A honey bee pollinates a chiondoxa flower on April 25, 2020, in the Kachemak Gardener’s garden in Homer, Alaska. “Promises kept,” writes Rosemary Fitzpatrick. (Photo by Rosemary Fitzpatrick)

A honey bee pollinates a chiondoxa flower on April 25, 2020, in the Kachemak Gardener’s garden in Homer, Alaska. “Promises kept,” writes Rosemary Fitzpatrick. (Photo by Rosemary Fitzpatrick)

Kachemak Gardener: Spring is definite, and full of promise

There certainly isn’t anything subtle about this year’s spring. Granted, here in the Far North spring is a remarkably short season but this one is so lusty, so definite, so very promising.

Those of you new to gardening may be thinking that plants need the added advantage of a high tunnel. Not so. Here is a very incomplete list of what you can seed into the ground and expect results: radish, lettuce, chard, spinach, carrots, peas, beets. Of course I’ve forgotten something, but this is what we eat so they spring to mind (pardon the pun). Don’t forget potatoes. Sorrel is a perennial plant that is lemony and the first edible in the garden. The grands gravitate to it, eating by the handful. Be on the lookout for nettles; the first flush is here.

Be cautious and don’t over plant. Just a short row of any of the greens every 10 days will keep you supplied at their peak of perfection all season.

The garden plot at my house is still too wet to work. I’m waiting for more sun and warmer temperatures to help dry it out. Then I’ll work in some alfalfa meal, compost and aged manure before I plant.

A friend called this afternoon. Her garden had fallen to neglect and she intended on removing the soil in her raised beds and lining the bottom to discourage weeds. I suggested cardboard, that she should water before replacing the soil that she had mixed with chicken bedding from the previous year. Excellent. This plan of action should diminish the weeds’ hope of dominating the garden once again.

We have raised beds with nothing lining the bottom. I weed. Plain and simple. Horsetail, equisetum, has thrived on this planet since dinosaurs. There is no defeating it. It makes a strong statement in the spring, so brace yourself. The roots reach down about 14 feet so forget about digging it up. I just snap it off at the soil surface, completely remove it from the garden, and go on my way. Keep snapping.

Raspberries: Now is the time to cut down last year’s canes. You can tell which ones they are, really you can, so be brave. They will actually look dead, light in color, split at the base, and there will be the spent blooms/berries from last season at the tips. Cut close to the base. Also take out anything that looks weak or spindly. I, on the other hand, have such complete porcupine damage in my patch that my intention is to cut down the whole planting and see what happens. We have berries along the east side of the driveway, and our neighbor has an absolute plethora (untouched by porcupines) that we are welcome to, fortunately.

Strawberries: I run my hands over the plants, you can feel which plants need to come out to make room for the younger generation. They will feel hard and dry and easily pull away. I no longer clean the ground completely beneath them. They are called strawberry because gardeners used to place straw under them so the berries would stay clean. I tried that but the straw blew away with the day breeze so that was the end of that. My plants are not in rows but grow in a mat. This is a small garden and one raised bed is devoted to strawberries. The mat technique seems to work for me. There isn’t enough room for tidy rows and management of the runners. I just let them go and make a delightful harvest. The drawback is too much foliage, this can and does encourage moldy berries. Its a tradeoff. We pick every day when the season is upon us and have no regrets.

I know that the ground egg shell theory to thwart slugs has been debunked but I continue to save and grind shells, spreading them on the soil surface and down the edge of the wood that forms the raised bed. I concentrate my efforts on the strawberries that are particularly susceptible to slug damage. I grind them in the blender very finely. I see other gardeners who just crush them in their hands and call it good. No, not good enough. You need to grind them to a powder. Think about this. Slugs don’t want to slide across anything that will irritate them or make the sliding difficult.

Jade the Dog has the habit of walking down one side of one of the slate paths, leaving a bare trail that I find most annoying. She doesn’t do this on the other slate path, so what her reasoning is I’ll never know. My answer to this predicament was to plant mother of thyme in her path. Success. She can walk on it, lay on top of it to survey the neighbors and part of the street, and not be bothered by me. Except — I don’t like the way it looks. It was OK for a while, but not any more. It’s too stiff, there is too much of it, it isn’t even “thyme-y” enough. So, in spite of its perfection for serving the purpose of making the dog comfortable, I pulled it all out. I may regret this. In its place I pulled up enough dianthus deltoides, Arctic Fire, and popped it in. This dianthus has been with me for years. I brought it with me 21 years ago, from the house “out East.” I love the cottage pinks, but this is the one that survives year after year. I can move it, divide it, generally abuse it. I’m hoping it will withstand the tread of a 75-pound canine who has nothing but joy in her heart and very much needs to walk and lay in that particular spot. Bless her.

The crocus, pushkinia and chionodoxa are in full bloom and covered with the neighbor’s honey bees. Excellent. I’m getting used to this. I must admit that when this first started happening I felt like I was in a Alfred Hitchcock movie. There are times, when the sun is full on the flowers, that they are hardly visible because of the quantity of bees. Yikes.

One of the many joys in my life is taking a cup of tea to the front deck first thing in the morning, settling into a Derek chair, and listening to the migrating white fronted geese gossip as they forage in the Slough, fueling up for the next leg of their trip. Small pleasures, big returns.

Rosemary Fitzpatrick is a longtime Homer gardener and has been writing Kachemak Gardener since 1990.

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