Winter Bounty year two: a late season wrapup

A few weeks ago, I ran into an acquaintance I hadn’t seen in awhile. She asked about the greenhouse project and said, “With this warm winter, it’s probably even better than last year.”

That’s a fairly typical sentiment, but I’m here to say: NOT.

Surprisingly, this winter has been a much more challenging experience than last year, when frigid temperatures and weekly snowstorms were the rule.

These two beds of chard got a late start because of our problems with weather and caterpillars last fall. Now, the leaves are tasty and sweet, and they are beginning to grow again, but we are fighting aphids on them.

For one thing, we never quite got rid of the bugs. On a cold December day, I killed a cabbage worm lurking on the inside of the door. Aphids have plagued our chard all winter and have taken over other plants. Because the chard otherwise looks and tastes good, we have been treating it with an emulsion of highly refined safflower oil and water that must be frequently sprayed on the top and bottom surfaces of the leaves and stems.

A few weeks ago, when preparing a bed that had been harvested for new plantings, we uncovered a couple of chrysalises for some sort of caterpillar and destroyed them. Who knows how many more are lurking beneath the surface? And today, we caught a moth basking near a new spinach bed. (It is no longer with us. And by comparison, a year ago we were emerging from a major ice storm, not fighting spring pests.)

We believe that some sustained subfreezing temps would have knocked back some of these bugs.

Additionally, we didn’t have the insulating blanket of snow to block weather and critters from entering the greenhouse, as we did last winter.

We also trace some of our difficulties to the twin hurricanes Irene and Lee that brought us heavy rains late last summer. The sustained wet weather caused problems in our planting schedule and in the health of our seedlings, and we believe the storms blew some southern species of caterpillars and other pests our way.

We have also grown to believe that the west greenhouse plot, where we are gardening this winter, may be less fertile than the east plot, where we gardened last winter and summer. (Remember that our greenhouse is on wheels and can be moved from east to west.) We have continued to bring in compost and other amendments all winter. The soil might also be harboring some pathogens brought in by those “outsider” bugs. Almost all of the greens have suffered from yellowing leaves that could indicate either a disease or nutrient deficiency.

We have submitted soil samples for testing and will be following recommendations for amending the soil. We are also making some changes that will make it easier to move the greenhouse on its tracks and expose the inside beds to a nice rainfall, we hope will knock back the aphids.

Having listed all of these problems, I should emphasize that we still harvested a lot of good food this winter. The greens weren’t as bountiful for all of the reasons rehearsed above, but we more than made up for that by the plentiful carrots and (until fairly recently) turnips, beets, leeks, and rutabagas.

And despite the warmer temperatures than last year, it was still winter, complete with short days, and we all still basked in the smell of the earth and the warmth of sharing time working together in the greenhouse.

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One Response to Winter Bounty year two: a late season wrapup

  1. Pingback: Warm weather encourages the lettuce, arugula, spinach . . . and aphids and weeds | The Winter Bounty Project

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