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Previously in Patti's Garden

May 14, 2004

The lusty month of May! We've had a week of extraordinarily beautiful weather. The birds are singing away at the crack of dawn and waking the dogs who in turn wake us and we just have to spring out of bed ourselves because the days are just too beautiful to waste a minute in bed.

The weather so far this month has been just what I would order. Neither too hot nor too cold and just enough rain has meant that things are coming along just as they should. I planted 200 new strawberries and another long row of raspberries about two weeks ago and both are showing new growth. The greenhouse is overflowing with all the tomatoes, peppers, herbs and flowers I've I just need to keep them healthy until planting time in early June. We've had frosts as late as June 7, so the bulk of the transplanting won't happen until then.

In the woods, Rosie and I are watching the fiddleheads unfurl (Ralph and I had some for dinner with mushrooms and asparagus) and the leaves shoot out. Yesterday we surprised a turkey that was bigger than me (those who know me will be underwhelmed) but most of the wildlife we've seen lately has been chipmunks and moose or bear as we saw last spring. The brooks are running well and the ponds are full.

The one thing this spring has been lacking is flowers. The severe winter (weeks of temperatures at -20) killed many flower buds. We had virtually no forsythia, and the lilacs are down about 90%. The Damson plums have suffered too, but we have had about 40% bloom in the venerable trees and many of the new trees have blossomed this year for the first time so I am hopeful that we'll have plums in September. Last year's crop was so heavy that the tree branches bent low with the load. That won't happen again, but a light crop will be OK. Two years ago, snow on May 18 followed by temps in the mid 20's killed all the fruit in what had promised to be a good year judging by the intense bloom, so anything can happen.

The worst winter damage was seen in the blackberries, as I suspected. We don't know the true name of the "Teddy Berry" blackberries, but I do know that most blackberry varieties can't take temperatures below about -10. It was particularly sad because last year's rain caused amazing growth of the canes, many to 14'. As we began pruning, we cut the canes back to about 6' to encourage lateral branching. Dead. Cut to 5'. Dead. Cut to 4'. Dead. Even cut back to just 16 inches or so the canes were dead. In the whole planting, five 100' rows, we have about four live canes. The good news (OK, call me a cockeyed-optimist) is that I suspect that the planting in our secret spot is OK. It's south of here, and near a town which means that the microclimate is much milder than here. (I'm sooo glad I haven't divulged the secret location.) Ralph and the dogs and I will take a family expedition to the spot next week to check it out. The other good news is that the roots of our planting are probably still OK too. Some shoots are beginning to appear in the rows. I'll know more by the next message from the garden.

Our raspberries have suffered some winter-kill as well. The two newest rows look good, but the three venerable rows are quite sparse. I'm glad that I didn't thin the canes to the recommended 4/running foot of row, because in many locations I have only 1 or 2 live canes out of about 8-9. Interestingly, it's the smaller, thinner canes that are shooting out new leaves. The thicker, stronger canes tend to be dead. The conventional wisdom in raspberry pruning is to discard anything smaller than your baby finger, selecting for the strong, thick canes. (The blackberry canes have a tremendous diameter - bigger than my thumb - and are almost universally dead.)

Other plants that took a hit in the cold winter include the French Tarragon (about 90% gone, but I've already replanted and the transplants look great) and the lavender. The lavender is really interesting because all but two of the plants around the house, the herb banking, and the driveway garden died (about 40 plants). On the terrace above the house, far from any protection at all, we have three rows of lavender about 100' long. There, the nearest 1/3 are dead, but the farthest 2/3 are alive for the most part. We should have plenty of lavender for both Lavender Mustard and Lavender Vinegar. I have both year-old plants in my little herb nursery and a tray of rooted cuttings to plant out to replace many of those lost plants. Most of the other perennial herbs such as the Greek oregano, the various thymes, lemon balm and savory are fine. The mints like chocolate mint, anise hyssop and catnip are thriving.

In the perennial garden, many delphinium were lost but columbine, lupine, physostegia, yarrow, poppies, echinacea, camomile, salvia and verbascum all look very good. I've been working in the perennials on these glorious days - pulling weeds and moving plants and having lots of fun. The hollies suffered winter-kill too, but I'm pruning back the brown and hope for the best.

The best looking fruit on the farm is the blueberry planting. They seem to be loaded with buds and look better than ever. I've pulled weeds and side-dressed the plants with some organic fertilizer and will get more mulch on them immediately.

The garlic also looks great. It seems as though every single clove set up a shoot. This is ironic since we didn't even get the garlic mulched until after the worst of the winter had passed. Several other growers have told me that they lost their garlic this winter so I can't imagine why ours looks so good.

The catbirds (who think we do all this just for their benefit) are back and nest-building. The orchard orioles are back too, and we have lots of robins who love playing in the compost and freshly-turned beds. No rose-breasted grosbeaks or bluebirds yet, but I haven't given up hope. Hawks soar by often, and our pond has been visited by geese. The funniest sight, though, happened today when I went to the driveway of the old house to investigate a tapping sound. One of our young male cardinals was perched on the side-view mirror of an old volvo we keep there to deter vandals. He was pecking vigorously at his rival - his own reflection in the mirror.

While I've been busy in the greenhouse and in the perennial beds, Ralph has been busy spreading compost and mulches and digging and carving out his new pond. He had an opportunity to borrow a Bobcat for a couple of days and made great progress. He and our friend Jeff built an impressive stone wall behind the pond using some giant stones, including one with a circle carved into it whose origin mystifies us all. He's also carved terraces around the pond, and the whole area is a lovely place to sit and contemplate.

In the "nature likes to play little jokes on Patti" department:

  • The main weed in both the perennial garden and the raspberries is wild strawberry. It's in full bloom right now which makes it heartbreaking to pull out.
  • The raspberry "volunteers" that shoot up in the adjacent pepper bed have leafed out fully, even though they're right next to an especially "dead zone" in the raspberry planting.

I guess that's all the news from the garden...and I really must get back to work!




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