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MV Gardening Corner April, 2013

Gardening Corner      
After recovering from this year’s winter, April meant lots of clean-up ahead.  We had the tree guys come in March to take away the big stuff, including broken large braches, split trees and hanging limbs, but April signaled time to start cleaning up the smaller stuff and getting the beds ready for planting.  Other years, we have tried to have the peas in by St. Patrick’s Day (March 17th), but that certainly didn’t happen this year.  So, we were behind before we even got started this year.  The peas often go together with the pansies, so Bill put in the peas in one raised bed and I put in the pansies in our window boxes.  Bill planted the onions and the early cabbage and broccoli.  Then he added lettuce and radishes (one of his favorites).  The garlic he planted last fall is going strong now.  
Seed starting – Since Bill starts many of the vegetables from seed, he started the tomatoes and peppers and eggplant indoors, and toward the end of this month, they were up and needed to be transplanted.  As soon as the second leaves appear, it is time to transplant.  He uses old plastic strawberry containers (the ones with all the slots on the bottom…makes for good draining) to first plant the seeds and then uses hot cups to later transplant each plant.  One of our southern facing windows in the family room has always been a good spot to get seeds going.   Every day, he meticulously mists them to keep them evenly moist.  A few years back, we purchased a small glass greenhouse (maybe 4 ft., x 4 ft, and 5 ft high).  Once the weather temperature during the day is above freezing, Bill takes the seedlings outdoors into the greenhouse for some extra sun.  At night, however, he brings them all back in unless he knows the last frost date had passed.  At this writing, the temps have been consistently in the low 40s at night, so it is OK to leave them outdoors in the greenhouse.
Berries and flowers – The raspberries are coming up now, since we cut the canes back to ground level last winter.  They will get to be 5-6 feet in a short while.  Some advocate leaving the canes up all winter and simply pruning them, but we have cut them back each year and still get a healthy crop.  They do send out suckers into the wood pile though, so we are always trying to keep them under control.  I may try a few thorn-less blackberries this year as well, since I found a variety that does not send out those suckers.  Berries can be very invasive.  We lost one side of one of the elderberry bushes this winter, but Bill trimmed them and mulched them this month, too.  The blueberries are “greening” and setting flowers, too.  I only had a chance to prune four of the ten bushes last January, so we will see how that impacts production this year.   The rhubarb is coming up once more and growing fast.  I counted 13 plants, but Bill said he found a few more from an old rhubarb patch we may dig up and transplant for next year.  We should have a healthy crop by the end of May, which has proved helpful for our annual Church festival.    Strawberry-rhubarb pie is a favorite spring dessert around here and one woman at church is the pie master of the baking booth, so we send some of the rhubarb her way.  Like the rhubarb, which dies down completely in the winter, the peonies are also emerging and are about a foot high at this writing.  Come June, they will be producing some beautiful fragrant blossoms.  The lilac bushes are “greening up” and soon we will have some of those spring favorites as well.  Every year after Easter, I plant the flower gifts folks have given us, like hyacinths or tulips or lilies.  They won’t bloom again this year, but if you put them in the ground at this time, they will die back and come back next spring.  Three of those tulips from last year just opened this morning.  Around here, I tend to plant tulips and lilies close to the house; we discovered many years ago that chipmunks just love tulip bulbs and other assorted bulbs.  And once they eat the bulbs, no more tulips.  The only bulbs they won’t touch are daffodils, so we have loads of them.
The Orchard – The trees in the orchard needed to be pruned and sprayed with dormant oil before the leaves started coming back or any buds opened, so Bill sprayed those and lightly pruned them this month.  We only lost one large branch from a plum tree from the winter ravages.  Next, all the orchard needed a fresh coating of straw, so I ordered 50 bales and Bill put the last one on Saturday.  Straw is an excellent mulch, but it can also be a fire hazard if not careful.  During the month of April in our town, many people burn brush; one just has to call the fire department to let them know you are burning on “x” day.  Our neighbor was burning the other day shortly after the straw went on the orchard and the wind picked up.  Luckily a water truck was handy to spray down sections of the orchard that were close.  Our small fruit trees are getting taller and one by one they are setting blossoms.   The bees are back too, pollinating their little hearts out.  Even though we try to keep as much as possible organic, Bill does use a multi-purpose spray every few weeks on the orchard for some fungi and diseases.  It doesn’t seem to harm the bees.  The decaying mulch from previous years is acting as fertilizer.
bay leaf
Herbs – Some herbs are perennials and some ore biennials and some simply annuals, but our chives (perennial) are coming up now and are about 7-8 inches high.  In another few weeks, they will make the best scrambled eggs ever.  Some tarragon and oregano are coming back, but my favorite large pot of bay leaf bit the dust this year.  I had it for about ten years and got so used to drying my own bay leaves.  The plants are hard to find in this area, and do not winter over, so every fall I brought it in for the winter.  Years ago, I bought the plant at a local greenhouse that has since gone out of business.  This year, I finally did locate some plants on line at:  and three small bay leaf plants arrived a couple weeks ago.  When I emptied the pot of the dead plant, I found out why it had died.  The entire pot, and this is a hug pot, was roots.  It had become root bound.   I thoroughly cleaned out the pot and planted our new bay leaves.  They look beautiful.  Up against the house amidst the hyacinths are our other herbs.  It will be a few week before the parsley comes back and I may need to replenish the rosemary and thyme, but there is nothing like cooking with fresh herbs. 
Raking – There is still lots of raking to be done.  Bill did the front lawn today and then cut the grass for the first time this year.  Just before Easter, I raked the back yard.  I still need to rake and clean-up the flowers in front of the retaining wall.  I planted perennials there the past few years, so we now have new mums and coral bells and day lilies and sedum beginning to grow back.  Alongside the shady den in the yard the huge hostas are waking from their winter sleep, and in a month or so, they will spread their wide leaves out as they border the Asiatic lilies.  The periwinkle is continuing to spread as a ground cover in various places around the property.  It is a neat ground cover, since the leaves are evergreen and in the spring an periodically during the summer they spout these lovely blue-ish flowers like a carpet.   The weather this week is to be sunny, with no rain in sight, in the high 60s or low 70s by day and in the 40s at night.  Spring is finally here.  Praise God!