I see a lot of gardens under wraps this morning, plants covered with upturned buckets or flowerpots, or blanketed under . . . well . . . blankets. Day after day of balmy temperatures have made it hard to hold back finally getting vegetable and flower transplants out of their pots and into the ground.
But temperatures just below freezing were predicted for last night (May 13th) and everyone got a wakeup call: Freezing temperatures, which could kill tomato, marigold, and other tender plants, are still possible. It’s all about averages; around here, there’s about a 10 percent chance of a frost the middle of May.
You’d think, this time of year, that all I’d be doing is sowing seeds and transplanting small and large plants. I am. But I’m also turning compost piles, getting ready to use that “black gold” this autumn. Why now? So the stuff has time to mellow and to make space for new compost piles that will be built from now through autumn.
Here’s my compost routine: All summer and into autumn I fill empty compost bins with hay, wood shavings, horse manure, weeds, kitchen waste, and old garden plants along with some sprinklings of soil, limestone, soybean meal (if extra nitrogen is needed), and sufficient water to moisten the ingredients. When a bin is full, which means loaded up about 5 feet high, it gets covered with a sheet of EPDM rubber roofing material to keep excess moisture out and to seal in whatever moisture is within. A …
If there’s one thing I don’t like about gardening, it’s all the deferred gratification, all the looking to the future. That future might be 3 or 4 weeks hence, when I’m planning to start harvesting the radishes that I’ll be sowing today. Or 8 or 9 weeks hence, when I’ll start harvesting tomatoes from plants I’m nurturing today and that I sowed in early April for planting out towards the end of May.
And it doesn’t end. No sooner will a large portion of the seeds and transplants be snuggled into this season’s garden than I’ll be sowing seeds of cabbage and broccoli for eventual transplanting in midsummer for harvest in autumn. Planning for autumn now! Shudder the thought, but it’s got to be done. I don’t want to even think about autumn’s impending cold weather with this wonderfully warming spring weather.
People are funny, and that includes gardeners. Gardening is basically simple: You put a seed in the ground and, backed by millions of years of evolution, that seed grows. Sure, there are a few more wrinkles, like choosing a sunny spot (for sun loving plants), a well-drained soil (except for bog and water plants), and enriching the ground with organic materials, and, perhaps, fertilizer.
But people love to complicate things. Hence, compost tea, biochar, and now, straw bale culture. A recent article in the New York Times about straw bale culture has everyone — or at least the handful of people who told me of their plans for the season — trying out this new and allegedly wonderful alternative to merely dropping seeds in the ground.
Actually, straw bale culture is not “new.” I wrote, over a decade ago, in my book Weedless Gardening, “Straw bale culture of vegetables …
With a bit over 2 acres of land to play around with, I could have a woodlot. But I don’t. (I do harvest a lot of sunlight, though.) Still, because this is what I call a farmden (more than a garden, less than a farm), trees, aside from fruit trees, have to fit into the picture. To wit, four sugar maples planted in 1997 as a sugarbush for tapping in another 20 years and my locust mini-grove.
Locust — black locust, Robinia pseudoacacia, that is — is a tree of many qualities. For starters, the roots can garner nitrogen from the air and put it into a form the tree can use, eventually putting it in the soil. Black locust also laughs off heat, drought, air pollution, and road salt. The tree’s craggy branches and deeply furrowed bark are fondly reminiscent of those trees that hugged Dorothy on the …