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Perhaps the title above should be Mayhem in the Garden! Mother Natures’ mood swings and weather issues last month created chaos in my gardens. May will be spent mopping up all of the half finished and not-yet-started projects, but that’s OK with me. Any time I get to spend time in the gardens is a fun day in my book!
Nighttime temperatures plummeted to the upper 20’s towards the end of April and I had to scramble to protect some new transplants that were not hardened off yet from freezing. Here are some tips I’ve learned through trial and error.
• If only a frost or light freeze is forecasted, you may be able to protect tender plants by covering them with a sheet or a blanket. This acts like insulation, keeping the warm air from the ground around the plant. If the covering you’re using might cause damage to plant because of weight, then support the covering by placing stakes in the ground around the plant for support. The warmth may be enough to keep a plant from freezing during a short cold snap. You can also surround the plants with sheets of newspaper if you don’t have any spare sheets. Before covering them, tie up the plant as neatly as possible.
• If an outright freeze is predicted, place a plastic sheet or large plastic bag over the cloth or newspaper covers. This will prevent possible winds from whisking away the warmth through the cloth. Never cover plants with just plastic alone as the plastic is not enough to insulate the plant. Wherever the plastic touches the foliage, it will cause freeze damage. Make sure that a cloth or paper barrier is between the plastic and the plant.
• Another method of protection is to drive stakes that are as tall as the plant into the ground around the plant. Wrap burlap or cloth around the stakes so that the plant is surrounded. Stuff the inside of this enclosure with hay, crumpled newspapers or leaves for insulation.1

  • Be sure to remove the sheets and blanket and plastic in the morning after the temperature warms up.

 

I’ve learned (the hard way) how to figure out when it is safe to put out tender annuals and vegetables. A good rule of thumb for my northeastern 5b location is to wait until mid-May and then get the 10 day forecast. Cool, clear nights with low humidity, often following a cold front, are signs of an impending frost. I had always associated the full moon with an increased chance of frost until I read about a study done by Cornell University. They reviewed the weather records of four locations in the Northeast for the last 100 years and found that a full moon did not increase the chance of a frost. It was just as likely to occur when no moon was present as when the moon was full! I also wait until the end of the month before planting the heat-loving plants such as zinnias, salvia, geraniums, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant etc. Patience is not only a virtue, but a money-saver!

 

Think again if you’ve considered trying worm castings as an amendment to your garden beds but ended up not doing so. Two years ago I was contemplating ripping up my 15×25′ strawberry bed and starting from scratch with new bare root plants because the crop and berry size was not what it used to be. I followed up the harvest season of my June-bearing plants with an application of organic fertilizer and even so, the generation of new runners after fruiting was poor. I knew if I replanted the bed, I would have to forfeit the first year’s crop and the thought of going through an entire year without strawberries was not making me happy. I had read several articles about the benefits of using worm castings and decided to give it a go. I bought 4 bags and scattered the castings over the bed in early May the following year. The results were nothing short of amazing! Large-sized berries, improved crop yield and a boatload of runners bearing new plants in July.3

Volumes have been written on the beneficial results from the use of worm castings as a soil amendment and in worm teas, and they continue to be studied by research universities around the world. Here are some of the benefits:

  1. Excellent in starting new plants from seed or transplants.
  2. Improves germination and reduces transplant shock.
  3. Improved root growth and plant rooting structure.
  4. Timely release of plant available nutrients (no risk of fertilizer burn).
  5. Improved soil structure and porosity for a better root environment.
  6. Improved soil water retention.
  7. Beneficial supply of microorganisms to the surrounding soil.
  8. Safe around kids and pets. Non-toxic and odorless. 100% organic.
  9. Great supply of water soluble nutrients to plants.
  10. Healthier growth, increased crop yields and increased disease resistance.

 

Spring is the worst time of year to take your birdfeeders down! Returning migratory birds are so exhausted and lean when they arrive, and then they have to find & defend their nesting territory, attract a mate and assist in nest building. Many birds rely on insects to make up the majority of their diet and, in early Spring, insects are not immediately plentiful. Leaving your feeders out will help them to be successful. Also, when the bird eggs hatch, the parents are in constant search of food that is high fat and protein for their babies. Baby birds also need calcium for strong bone development. I’d like to share a homemade suet recipe with you that is high in protein, calcium and essential nutrients and is perfect for adult birds and their offspring.2

In a 6 quart microwaveable bowl, add 48 oz. (which is 3 lbs. or 5 cups) of peanut butter & the same amount of vegetable shortening. Microwave it for 5 minutes to melt it, then stir it with a whisk (because the peanut butter settles to the bottom). Stir in 3 cups of chick starter pellets (can be purchased at any farm & pet store). Gradually add in 12 cups of the following recipe for mixed seed……4 cups of sunflower hearts or chips, 4 cups of white proso millet and 4 cups of fine cracked corn. This mixed seed blend contains shelled sunflower seed and the corn and millet are small enough for young birds to digest. Store the suet in a cool place and only put out as much as will be consumed in a day. Once the weather warms up, the baby birds have fledged and the insects are plentiful, suspend feeding them the suet. This recipe will be too rich for them and you don’t want the suet to spoil in the hot temperatures. They’ll easily transition to the live insect protein that they need.

It has always been second nature for me to recycle and reuse. While working in the vegetable garden many springs ago, I was looking for plant stakes to mark out where I had just direct seeded some different varieties of beets, carrots and spinach. At the time, there were several cats running amuck through our household so I came up with the idea of cutting up cat litter jugs into plant stakes. Worked like a charm! You can also use discarded venetian blinds which are a lot less work to repurpose.

 

The lettuce plants I put in at the end of April are thriving! I used the sections of toilet tissue / paper towel tubes (see February in the Garden) to protect the stems of the young transplants and they have been protected for cutworm damage. 🙂 I just side-dressed them with Lobster and Kelp Plant Food and placed leaf mulch around them to keep the moisture in the soil and prevent weeds. Cylindrical beets were sown into earthworm castings in the middle of this raised bed and when they are an inch high, I will fertilize and mulch them also.4

 

Happy Gardening from your friends at Coast of Maine!

 

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