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It would be fair to say that this winter our weather has been all over the place.  We’ve gone from one deluge-of-a-rainstorm after another, in November and December, to an almost total lack of rain since the New Year.

Most of January and February has been brisk, but with blazing blue skies

Most of January and February has been brisk, but with blazing blue skies

Cold overnight temperatures in the mid-20s persisted throughout January, and most of February, but then just to add to the confusion, some afternoons we’ve been climbing up into the low-to-mid 70s. If nothing else, this winter has emphasized the importance of dressing in layers!

The Native Gardens

With night after night of freezing temperatures, it eventually all became a bit too much for some of our native sages and buckwheats.  On the surface it doesn’t look good for our St. Catherine’s Lace buckwheat (Eriogonum giganteum).

St. Catherine's Lace buckwheat (Eriogonum giganteum)

St. Catherine’s Lace buckwheat (Eriogonum giganteum)

However, a slight scratch at the stem with a fingernail has shown that St. Catherine is not dead yet. We’re hopeful that by spring we’ll see some new growth.

The native Salvia ‘Allen Chickering’ is a bit of a mixed bag at the moment.  Those plants closest to the house, or other structures, or high up on the slope, seem to be faring better.  Some are even pushing new growth.

Salvia 'Allen Chickering'

Salvia ‘Allen Chickering’

However, a few of the plants in more exposed locations were definitely damaged by frost.

This Salvia 'Allen Chickering' was nipped by the frost in January

This Salvia ‘Allen Chickering’ was nipped by the frost in January

The most hard hit though was this once magnificent Salvia sonomensis ‘Fremont’s Carpet’.   This is how it looked in November when I was giving this plant rave reviews…

Salvia sonomensis 'Fremont's Carpet'

Salvia sonomensis ‘Fremont’s Carpet’

This morning, sadly, it’s not looking quite so lively.

The same Salvia plant now in February

The same Salvia plant now in February

For now though, as with St. Catherine’s Lace, I’m choosing to just leave it alone, and once the weather is more consistently above freezing at night we’ll see what sprouts before deciding to cut it back too hard.

On a cheerier note, the Manzanitas are thriving.  Last year Arctostaphylos manzanita ‘Dr. Hurd’ didn’t bloom, and by mid-summer had succumbed to what appeared to be a fungal disease.  I was determined to grow it though, so I replaced it with a new specimen.  I’m happy to say its successor is not only much healthier, it’s actually in bloom!

Arctostaphylos manzanita 'Dr. Hurd'

Arctostaphylos manzanita ‘Dr. Hurd’

My favorite though is Arctostaphylos pajaroensis.

Arctostaphylos pajaroensis

Arctostaphylos pajaroensis

It’s still a young plant, but seems to be settling in on the slope above the house very well.  This is a rare, locally native, species, and it took me some time to locate a good specimen, so I’m especially excited to see it blooming this winter.

A number of Coyote Brush (Baccharis pilularis) volunteers are popping up on the slope after last summer’s prolific bloom and seed set.  Although the bloom period is long since over, the mature plants on the slope are now mostly festooned with bits of lace lichen (Ramalina menziesii) that’s fallen from the oaks above.

Lace Lichen (Ramalina menziesii) on Coyote Brush

Lace Lichen (Ramalina menziesii) on Coyote Brush

Our native woodland rose, Rosa gymnocarpa, is starting to show signs of life as the leaf buds begin to swell.

Rosa gymnocarpa

Rosa gymnocarpa

Surprisingly some of the Eriophyllum confertiflorum has decided to start blooming, despite the chilly weather.

Eriophyllum confertiflorum

Eriophyllum confertiflorum

Even our daffodils aren’t quite blooming yet, although they’re close!

This 'Dutch Master' daffodil is close to blooming

This ‘Dutch Master’ daffodil is close to blooming

The Orchard

We seem to have had much more winter chill this season, than last, which in our mild climate is a good thing for the fruit trees.  As a result we’re quite hopeful, if the weather cooperates through the bloom season, that we’ll have some good flower and fruit set this year.  Nothing, as yet, is blooming in the orchard.  However, I suspect the first blooms on the ‘Flavor Delight’ Aprium will burst forth by the end of this week.

Aprium 'Flavor Delight'

Aprium ‘Flavor Delight’

The plums and pluots won’t be far behind.

The plums and pluots are only a little behind

The plums and pluots are only a little behind

The apples and pears though are still very much dormant, as is the Stella cherry, so it will be a while before the rest of the orchard catches up.

The recently relocated strawberries though are already starting to push lush new growth, and seem to be very happy in their new location.

Strawberry 'Seascape'

Strawberry ‘Seascape’

The Kitchen Garden

Due to a vole explosion late last summer, to remove temptation, we didn’t overwinter any peas, favas, or carrots this season.  So far it seems to be paying off, as the voles, at least for now, have vacated the kitchen garden.  That doesn’t mean the garden is barren though.  We still have a bounty of Brassicas!

