Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Daffodil Craziness

The daffodils in my yard are telling me all about the warm winter we've had. Not only are they up - they are in bloom. I took this picture last week and am only getting around to posting it today, but even if these daffodils were just now blooming, it would be early.

This particular variety, which has been in my yard for at least a couple of decades, usually blooms sometime in February, often nearer the middle of the month.

In 2010, my Feb. 1 blog post titled "Daffodils don't lie" included a photo of daffodils emerging from the soil, but the plants were still short and the buds tightly furled. That year, the daffodils were telling about a winter that was somewhat cooler than this 2011-12 winter.

The garlic is looking especially healthy, too. I don't think I've ever seen it looking this robust in my yard at the end of January.

I have been following the cycle of bloom for flowers in my yard over the past year more closely than in previous years, partly to determine its usefulness as a tool to tell me about the timing of planting. Using the cycle of bloom as a planting or chore calendar is a common old-timey method of scheduling such chores (example: prune roses when the forsythia bloom).

My longtime planting rule that follows the blooming of a particular flower in my yard is that I plant my English peas when the trout lilies bloom in my yard, and that has ended up being in or near the last week in February.

Those flowers seem to have a firmer internal calendar than the daffodils; their leaves are not yet up, but the leaves of the toothwort are. Although I am sure that they are not paying attention to the crazy daffodils, the toothwort may be responding to soil temperature in a similar way.

Last week, I decided to indulge in a little daffodil-craziness of my own by planting a patch of peas almost a full month sooner than normal. If we have a hard freeze and I lose my little crop, I have plenty of time to replant, but I want to know if I can rely on what else the daffodils are saying - that spring is just around the corner.

I suppose I could have waited a few days to find out what the groundhogs have to say about the coming of spring, or waited for the trout lilies as I have done for years, but, like many gardeners, I'm a little impatient. And - if I get peas earlier than usual, the hour spent outside in the garden planting those peas will have paid off even more than as just the hour of exercise that I'm currently counting it as.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

USDA is Catching Up

The USDA has finally published an updated hardiness zone map. The new 2012 USDA Hardiness Zone Map is based on coldest temperatures from the years 1976 to 2005. The new map wasn't made available soon enough to keep the old map, from 1990, from appearing in some of this year's seed catalogs.

This is what the USDA website has to say about how the new map was created:

The zones in this edition were calculated based on 1976-2005 temperature data. Each zone represents the average annual extreme minimum temperature for an area, reflecting the temperatures recorded for each of the years 1976-2005. This does not represent the coldest it has ever been or ever will be in an area, but it reflects the average lowest winter temperature for a given geographic area for this time period. This average value became the standard for zones in the 1960s. The previous edition of the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map, which was revised and published in 1990, was drawn from weather data from 1974 to 1986.

In the Eastern US (my part of the country), the weather data used in constructing the map are from weather stations of the National Weather Service.

The new map places most of Atlanta in zone 8a. My town, Kennesaw, which is not labeled on the map but is a little northwest of Marietta (identified in the Georgia map - "Click" on a state to see it in more detail), is placed in zone 7b, which has lowest temperatures of 5 to 10 degrees F.

However, the 2006 Arbor Day Foundation Hardiness Zone Map places Kennesaw in zone 8. The Arbor Day map is based on low temperatures from the 15 most recent years' worth of data that were available at the time, using data from National Climatic Data Center cooperative stations.

Although both maps show that climate zones are shifting - with winter lows getting less low nearly everywhere on the continental US - there still seem to be areas of disagreement. Since I'm not a climate scientist or a weatherman, I don't know why the two data sets produced such different results, but the disparity means that gardeners who are looking for plants that will do well may need to be especially aware of the micro-climate of their own yards in making the final determination of what to plant.

Is my yard in zone 7b or zone 8? For most annual vegetables, the difference isn't big enough to be too worried about, but I have been using zone 8 as my benchmark when making choices about plants that require a certain minimum of "chilling hours" to set fruit.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Just an Update

The seed catalogue that I was waiting for - from Sand Hill Preservation - finally arrived, so I am ready to make a little more progress on garden planning for 2012. The pages already are marked with big red circles around varieties that I think I "need."

With the fall/winter garden still mostly in place, those crops are on my mind, so the cool weather veggies have had the most scrutiny so far. However, I'll be getting the seed boxes out of the fridge on Wednesday (my day off), and decisions about the summer crops will be made. I know I need more seed for the Wuhib tomatoes, but there is bound to be more to put on the order form.

I've also had a pretty lively email conversation with the guy who is coordinating the move of the Plant-a-Row-for-the-Hungry (PAR) garden, for which I am a volunteer, to the new site in Kennesaw.  We are moving to a site in town that will also host a community garden, with raised beds for use by individuals and families, and a demonstration garden tended by the local university. The site is being put together by a counseling center, and its focus is on all kinds of outdoor spaces that can boost health - mental, emotional, and physical. The whole site will be a few years in development, I am pretty sure, but we will be able to start in our space by mid-spring.

A tentative plan has been drawn up, and we have been allotted about 5,000 sq. ft. On the map of the site, it looks like  a big rectangle, and it's in a good location. We will have plenty of sunshine and very little trouble with water, either standing on the site making it soggy or running through it too quickly.

I'm hoping that some of the raised beds for the community garden go in then, too, so we will be part of a whole community of gardeners right away. In the meantime, the little group of PAR gardeners will also be getting together to decide how to lay out our space and what we want to grow. I hope they are as happy to get busy as I am! It's only been a couple of months since we harvested the sweet potatoes and pulled all of our equipment from the old site, but I miss hanging out with my gardening friends.

In the meantime, I am almost healed from the wreck that totaled my car in mid-December, and I will be (finally) removing the sad, wilted cauliflower plants out of the garden this week. I bet my neighbors will be glad to see that space cleaned up!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Gardening in Uncertain Weather

I know that the weather has never been 100% predictable, but, most years, winter is pretty reliably cold, even here in Georgia. In general, it's cold with little excursions up into warmer temperatures. This year has been an exception. Lows have been in the (high) 30s and 40s, and highs in the 50s and 60s, throughout a large percentage of what should have been some much colder weeks.

We had a brief flash of actual cold, though, last week. One morning we woke up to an 18 degree morning. The good news is that a lot of what is still out in the garden didn't seem especially bothered by the sudden dip in temperatures.

The little side-shoots on the broccoli look good:

The cilantro seems healthy:

And all the uncovered greens made it, too:

I had covered the lettuces, just in case, and they "weathered" the sudden cold under their tent with no signs of damage.

The cauliflower, however, did not fare so well:

The couple of heads that were still out in the garden (I brought one inside the day before the hard freeze) are both wilted and browned. It is totally possible that cauliflower just doesn't appreciate such decisively freezing weather. However, it's also possible that, had the weather been more consistently cold, it would have done better. Either way, we are not going to be enjoying those heads of cauliflower in the kitchen.

This is what is known as "learning the hard way," something all gardeners are familiar with! In spite of all the books and online research, stuff goes wrong that could have been prevented. I could have put a tent over the cauliflower, or I could have just harvested all of it. Next year, if the circumstances are at all similar (a big "if"!), I will manage the cauliflower differently.

Later this week, we are expected to have a couple of colder nights. It's too late for the cauliflower, but I plan to put the tent back over the lettuces.
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