February always feels like a tipping point, a moment of transition in my California garden. It's too cold and wet to actually go outside and do very much. Walking around on my wet clay soil will only compound ongoing compacted soil problems. Working with wet leaves would only increase the chance of spreading the fungal diseases I know are lurking. So I must wait.
I have finished my dormant pruning and treated my trees with fixed copper. This week I will whitewash the trunks and exposed branches, replace sticky barriers, weed around my trees, and take some mostly aged compost from the chicken run to mulch around the trees. I won't need to do much else for the trees until it's time to feed them in March and thin fruit as it comes in. I want to make sure that this year I get the best crops possible.
Another aspect of my new beginnings in the garden will be making better choices based on what has worked in the past. It's too easy to get caught up in seed catalogs and marketing promises. Each yard is too unique for those generalized claims to be useful. On the contrary, they often make us feel dissatisfied and inadequate when our gardens don't turn out looking like images in magazines. For me, I know that the scorching summer heat of my fully exposed yard will make some plants very happy and others will bolt the moment they see daylight. There's no sense wasting water, time, and real estate on unsuitable plants.
I have one raised bed in the back corner of my yard that I have struggled with every year. The squirrels dig it up. I forget to water it. Life is hard for plants back there, so they don't thrive. Last year I moved my potato bed back there. I added aged compost, a few onion sets, and then covered the whole thing with netted panels. The squirrels were not pleased, but I wanted to give the whole thing some time to rest. Over the holidays, I received a lovely card that included some native flower seeds, so I sprinkled them over the potato bed. My hope is that the native flowers will reseed themselves each year, adding color that will remind me to water. And potatoes have a way of carrying on no matter what I do or don't do. And if you've never had fresh potatoes, you're really missing out.
By looking at each growing space as having a new beginning, I can do a better job of making sure it has everything it needs to grow well. I guess the same is true for us, eh? We all need the right amounts of food, plenty of water, enough sunlight, and a gentle environment in which to grow.
May you thrive in this new year.
Kate Russell, writer, gardener, and so much more.