Early Spring Gardening

I love this time of year and my first ramblings in the garden.  The giant pussy willow I planted last spring glisten like silver  in the pale spring sun.  Everything is a study in grey and texture today, the sky, pussy willow, bark, grass, soil, couds – but look close and you will see the first greenish blue leaves unfurling at the center of a Columbine plant,  the grassy leaves of crocus emerging fresh and green, lettuce under a shroud of tan leaves.    Birds and robin redbreast singing spring praises and looking for nesting sites – and partners!   Best of all the gardening season has begun!  I just sent my seed order to Johnny’s and am making plans for lots of fresh food.  This is the time when all is possible.  The dream is still  ahead of warm days and ripe tomatoes, armloads of flowers, shade trees and green grass.  Each new sighting in the garden signals is welcome but also bittersweet as I know how fast time, and my life, are speeding by!

My cold frame was almost a complete failure this year.  I tried to make a horse manure heated ‘hot bed’ to grow winter greens but for numerous reasons it didn’t work.    The first thing that happened was a rabbit got inside sometime in December and ate all the spinach plants. I sort of gave up after that.    The brick and straw foundation covered in old windows made the perfect warm restaurant for bunnies.  All that was left were some holes where the plants were plucked out and a few rabbit pellets.  I’ve been letting the dog loose after the rabbits whenever I see them to keep them from sticking around. She never catches anything but does manage to scare them off and is entertaining to watch.   The next blow to my project came after the last  heavy snow an all the glass in the windows broke – I knew I should have slanted the whole thing more! 

With lettuce at $3 a head right now, gas close to $4 a gallon, a tsunami in Japan and Walker’s budget giving me a  pay cut, I think it might be worth it to ressurect the whole thing.   I took the 2 windows and bent them in half to make a tent over some lettuce overwintering next to the hot bed.  I covered it all with plastic and now I have a ‘hoop house’ of sorts.  I seeded the hot bed wth spinach, radish and kale seeds.  Covered the whole things with plastic and everything is toasty warm.  The hotbed is dug into the soil about a foot and surrounded with bricks.  A largepiece of palstic covers the whole things and yesterday as the air temperature outside was about 40, the temperature inside rose to about 50!  I’ll need to watch ti carefully so it does not overheat.  The soil temperature should heat up the next few days as it is sunny but cold.  If I see a very cold and frosty night coming I’ll secure another layer of plastic over it all.

Dug up and moved some plants today.  Its bare root season and all kinds of plants can be dug while dormant.  I moved some elderberry shrubs to moist soil and and a couple perennial plants were divided and moved.

I also planted quite a few seeds with the ‘snow scatter’ method. Seeds I’d gathered last summer will be used to fill large spaces with color and provide ‘biomass’ for feeding the soil and as a mulch.  I’m trying a cover crop this year -strawberry clover – to try and break up some of the nasty hard clay in my front beds along Spring brook.  It will grow a bright red starwberry looking flower in spring to attract butterflies and other pollinators.  It will also probably attract deer which is not good.  When its done blooming I’ll try to collect some seed and then ‘crimp’ the remaining plant.  This is a technique adapted from farming with cover crops where the cover crop is pressed down flat to the ground.  The cash crop – corn, melons, etc –  is then planted in the flattened cover crop which acts  to suppress weeds, conserve moisture, add

organic matter and nitrogen to the soil. 

I’ve tried to add leaves, branches, compost and any type of organic matter possible to my beds the past few years and it’s sucking it all up like a sponge.  I don’t dispose of any weeds or plant parts from my yard, I try to shred them up a little and place them on the ground somewhere.  The big ugly chunks I hide behind larger plants. 

The clover seeds and a few other seeds (poppy, snapdragon, calendula, agastache, verbena) were scattered over snow which will soften them up and carry them down to the soil.  They will germinate in a few weeks and provide a very cost effective and brilliant show over a wide swath of yard.  A stream called ‘Spring Brook’ runs along my property and swelled her sides a couple weeks ago taking a chunk of my bed with it.  I scattered the seed in the bare spot left.  I need to get out and form a barrier to the brook swelling into this area again. A little stream diversion project with the help of my engineer husband is in order,  I think what happened is our neighbor had the creek ‘fixed’ a few years ago and in essence made it into a channel.  All the meanderings were removed and its a straight shot which makes the water run too fast.  I am constanly planting the banks of the brook with all kinds of shrubs and perennials.  It is quite the wildlife attractant especially now that I’ve convinced my hubby to stop herbicides.  Toads and snakes, bird nests, frogs.  The water comes from a spring and is very clean.  I’m trying to keep it that way and filter all the salt and crud that escapes from the road. 

I also attempted to plant milkweed near my rain garden and wetter areas of the yard.  I had 2 huge bags of pods filled with silky seeds.  I planted some of the pods and let a few float free in the air.


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