A mild winter encouraged lots of early growth and a few pleasant surprises from the vegetable patch this spring! It’s no surprise at all to discover hardy greens like kale and collards over wintering in a frigid northern climate. But there many edibles returning that usually don’t stand much chance to survive the winter months and see a spring season.
The First Taste of Spring from an Over Wintered Harvest
Among the first up in my garden was the gourmet garlic and perennial onions. Some garlic varieties have earned a reputation of performing best only when subjected to a stimulating deep freeze for a few months. My garlic is fall planted and never fails to be one of the first plants to resume growth each spring. A small secondary patch is planted thickly just to provide baby garlic from early thinnings.
Next, are those hardy leafy greens; kales and collards mostly, but also including mustards, arugula, winter lettuces, spinach, cresses, and edible weeds like dandelions and chickweed. The cultivated greens that were lucky enough to find themselves tucked into a cold frame or low tunnel over winter stayed lush, green, and growing without interruption. Those planted out in the open took a short break but now have been growing strong for weeks and the mustards are already running to seed.
Swiss Chard, beet greens, fennel, and many perennial herbs are hit or miss in my zone 6 climate when it comes to winter survivability, but this year they are all sending up new spring growth in spite of no special care or protection during the mild winter. Root crops like burdock, parsnips, salsify, and carrots took advantage of soils that warmed earlier than normal to shift into their flowering and seed production modes.
Odd Occurrences for Gardeners in Northern Climates
As to the surprises, it’s usually a challenge to over winter crops like globe artichokes and cardoons here in PA, so this year I really didn’t bother trying to save the plants. It was curious to watch the artichoke plants stay silvery-green throughout the winter, and now leaf out strongly after being given up to perish during the cold season!
Broccoli, cabbages, and Brussels Sprouts grow best for me during the fall but have never survived if left standing in the garden till spring; but this year they did just that. The broccoli produced buds during March and I will wait to see if the over wintered Brussels Sprouts and cabbages offer any type of yield before they go to seed.
Looking closely there are more surprises and early volunteers scattered all about the vegetable patch. I’ve been eating the “mock broccoli” that is produced by an assortment of leafy greens as they begin sending up flavorful seed stalks that look and taste like tiny crowns of broccoli spiced with a mild hint of horseradish like heat added in.
Sweet Successes from the Backyard Orchard
The bay tree survived another restless winter indoors and is now happily back outdoors on the patio. The lemon tree has lost half its leaves but is bearing four lemons and may start spending the daylight hours out on the deck very soon.
A fig tree that was planted out last summer spent the winter surrounded with a pillar of leaves, and wrapped with roofing paper. It is now showing the green tips and buds that indicate there was no die back of the branches this winter. The potted fig trees that spent the winter in the garage were moved back outdoors and are displaying the beginnings of tiny figs and leaf growth.
I’ve been rushing to get a little pruning in even as the fruit trees are making it obvious that they are waking from their dormancy and preparing to blossom and leaf out. They also benefited from the milder than usual weather and hopefully won’t be caught unprepared by a damaging late frost or freeze after they spring into production.
Counting the Rewards and Consequences of an Easy Winter
Winter can be a tough period for honeybees, but this year I had no winter losses with three out of three hives still buzzing and now busy collecting pollen and nectar from early blossoms. There have also been a few queen bumblebees spotted out back checking out the budding blueberries or looking for nesting sites.
The mild winter is not without a few consequences as I have already gotten a report from a friend who picked up a couple of ticks as she was out hiking a couple weekends ago. We'll have to wait and see if other insect pests found the winter to be just as mild and easy to survive as the plants did.
And hopefully we received enough fall precipitation to avoid groundwater shortages related to the lack of snow. For now I’ll just remain content and optimistic that the mild and pleasant winter months will lead to a productive and equally as pleasing spring season out in the vegetable garden!