A little frost doesn't faze this Lacinato kale

A little frost doesn’t faze this Lacinato kale

Kale is king in the garden this winter, and perfectly capable of tolerating the erratic weather that mother Nature is throwing at it this season.  Last winter I woefully under-planted kale in the kitchen garden, but not this year.  We have FOUR full beds of it this winter!  You can’t have too much kale, can you?

Red Russian, and Lacinato Kale

Red Russian, and Lacinato Kale

The mustards are also proving their worth in the winter garden this season.  In November, as I was reluctantly pulling out the pepper and tomato plants, I replaced them with an assortment of mustards.  We decided to try three new (to us) varieties.

The Tendergreen mustard was disappointing, primarily because the minute we had a warm and sunny afternoon, it bolted.  Not that the Syrphid Flies mind, but we would have preferred more robust leafy growth.

The Tendergreen mustard bolted at the first opportunity

The Tendergreen mustard bolted at the first opportunity

‘Garnet Giant’ mustard, however, is performing beautifully well.  The plants are large, and robust, and the color is absolutely stunning amid the wash of green in the winter garden.  It also seems to be fairly bolt resistant.

'Garnet Giant' Mustard

‘Garnet Giant’ Mustard

‘Southern Giant’ mustard has proven to be a fabulous winter garden addition as well.

Southern Giant Mustard

Southern Giant Mustard

This variety has produced some massive, and tender, leaves with beautiful ruffled edges, but most importantly it is proving to be the most bolt resistant of the three mustards we planted in the fall. Both ‘Garnet Giant’ and ‘Southern Giant’ are likely to become regulars in our future winter gardens.

Also doing well in the winter garden is our very dependable, and perennial, red-veined sorrel that was planted last spring.

Red-Veined Sorrel

Red-Veined Sorrel

While the voles are away, I’m chancing sneaking in a crop of snap peas, which I’ve sown in the greenhouse, along with a number of other spring starts.

The tomato seedlings will soon be large enough to start grafting.

This year we'll be grafting all of our heirloom tomatoes

This year we’ll be grafting all of our heirloom tomatoes

The ‘Golden’ and ‘Bull’s Blood’ beet seedlings were transplanted outside last week.

'Bulls Blood' beet seedlings

‘Bulls Blood’ beet seedlings

Celery ‘Tendercrisp’ seedlings were potted up into larger pots in the greenhouse, and will find their way into the garden soon.

Celery 'Tendercrisp'

Celery ‘Tendercrisp’

An assortment of greens, including Green Oakleaf, Rouge d’Hiver, and Forellenschluss lettuce, along with Mizuna, and Tatsoi were planted out last week, under the protection of row covers while the frost continues.

Assorted lettuce, Mizuna, and Tatsoi seedlings

Assorted lettuce, Mizuna, and Tatsoi seedlings

The seedlings were transplanted during balmy 75 F February weather...just last week!

The seedlings were transplanted during balmy 75 F February weather…just last week!

The herb garden is starting to stir, despite the cold.  We’re happy to see the Chervil pushing new growth.

If you raise chickens, chervil goes fabulously well with eggs

If you raise chickens, chervil goes fabulously well with eggs

The Greek oregano, despite the cold, is pushing lots of new growth.

Greek Oregano, with a touch of frost

Greek Oregano, with a touch of frost

The bees have been very active on warm afternoons, and we’ve noticed them sipping the dew that accumulates on the row covers.

The hives are bustling with activity on warm afternoons

The hives are bustling with activity on warm afternoons

We have to be careful when pulling back the row covers, not to trap the bees that are stealing water from the surface

We have to be careful when pulling back the row covers, not to trap the bees that are stealing water from the surface

No doubt the bees are also grateful that the prostrate rosemary is in full bloom at the moment too.

This winter the rosemary is putting on quite a show

This winter the rosemary is putting on quite a show

Although there’s not a lot going on in the gardens yet, I do have to keep reminding myself that it’s only mid-late February.

This time of year it should be raining, and too muddy to work outside.  However, this is the second year in a row that we’ve been able to embark on sizable outdoor projects in mid-winter.  Last year of course it was the barn that we scrambled to build before the goats arrived.  This winter we’ve started on another hefty goat-related project in mid-winter, taking advantage of the fabulous weather, by starting to fence in the new designated goat pasture/play area.

Last spring we removed the daffodils from this hill, in anticipation of fencing it in this spring

Last spring we removed the daffodils from this hill, in anticipation of fencing it in this spring

Just a few of MANY new fence posts installed this weekend

Just a few of MANY new fence posts being installed this past weekend

More on that project, assuming the weather holds, soon…