Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 retrospective

Hey, it's the end of the year, everyone else is doing it, why not me too?

Garden-wise, 2012 was a surprisingly good year. As other folks who live in the US Midwest have noted, the decreasing polar ice cap seems to have affected the usual march of weather systems. The jet stream locked itself into unusual flow patterns for weeks at a time. In St. Louis, the result was an abrupt end to winter on March 12. I worried when the fruit trees burst into bloom before the spring equinox, but as it turned out our last spring frost was on March 10 and we had high yields of bush cherries, plums, peaches, pears, and American persimmons as well as a few apricots and apples. We also had an early and excellent spring strawberry crop. With all the different fruits available in sequence, we stopped buying fruit in late April and didn't buy any more fruit until November, other than some local peaches when I happened to find myself across the street from one of the orchard's outlets. We also had a good year for nuts: we harvested quite a few black walnuts courtesy of the neighbors' tree that overhangs our back yard as well as some chestnuts from our chestnut trees (young and just starting to bear) and some American hazelnuts from the various shrub borders.

We had enough rain through early May but then very little rain until August. It was hot, very hot, all summer long. Did I say HOT? 2012 will end with the highest average temperature on record for St. Louis, beating the previous hottest year by nearly a full degree. We smashed the old record for days with highs of 105F and higher and set several other records for number of days with a high of various temperatures. Over half the days this year had a high of 70F or higher! With the combination of heat and lack of rain, we spent most of the summer and fall in one degree of drought or another, from as high as extreme drought to the current moderate drought. In some ways that made it an easier summer for growing food. The high humidity of the past two summers was very hard on my pepper and tomato crops of each year. This year, by contrast, peppers did reasonably well and tomatoes were superb; the low humidity cut down on disease problems I can have with these crops. I also had good crops of cucumbers, zucchini, dry beans, garden peas, blackeyed peas, edamame-type soybeans, and popcorn, but almost no squash due to planting too early and thus attracting too many squash bugs. Spring greens generally bolted early due to the heat and drought in May and June, although onions, garlic, broccoli, and cabbage all did well. We also had an early and productive asparagus crop. The potato crop was very poor. On the other hand, fall greens and root crops yielded pretty well because Isaac brought us about 4 inches of rain in early September and the rest of that month and October were cool and moist.

With the very hot, dry weather I had to water a lot. I limited watering as much as possible to the vegetable gardens and newly planted trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants, but that still meant hours of moving a garden hose around the yard from late June through early August. As a result we had by far the highest water bill ever for the three months including May, June, and July, using about 3 to 5 times the amount of water we have used during the same period in previous years. St. Louis had plenty of water, this year, as the rivers were at reasonable levels over the summer. Now both the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers are near historic lows. The latest prediction is that drought will hang on in most of the Missouri River's watershed for at least the next three months. I don't think St. Louis has ever restricted water usage, but if the drought continues, it wouldn't surprise me if 2013 brings water restrictions in the summer. With this in mind, I am planning next year's garden to be more drought tolerant than this year's was. Our big garden purchase this year was a 10 foot by 12 foot garden shed with a metal roof. Besides holding all the garden tools and supplies in a central location, it will have gutters and downspouts added to the roof to feed into a 500 gallon water tank. The shed sits at the highest spot in our yard, so we can gravity-feed water collected in the tank to the nearby vegetable gardens. This will supplement the rainwater we collect off the roof of the house, used to water containers and the plantings in the front yard.

The very warm weather this year meant a lower than usual use of natural gas, the fuel that provides our household heat. The glassed-in front porch contributed a little solar heat as well, especially in late winter and early spring and again in October and November. The lower humidity this summer, combined with being out of town for 12 days during the hottest part of the summer, reduced our use of air conditioning to only 16 days in 2012 and thus meant a lower than usual use of electricity in 2012. The glassed-in front porch also provided an excellent place to keep our collection of subtropical and citrus plants over the winter; our rosemary plants bloomed from November through March!

This is long enough now, and we have neighbors due to come over soon to eat blackeyed peas and cornbread, the traditional Southern foods to bring good luck to the new year. May all of you enjoy the best year possible in 2013! I'll be back soon to continue the series that I interrupted for this post.

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