artichokes are mildy hardy to frosts and light freezes; these two plants have been through several nights in the 15-25 degree range with just a layer of row cover and greenhouse plastic covering them. They were mulched up in early January when lows went below 10 and for the most part did OK. But last week, the National Weather Service’s official recorded the low in my county was -1.
One. Below. Zero. (sigh…) Had the this come from any other source I would have been skeptical of the actual reading, but this was as “official” as it gets here, so -1 it is.
Even though I had put additional efforts ahead of time into protecting mrs cohutt’s artichoke plants, I was not optimistic that I would find anything other than gooey dead foliage when I removed the layers protecting them. So after things thawed a bit last weekend, I carefully removed all the layers protecting both plants, trimmed away the damaged leaves and assessed their condition after being covered for two weeks.
I was pleasantly surprised to find the the plant in the hoop house in pretty good condition; it had a good deal of foliage damage to the larger older leaves that reached further from the base of the plant. Obviously I wasn’t able to protect these as well as the interior stalks and leaves and it showed. I left one of the larger damaged leaves for the record; you can see the darker stalk base coming off the left crown as the greyish damaged leaf drapes over the right crown.
In a closer shot you can see the darker bases of the damaged leaves I removed as well as the smaller lighter color of the healthy new growth. (The large brown stump of the original crown planted spring 2012 is between them.)
Likewise, I was happy to find that the front plant also survived deep within its multilayer “haystack” of leaves, row cover & plastic. From a size perspective, this plant has always been less impressive than the sheltered plant in the back, although this winter they are closer in size than in prior seasons. The size differential is probably due to both the green house warmth and the better soil conditions provided the back plant. However, this smaller plant has begun to really multiply via several new shoots. This is good news, as these new “crowns” can be transplanted for propagation (the main plant will reach its peak then start declining after about 4 seasons) and of course more crowns means more artichokes.
A close up of the base of the front “plant” shows it is actually comprised of around 10 or 12 crowns or shoots (I’m not sure what the actual term for these is, but you get the idea.) In the front there are a couple of new shoots, one of which I believe emerged while the whole thing was buried. I almost pulled it up by accident when removing the leaf mulch as I expected the plant to be completely dormant while in its “bunker”.
I know better than to declare victory at this point; it is still the first week of February and the weather pattern seems to be stuck on “cold” this year. Still, I am optimistic that these two plants are still with us at this point and putting out abundant new growth.
I guess we’ll just have to wait and see…..
They are getting better all the time.
These are two different angles of my little part of the world, pulled from the virtual map module provided by the large internet company that dominates search engines today (among other things). After cropping screen prints down, I was left with these modest resolution pictures of my little garden.
Interestingly, these were taken on different days based on a few differences I can see. They look to be from late 2012 or spring 2013 prior to the big roof wrecking storm in mid April that took down a couple of trees I can see here.
Regardless, I figured I’d post them to provide the curious an idea of the “big picture” layout back there.
When I came home this afternoon the birds were trying to find some water through the ice on the pond and bell. They weren’t having much luck, so I bundled up and went out to see if I could help a little. A couple of swats with a heavy sledge hammer did the trick then I set up additional watering stations to accommodate the unusually large number birds roosting about watching me. Soon there were hundreds of birds (a migratory flock of robins seemed the most grateful) in the trees surrounding the yard, making water runs then turning themselves into downy puffs to endure the weather.
I went back out with the zoom lens and some of the visitors are shared below (plus an obligatory gourd picture.)
And then there was this little guy. Not a snow dog, within a minute or two he didn’t even want all four paws on the ground.
The last couple of winters were quite mild, even for north Georgia. How mild? I had volunteer cherry tomato plants sprout in February that survived. I didn’t actually “need” the temporary poly greenhouse last year. You get the idea.
By contrast, this winter is a real winter. We are experiencing the polar vortex cold-dump along with half of the country; many mights in the low ‘teens, some in single digits, several days it never made it above freezing. And the wind, seemingly always there and always from the north. Not our favorite thing down here…..
Early this month, we had our first string of days below freezing with night temps as low as low as 6 degrees (Fahrenheit of course). I documented the hardiness of what I had remaining in the garden under various levels of protection (none, light spun polyester row cover, mulch, plastic as well as combinations of all). This post will likely bore anyone but the hardcore backyard food gardeners. (Although I’m sure Mrs cohutt will no doubt be happy to see her that her precious artichokes made it through.)
On cue, we start with the artichoke that is not in the greenhouse:
I had this cluster of artichoke shoots under several layers of just about everything. The image below is after removal of some of the mulch that almost completely covered the plastic shell.
