The Block Island Times

Putting the garden to bed for the winter

And other wintry observations
Jan 04, 2014

As I look back, it was a great fall for outdoor gardening activities. There should be no excuses for not putting your vegetable garden “to bed.” My only problem is that I never did get a chance to gather any seaweed for a winter cover. For one thing, I couldn’t seem to find a significant amount on the beach and, if there was any, I just didn’t see it at the right time. I did have a bait barrel full of dried coffee grounds that were spread over the entire garden. As I’ve pointed out in the past, coffee grounds offer a free source of minor elements, along with a bit of organic matter. Along with the grounds, I made an application of 5-10-10 on the asparagus bed. By the way, our green tomatoes that were harvested when I cleaned the garden in late October ripened just fine.

I have mentioned in the past that we have several Winterberry shrubs around our small pond. Past years have shown that, every December, a flock of robins generally comes along and devours the berries on two of the plants — literally every last berry. Six feet away there is another Winterberry, with a very colorful heavy crop of berries, yet the robins don’t touch them at all. There must be a variation in taste or some such factor that doesn’t appeal to them. One might consider that with the multitude of apple varieties on the market, most of us have a favorite or two and could care less about others. So it must be with wildlife and their foraging preferences. Interesting!

My continuing observation of my camellia shows that there are eight developing flower buds. They look healthy and I’m hopeful that they will endure the winter months and actually flower. Camellias are most successfully grown in Hardiness Zone 7, which stretches from the southern states up into southern Delaware. Block Island is in Zone 6. The difference is that, in Zone 7, the annual minimum temperature is from 5 to 10 degrees, while in Zone 6 the minimum temperature is from minus 5 to 5 degrees above zero. As you can see, there is a fine line that may be crossed with any particular severity of winter weather.

It’s my hope that we have a relatively mild winter and we shall actually see a full set of flowers. The unfortunate factor in my fooling around with Mother Nature is that I cannot find the source of the variety of camellia that I have. Most horticulturists would not commit this type of mistake as they record all pertinent activities and facts in a notebook.

Back in September, our son Eric and our daughter-in-law were vacationing here for a week. They brought a colorful four-inch flowering chrysanthemum. As the blossoms gradually faded, Muriel dutifully snipped them off. The plant was kept in an east kitchen window and occasionally watered and fed. In December we had a new crop of flowers on the plant. Chrysanthemums set flower buds when they are grown in an environment with long night hours. Our kitchen lights are generally kept off in the evening, allowing the longer nighttime darkness that is ideal for flowering chrysanthemums. Try it some time, and get two flowering shows for the price of one. We shall not be coaxing another flowering period for this plant.

“A gardener must not feel sorry for himself, even in winter, and no matter how great the cause.” — Henry Mitchell, “The Essential Earthman” (1981)

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