Monday, May 1, 2017

Gardeners' Holidays 2017: Planting Day

Today has been a busy and exhausting day for us. As always on May 1, we got up long before the day-o to go down to Princeton Battlefield and dance in the dawn with our Morris dance team, followed by a couple of short gigs at local schools, a bit of dancing around town, a final performance as part of the May Day revels at Hopewell Elementary School—my old elema mater—and a pub stop, which is a necessary part of any Morris dance event.

Normally, after all this, we just come home and collapse on the couch. But this year, the Hopewell gig was scheduled earlier than usual, ending shortly after noon. So after dancing all morning, we refueled with a little lunch and hurried home to start putting plants in the garden.

Now, usually, we don't have all that much to plant on May 1. According to our garden schedule, the only things that really had to go in the ground this weekend were the zucchini and a final planting of lettuce. Our big planting day is normally about a week into May, which is when the almanac deems the danger of frost to be past. At that point, we put in a whole bunch of things at once: tomatoes, peppers, basil, dill, string beans, lima beans, cucumbers, and butternut squash.

This year, however, there were two problems with that plan. First, Brian is getting shipped off to England for a conference next weekend, and so he wouldn't be around to assist with any of that planting. And second, our tomato plants were starting to get really tall and leggy; they'd already outgrown their little seed-starting tubes, and Brian thought they were in imminent danger of outgrowing the larger pots he'd transplanted them into. So, since the weather forecast for the next week doesn't predict any danger of frost, he though it was best to get them into the ground right away. (We're also thinking that next year, perhaps we should avoid giving them quite so much light, so they won't get too tall before it's time to plant them.)

Then, while we were preparing to plant the tomatoes, Brian had a look at the other garden beds and noticed something disturbing. The lettuce we'd planted last month in the left rear garden bed was coming up nicely—but the snap peas, which we put in immediately after framing the bed a month ago, hadn't come up at all. There was no sign of them whatsoever. Since the first sprouts normally come up just two to three weeks after planting, this was very puzzling. The seeds were only a year old, the weather hadn't been unusually cold, and there was no sign that birds or other wildlife had disturbed them. So what could have gone wrong? And more to the point, were we now doomed to go all year without any peas?

We couldn't answer those questions, so we did the only thing we could; plant all the remainder of the peas in the packet and hope for the best. At the very least, Brian pointed out, this will help answer the question about what went wrong in the first place; if this batch of seeds comes up, we'll know it wasn't the seeds that were at fault. And whether they do or don't, we'll still plan on ordering a fresh supply next year.

So, having put in the tomatoes, the peas, and the other things on the schedule, Brian decided he might as well go ahead and plant the rest of the seedlings—peppers and marigolds—as well. I said I could just plant them on my own next week, but he was concerned because they were still in their tubes, and extracting them can be a tricky job. In the end, he preferred to do it himself mainly so that if anyone messed up the job, it would be him, and I wouldn't be upset with myself over it. So he transferred the seedlings from tubes to beds, while I traipsed back and forth between the garden and the rain barrel with a watering can to make all our new plants comfortable. Then he popped down some chicken-wire cages (the ones he originally built to protect our eggplants, before we figured out we just can't grow the darn things) over two of the pepper plants in hopes of protecting them from squirrels.

Even that wasn't quite all that we needed to get done in the garden. So far, most of our newly installed garden beds don't have trellis netting up yet; we put some up on the back bed for the peas (which apparently we needn't have hurried to do, since they never came up), but we still haven't done the other three. And since the new tomato plants are so tall already, they'll be needing that support as soon as possible. We actually considered coming back out to the garden after dinner to put some up, but we decided going one more day without support wouldn't kill the plants, and spending any more time on yard work today might kill us.

All this hard work wasn't without its rewards, however. Spending all that time in the garden, we got to see that most of the crops we've put in so far—aside from the peas—have been growing really well. The arugula, after three weeks, is almost big enough to harvest, and the lettuce, scallions, and leeks are coming along nicely. Better still, the winter lettuce, which we left in place last year in the faint hope that enough might survive to give us a salad or two this spring, is so full and lush that it's nearly overflowing the two squares it occupies. In fact, we had to thin it out a bit just to make room for the tomato plants.

So, as it turned out, we did enjoy a bit of home-grown produce to top off our Gardeners' Holiday: a salad of crisp winter lettuce, along with a little home-grown thyme (from our herb bed) and garlic (foraged in the front yard) in some pasta. And now, we can finally collapse on the couch, with no guilt whatsoever. Many things attempted, many things done, have more than earned a night's repose.

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