Annotations in April

Nothing Gold Can Stay
April Aconite
Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Robert Frost
I remember studying this poem in 8th or 9th grade, and being the only one in the class to come up with what Frost might have be alluding to in the first line (forsythia). Now that I’ve had a few years of gardening under my belt, I can think of a number of early flowers that bloom gold before green – coltsfoot, an herb that sends up its dandelion-like flower when all else is lifeless; cornus mas, a particularly striking spring-blooming tree with masses of yellow flowers; and winter aconite, a very early blooming bulb (though to be fair, it has a whorl of green around its cheery yellow flower). These three have already bloomed for me by April 1 this year, and the spring peepers started their nightly chorus on March 27, when I had almost despaired of hearing them. The peepers, and the arrival of the red-winged blackbirds, indicates to me that spring has arrived, more than the appearance of the robin. Plants are budding, or peeking through the ground everywhere, and the urge to get going in the garden is upon me.
Colt's Foot
From all indications, and with the example being set by the White House, having a garden will be “in”. A National Gardening Association survey points toward 43 million households intending to have a garden this year, up from 36 million in 2008. The economy and the desire to have healthful and fresh produce, will undoubtedly inspire many to incorporate gardens into their lives, many for the first time. Depending on how much time and space you have, you can enjoy the benefits of a garden this year if you take a little time to plan now.
First, decide what you really will use from your garden, and what you can handle in terms of time and space. You don’t want to be a slave to your garden. Raised beds, though an initial expense and commitment of time, will greatly reduce a lot of chores later. The soil will not be compacted from walking on it, so it will only need a raking or light digging before planting. It can also be worked earlier in the spring, as it drains well. You can always water your raised bed garden, but lots of rain can drown your plants in a conventional bed. You can readily incorporate compost into the beds, too. If you have poor soil, raised beds are almost a must for successful gardening. I garden almost exclusively in raised beds, though I have very good soil, due to the fact that this was a farm for a long time! It is much easier to maintain than a large garden plot, and easier to protect from marauding varmints (I use lightweight fencing around any bed that needs protection).
Another critical element is sunlight. You need at least 6 hours of sun for most garden plants to grow well. If you cannot provide that much, you may have to rethink your garden plans – at least for most vegetables.  Signing up for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) is a great option. You pay a share of the costs, and in return receive a share of the crops grown there. Some CSA’s require an amount of “sweat equity” but others do not. Check out the following website www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/csa/csastate.htm for one in your area.
Some people garden exclusively in containers, especially if their only area for good sunlight is limited.  There are many types of vegetables and herbs that have been developed for container gardening. Many herbs are happy (and some prefer) to be in pots. Tender perennials, such as lemon verbena, rosemary, pineapple sage and scented geraniums, are great candidates for container growing, but need to be brought in for the winter. They can often be successfully overwintered in a garage or basement, if there is some sunlight and if they can be kept from freezing hard. These plants are worth trying, as they have attractive foliage and smell fantastic. One thing to remember is that pots can dry out very quickly in the heat of the summer. You may have to water twice a day (or more) unless you want to install an irrigation system.
Next, decide what you will really use from your garden. Unless you are planning to can or freeze large quantities of vegetables or herbs, you will probably not need more than 6 tomato or pepper plants.  Right now, my greenhouses are bursting with heirloom tomato plants – Brandywine, Mark Twain, Aunt Ruby’s German Green, Pruden’s Purple, and many others.  We will begin selling the weekend of May 16 – 17, so come early for the best selection. If you grow any early season crops (such as lettuce, spinach, peas) think about what you will replace them with when they are finished. And please, be careful with zucchini….!
Herbs are the perfect addition to anyone’s yard, since most of them are not fussy. Some annuals – like basil, dill, fennel, and parsley – will add immeasurably to your cooking at a fraction of the cost of sore bought, packaged herbs. There are many ways to process any extra, too, from herb butters to herb vinegars to herb syrups. It is wonderful to have these on hand through the winter months to bring a little herbal pleasure to the table. We will be offering workshops in the summer months on how to create some of these herbal essences, so check our website for updates.
Though we do not officially open until May 16-17, you can e-mail requests for specific herb plants and we will try to accommodate you and arrange for pick-up. Some plants will be dug from my beds, some will have been grown from seed, and others will have been ordered from wholesale suppliers. Prices for herbs vary, with most at $4.00.  Our goal is to entice you to try some new herbs, and delight in the pleasures of herbs and all things green.