Taking Stock of the Garden’s Winter Losses

May 9, 2014

This past winter was harsher than what we’ve grown accustomed to, with colder temps, more snowfall, and longer periods of sustained freezes. Even after spring arrived we have continued to receive colder than normal lows and lingering threats of potential frost.

I’m still assessing the damage left behind by winter, but so far it has not been pretty with some unexpected losses in areas that have easily survived past winters. My guess is that it wasn’t the low temperatures that created the havoc, but rather the long stretches where temps fell below freezing and then remained there for extended periods.

The Honeybees Struggled through a Long Winter

BeehivesThe apiary didn’t suffer the greatest losses overall but it was definitely hit hard! I went into winter with seven honeybee colonies and by April only two remained. From two top bar hives, two langstroths, two top bar nucs, and one lang nuc, it was a single langstroth hive and one top bar nucleus hive that endured the winter. It wasn’t a good winter for honeybees.

All of the colonies were still alive going into February and began failing after that. My suspicions for most of the losses are that the bees starved because it was just too cold for them to break their clusters and move to other honey stores or sugar bricks located within the hive… that was in some cases was just inches away from the cluster. Fortunately the surviving colonies and a couple of new packages got off to an early start, are thriving, and will allow me to build the apiary up quickly.

My Survivor Fish Fail to Make it through Winter for the First Time

The backyard pond on the other hand is going to take a bit more effort on my part to get it back into good condition. There Backyard Pondwere over a dozen fish, mainly various types of goldfish that had been happily living carefree in the pond for at least four years prior to this winter. By the time that spring returned only one was still alive and swimming, and even that one hasn’t been sighted in weeks now.

Those fish were survivors who were seldom fed, had to fend off herons and egrets, spent their winters outdoors, and yet they managed to thrive until this past winter. I’m not sure what brought about their demise and think that they should have been able to weather the cold, but at least the pond plants are alive and this will give me a perfect opportunity to do a partial drain and thoroughly clean the pond before replacing the fish.

Prized Fruiting Trees take a Hit in the Backyard Orchard

PomegranateIn the garden, Old Man Winter continued to play the role of the Grim Reaper. My fig trees are container grown and moved into the garage over winter but there is one fig tree that I planted in the ground three summers ago. The first winter outside I covered it for protection but last winter it stood unprotected; and it survived in both cases with no die back. That wasn’t the case this year as it has died back to the ground, but the tree itself should survive and resprout from the ground.

A potential major loss would be the Pomegranate tree which stands in an ornamental edible bed in the front yard. This hardy Russian strain has grown, fruited, and survived the past couple winters like a champ! It always was slow to show any sign of life in the spring, but so far it still looks lifeless into the month of May and I am worried that it too was done in by the past winter, I’m still hoping and watching to see if it will come around in the next week or two.

Losses Mount in the Ornamental Edible and Perennial Herb Beds

Another loss occurred in the front yard’s ornamental edible beds  where several huge Rosemary plants didn’t survive. Last year these Over Wintered Bay Treeherbs had come out of winter without so much as a broken limb from snow damage, and they welcomed spring with a showy display of blue flowers to go along with their evergreen foliage. This time around there was nothing to see but brown leaves or barren branches of their dead carcasses.

Not unexpectedly, the globe artichokes, which are always hit or miss to over winter in northern climates, did not make it through winter either. All was not bad and there were a few surprises in spite of many losses; sage plants that over wintered, solitary bees that are everywhere, hardy kiwi vines covering the trellis, and a close call with a bay tree that went dormant indoors but has now recovered and is producing new growth!

Moving into Springtime and the Adventures of a New Growing Season

Early Spring GardenIn spite of the harsh winter and a spring season that has been reluctant to warm up, I am grateful and looking forward to a productive new growing season. The honeybees are very quickly building back up, the early spring garden looks great, there are flats of new seedlings growing indoors and in the cold frames, and we are finally seeing temps move into the eighties!

This weekend is the annual Landis Valley Museum Herb and Garden Faire in Lancaster, PA where there will be loads of heirloom and vintage fruit trees, vegetable seedlings, herbs, and flowers for sale. I’ll also be attending another Garden 2 Blog event at P Allen Smith’s farm in Arkansas, the Native Plant Conference on the campus of Millersville University, several PASA workshops, and various other local gardening events that I will share later.

I hope that your garden fared even better than mine over the winter and that you are enjoying a new growing season in your own backyard!

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