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Between the Rows

Between the Rows: Spring Chores

It is time to begin spring chores. But exactly how do we know when spring is beginning? A tough question. The only sure answer is that it did not begin on March 20 this year when the temperature was 16 degrees at 7 in the morning and remained cold and cloudy all day.

It was a very different story last year when the snowdrops were in full bloom and my first temperature record was 54 degrees with sun. The first day of spring 2012 led us into several warm days that had me planting lettuce, radishes and beets in the Early Garden in front of the house. I also started working in the main fenced garden, but this year, I hadn’t even tried trudging through the snow to the main garden until April 7.

As far as I can tell from my records, the last frost last year was April 6. Amazing. There were cold and chilly days after that, to be sure, but my temperature readings, usually taken around 7 a.m., do not go below 30 and I do not note frost. Actually all of us can remember what an early spring we had with a fair amount of rain.

So how do we try to figure out a planting schedule based on estimated number of weeks from last frost? Memorial Day weekend seems too timid but, this year, I am starting to feel timid again.

What spring chores can we do? I finally got out and did some cleanup raking because the snow had melted on the south slope in front of the house. However, I know spring raking and cleanup has begun in the lower elevations.

The calendar says seeds can be started in Heath and I do have a few seedlings sprouted. I bought more peat pots and more seeds are being planted: parsley, basil, and broccolini. At the same time, I am hoping that I can plant peas in the ground within a week or two. Last year at this time, I was planting seeds and seedlings in the Front Garden and in the main garden. I did not trust the warm weather and covered all plantings with floating row covers. They protected tender seedling from the cold and from the rabbits that have been such a problem.

A walk in the main garden on Wednesday showed me that the melting snow is sending little streams of water here and there, occasionally making a little waterfall into a mole hole. There will be no planting here for a while.

It’s time to get out the pruners to thin out red and black raspberry canes. My husband just took the loppers and a saw to do a major pruning of the Sargent crabapple. It is now much more horizontal and architectural. I still have to do some of the finer pruning. Sargent crabs love to be pruned.

Any perennials that were left to provide winter interest or food for the birds can be cut back in preparation for the new growth. I am always surprised at how early and how quickly perennials grow in the spring. This is a time when I can also start thinking about which perennials can be divided and shared with the Bridge of Flowers plant sale in May.

To make sure I am not forgetting some of the obvious garden tasks that can be done in this early season, I have been reviewing the “Week by Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook” written by Ron Kujawski and Jennifer Kujawski. Ron Kujawski was an extension educator at the University of Massachusetts for 25 years and I know I can always look to him for good advice and information.

The Kujawski’s handbook is useful. It gives you practical information about every aspect of vegetable gardening from soil building, starting seedlings, container plantings and controlling insects, and on through the harvest. The book is arranged like a three-year garden journal so you can put in your own weather and planting records that will help you with your own garden planning.

Father and daughter Kujawski give tips about “petting” vegetable seedlings to help them be sturdier, the value of vinegar and clove oil to kill weeds, how to handle squash borers, and a whole list of trouble-shooting to handle plant symptoms.

They also describe a slightly different technique of sheet composting. In the fall, they dig a foot deep trench, fill it with 6 inches of kitchen waste (vegetable matter only) and then top it with soil. It will rot over the winter and you will have a rich fertile planting bed in the spring.

This is a technique that I have also heard referred to as “trench” composting. One friend told me she essentially used this method, but she dug large round holes, and filled them halfway with kitchen waste, then soil. She marked each hole with a stake and planted her squash and pumpkins there in the spring.

Please let me know how far have you gotten with your spring chores. Once spring takes hold, the race is on.

Readers can leave comments at Pat Leuchtman’s Web site: www.commonweeder.com. Leuchtman has been writing and gardening in Heath at End of the Road Farm since 1980.

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