Friday, March 21, 2014

Gardeners' Holidays 2014: First Sowing

Last year, as you may recall, I had trouble coming up with an appropriate way to celebrate the start of spring as a gardener. Gardeners have lots to celebrate in summer and fall, when the crops are coming in, but at the very start of spring, there isn't just nothing ready to pick; there isn't even anything in the ground. And with the snow barely melted (and more on the way next week), it's a bit early even to start putting things into the ground. Of course, we have our seedlings started, as you can see here: parsley, celery, leeks, tomatoes, and marigolds. But most of those can't go into the ground until the last frost date, which is still at least seven weeks away.

However, there is one crop that can actually be planted at the first sign of spring: snow peas. Actually, the variety we're planting (Oregon Giant) is technically a sugar snap pea rather than a snow pea, the kind that you eat when the pods are big and ripe rather than tiny and flat—but I prefer the sound of the name "snow pea" because it makes these seeds sound like the tough little critters they are. They don't care if there's still snow on the ground and more in the forecast; if the calendar says it's spring, that's good enough for them. (According to Wikipedia, the French refer to both types of peas as "mangetouts," meaning "eat the whole thing." Descriptive, but not quite as poetic.)

Unfortunately, simply getting these seeds into the ground was the easy part. Snap peas are one of the crops that we grow on a trellis, since they're long, vining plants that can't reasonably be grown any other way—and in the bed where the peas are scheduled to go this year, the trellis net is badly damaged. We rotate certain crops each year to keep the bacteria from getting a foothold, so this trellis had tomatoes growing on it last year, and perhaps it was their weight or their aggressive tendrils that
tore up the bottom part of the netting, but whatever the reason, it's pretty well chewed. So we'll need to find some way to patch it before these little green shoots actually start to come up.

Since we actually are having reasonably springlike weather today, mostly sunny with a high of 52, I took advantage of it to take care of a couple of non-veggie-related gardening tasks as well. First, I started my aggressive pre-emptive strike against blackspot, which last year gradually stripped our rosebush of all its leaves well before autumn. I did my best to remove and dispose of the infected leaves the way the experts all say to do, as well as spraying weekly with a fungicide, but to no avail; the infection was just too well established. So I vowed that this year, I'd do my best to stop the fungus in its tracks from showing up in the first place. I mixed up a batch of a baking soda solution that lots of sources, including the one above, recommend: 1 teaspoon of baking soda dissolved in a quart of warm water, with a bit of dish soap added to help it stick to the leaves. I'm planning to spray them with this weekly, even before the leaves are fully formed yet, to try and nip any blackspot infection in the bud (or rather, on the buds). If the spots show up anyway, I'll try this vinegar solution that a lot of gardeners on the GardenWeb forums seem to have had luck with.

The second job is a rougher one: getting my wildflower bed ready for planting. Last fall, we removed the big, overgrown foundation shrubs from the front left side of our house, and my plan was to plant the area with a nice wildflower mix from American Meadows. Before I can do that, however, I need to pull out all the ivy that's currently filling up the bed. In the absence of the shrubs, it's grown still more, even sending tendrils out across the front porch to the other side of the stairs—so I'm going to have to crack down and make sure I've pulled up every bit of it, or it could smother my new flowerbed before it even gets established. (I'm thinking about maybe keeping just one little piece planted in a big pot, where it will, with luck, stay contained and produce just enough greenery to frame our door at Yuletide—but I'll have to keep a pretty sharp eye on it even there and be prepared to root it out ruthlessly if necessary.)

I thought this stuff was supposed to be pretty shallow rooted, so I hoped I could pull it all out with my bare hands. However, some of it appears to have formed a really vine that's securely rooted into the base of the front steps. I'm not sure how I'll get this out; normally we use the King of Spades for digging up tough roots like this, but there isn't enough room for that around the concrete foundation of the steps. So I might have to resort to killing it with vinegar or boiling water. But at least I got all the vines out of the ground itself, so I guess my garden is now ready for spring. And heaven knows, after the winter we've had, so am I.
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