Monday, March 9, 2009

March Madness

   March lived up to its' reputation for making aggressive entrances, bringing on it's first day the worst snow storm of the season that cut a swath from Georgia to New England, burying everything in its' path under as much as twelve inches of snow. But, only a week later, it has redeemed itself with our first day - and a Saturday at that - when temperatures reached 70 degrees! Even those among us who are prone to doubt must acknowledge that Spring is finally here.
     My favorite bit of evidence of the changing seasons is the appearance of the Snow Drops, Galanthus Nivalis, in greater and more robust numbers than ever before. Yet another 
harbinger of Spring is the Skunk Cabbage, Sym
plocarpus foetidus, now blossoming in the wetlands nearby. Like the creature whose
 name it shares, Skunk Cabbage can, when its leaves are broken, emit an unpleasan
t odor. Still, I cannot help but admire a plant that, in a process called thermogenisis, actually generates heat to melt its way through the surrounding ice and snow!
     I am delighted to report that my bees have survived their first winter. Enlivened by our recent warmer temperatures, their first official act has been to carry out their dead. Talk about Spring cleaning! On Saturday, I sat and watched as they struggled, one by one, to drag the bodies of their fallen comrades out of the hive. Shortly, they will resume the cycle of foraging for pollen and nectar, comb-building, raising new generations of bees and of course, making honey, that will go on until, once again, cold weather drives them indoors.
     All of which reminds me of the chores that we gardeners must face. My arborist friends Alan Haigh and Erika Hanson, have already been about the business of pruning fruit trees to achieve maximum yield. The timing of this work suggests to me that it is best accomplished before the sap begins to run. I know that sunlight and good air circulation among the branches are goals of pruning but suggest consulting a professional for further information regarding your trees. 
Likewise, it is time to prune ones' Butterfly Bushes, Buddleia davidii, back, almost to the ground. In our zone six conditions, they respond by growing vigorously to a height of nearly ten feet, and are laden with fragrant panicles of blossoms. Come summer, they will attract a steady parade of butterflies, hummingbirds and other desirable pollinators. Readers who wish to reduce the numbers of weeds in their lawns should not hesitate to apply an organic, pre-emergent herbicide, like corn gluten meal, to stop weeds like dandelions before they get started and spread.
     I admit, I face quite a bit of neatening up and preparatory work before any planting can begin in my garden. There are weeds that continued to grow after the last crops came out of the potager last fall that must be removed. There is compost and well-aged manure that must be worked into the soil. Wood ash can be added as an amendment to the soil, but only with care. 
Only the ash from non-treated wood should be used, and then not more than twenty pounds per thousand square feet of garden. The addition of a garden inoculant to the soil can greatly increase the yield of your sweet peas and string beans. Consult one of your garden catalogues for more information. This year, I intend to use straw as a mulch, to cut back on weeds and to help retain moisture in the soil.
     So, if one is to plant peas on St. Patrick's Day, for luck, there isn't a moment to lose! Get those seed orders in, and have a good pair of gardening gloves at the ready.

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