Under the shell, the plant was covered in two layers of row cover as well as having 6 inched of leaf mulch up to the bottom of the leaves.
Six degress? No problem!
The artichoke plant inside the greenhouse came out fine with a layer of mulch underneath and a double wrapping in row cover. I left the door and window closed throughout the period so I’m sure the ground thawed nicely in the 70+ degree interior on the days when the highs were only in the 20s. Below, you can see that there are several new stalks growing around the single large stump of last year’s primary stalk.
Also in the greenhouse, the brussel sprouts, kohlrabi and Chinese cabbage all thrived under a layer of row cover while all the lettuce completely melted into goo. (No lettuce goo pictures, too nasty).
Under row cover, cabbage, kale, and garlic all sailed through with little evidence of even a frost:
The smaller leeks were left exposed without cover or mulch; although they had some freeze damage to the leaves they are still alive (and remain quite tasty). The chard and dill that had survived several modest freezes disappeared during this cold snap save the one oddly hardy leaf of chard; they were both behind the leeks in this bed.
Thyme shook off the cold both in the ground and in a pot while the oregano and parsley both showed severe but “non-lethal” freeze damage (no pictures of this). I learned that mizuna, both the purple and common green varieties, can take frosts and modest freezes but 6 degrees obliterates them even under row cover (purple mizuna was in the front left of this bed). The kale and garlic in the same bed did fine, as did the spinach in the small bed in the background.
Of the two types of rosemary in the garden, the larger coarser variety had little issue uncovered but the finer stem/leaf type took it on the chin and if it makes it, it will be a much smaller bush than before:
The turnip & mixed greens were pretty much defoliated but most plants are still alive. I’ll leave this stand to see how it recovers; worst case I will give up and pull the handful of edible turnips exposed after the leaves wilted. The broccoli plants in the background were severely damaged and began to wreak so bad I gave up on any hope for future harvests of secondary sprouts this winter; they have been chopped into the fresher part of the compost pile.
My garden has stands of volunteer arugula year round; for the past two winters almost all plants survived full exposure without damage. The jury is still out on this year’s volunteers; the smaller ones were pretty much wiped out while the more mature plants seemed to hold on by a thread after severe damage. This specimen was the king of them all, almost 2 feet tall prior to the freeze (late last summer it popped up next to one of the rabbiteye blueberry bushes. Go figure…)
Riveting, isn’t it?
W is for Winter.
W is for Work.
In spite of the harsh (for us anyway) winter temperatures of the last month, I’ve managed to rally and get some things done in the garden ahead of the season. Much in the way of cleanup, a load of beautiful compost (about 60% of it remains in the truck bed as I type), lots of planning and head scratching.
Besides the usual off-season tasks, there is generally a short list of more complex and likely procrastinated projects that I need to address. Well, I’m happy to report that I can now cross a really big chore off of this part of the winter to-do list: The leveling of “the bell”.
You may have noticed in a post or two over the years that I have an odd birdbath in the middle of the boxwood flanked section of the garden. It is a bell, a rather large iron one, inverted on a tired foundation and usually completely full of water. This bell was moved here sometime after 1932 and had at one point hung in a tower on a hill downtown, serving as the fire/call bell for the volunteer fire department from the late 1800s presumably up until electricity provided the juice for less cumbersome means of notification.
The issue was that our nice bell has never been what anyone could qualify as “level”. Mrs. cohutt and I have lived here since 1987 and noticed a few years ago that the lean was getting worse, slowly, almost imperceptibly. So for 3 or 4 years now I’d been scratching my head on how I might fix this…
So a while back I started digging an “investigative” hole. Eventually I had excavated a bomb crater around the bell, exposing the “foundation” that it rested upon. I needed to actually dig our underneath the foundation on both the high and low sides so that it could be tipped a little (somehow) and then new concrete underpinnings could be worked underneath.
This past weekend I decided that it was time, then retrieved a bottle jack, a concrete block and some sections of landscape timber. Oh yeah, and 720 lbs of concrete to be mixed by hand….
I admit that I was surprised how easily this 3000 lb hunk of iron righted for me.
Once I got the main issue addressed I had to wait a day (for concrete to cure) then set my bottle jack rig back up to fine tune and remove the little tilt that it still had. I back filled the crater and voila: an almost (but much more so that a week ago) level bell/fountain:
I left the jack rig in place for support and a day later refilled the bell with water to judge my work. Pretty good, if I do say so myself:
(Note that the odd swirling stripes are the low winter sunset coming through a fence and not swirls of rust. )