Happy Midwest Spring

Today is the first day of spring.  We in Wisconsin, and much of the midwest, welcomed spring with a dusting of snow.  Just to say, ‘don’t get too excited’, Mother Nature reveled us with temperatures in the 60’s only to bring us down  to snow and temperatures in the 30’s.  Ah life in zone 5!  But oh that sun on my face and the warm spring soil, such is bliss.  Birds everywhere and spring the good promise ahead!  All this made even more poignant with my husband’s return from Guatemala.  He was part of a group ‘WI Water For the World’ that installs water systems in remote villages.

My overwintered spinach is looking great and harvest should begin next week.  The biggest threat at this point is not removing the plastic in time on sunny days.  Temperatures under the plastic can heat up fast and cook the plants inside.  Fresh spinach to spinach florentine in a matter of hours…

Friday, before the predicted snow fall, I raked the straw mulch off a lot of beds and let the sun heat them up.  The warm black earth was full of worms on this south facing exposure so I knew it was ok to plant cool season flower and veggie seeds – Calendula, Nigella and Cantaurea (bachelor button) and vegetables, spinach, kale, radish and peas.  I planted a row of onion sets for fresh onions in about a month.

All this happened on Friday in warm, sunny weather.  The seeds planted waiting…I knew it was supposed to snow later that night and, sure enough, it snowed about 2″, just enough to insulate the soil and provide slow release  moisture and good soil/seed contact – all without washing the seeds away. By Sunday the sun was out and the melting snow gently soaked the seeds and embedding them into their dark earth mother.

I love the idea of working with nature, yielding to nature, rather than dominating it with pesticides and machines.  How can I copy natural cycles to achieve more with less?

How can I convince my husband that we are creating a nature sanctuary, not a ‘yard’.

I have been religious in filling my bird feeders, suet feeders and water baths the past month.  I have been rewarded with an incredible diversity of birds which fill my heart.

On Sunday I made a pea trellis out of prunings from elderberry (Sambucus canadensis).   I love this shrub for its adaptability, beauty and health benefits. The long straight pruning pieces went to making a ‘pea tower’.  These supports will probably be rooted by July when the peas are finished.  I can dig them up when dormant in fall or next spring and transplant (see earlier post).  Some of the smaller pieces were pruned into 10″ hardwood cuttings.  The cuttings were then ‘stuck’ directly in the warm, moist spring soil with a node (point of leaf attachment) below ground.  The rains of spring and lengthening days will cause these cuttings to root.   I stuck about twenty cuttings and hopefully at least ten will root over the course of the summer.  I also pruned and stuck hydrangea cuttings just to see if this will work for these cuttings too.  I will check in late summer for roots.

I stuck many elderberry cuttings all along Spring brook to create a privacy screen from my neighbors (?) and along the back of my property where a couple wild elderberries already grow.  The flowers and purple-red berries are very medicinal and delicious in jams and pies.  I purchased some cuttings of named cultivars at the MOSES conference which I put on the propagation bench in the GTC greenhouse. Hopefully I will add these to my yard for cross pollination with the wild species for abundant fruit set.

I also cut back ornamental grasses and the shrubs Berberis and Symphoricarpus.  I tend to dislike Berberis as they are so often mis managed.  However,  I always cut mine back harshly in spring and by mid summer they are brilliant mounds of purple-red.   They are quite lovely  contrasting with the other gold, pink and blue plants nearby, so they stay.

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