I just had the kids help me plant out the seedlings I talked about in yesterday's post. Then I had them write down what they did with the hopes that it would help them remember it. I thought I would write it down, too, so that you can remember it with me.
First, I am a believer in just getting things in the ground without creating an elaborate hole with compost and fertilizer. The thinking is that this encourages the plant to send out lots of roots to find nutrients, rather than just swirling around in the space you created with hyper nutrients and making itself rootbound from not wanting to leave the pot within the soil that you have essentially created. So for many bare root plants, I just open up a slit in the ground with the shovel, crumble some soil down around the roots so they are don't have air pockets, and then tamp the slit shut. It takes five seconds. For anything with soil on the roots, I do the same thing, but dig a hole instead of just opening up a slit, and I rough up the roots so they are more inclined to go out into the surrounding soil.
Before planting I take care to make sure the bare root plants don't dry out too much, and after planting I water everything in. I make sure to plant things without burying the stem of the plants and without leaving roots sticking up out of the ground. I try to make sure they will have the light they require, not shoving tree seedlings too close under the canopy of mature trees, and when necessary I use stake and string or rocks to keep from accidentally walking on the plants. I also try to plant them where I will naturally check up on them, next to existing paths , or where they will perform the function I intend, like a shade tree in exactly the right spot on the lawn. With plants that will grow big, it is important to envision them at mature size, which might change where you choose to position them. And for trees especially, envisioning them at full size helps you anticipate what they will shade and how that my change how you use a certain space.
That's it! It took us 25 minutes to plant 23 things. If I wasn't showing the kids how to do it, it would have taken me 15. It doesn't have to be complicated or take a lot of time.
Yesterday our bare root seedlings arrived from Fedco Trees up in Maine. A walnut, a sugar maple, a cedar, some rosa rugosa, a peony, and three blueberries. I've scheduled a couple of hundred dollars of buying new plants for the property each year. While we don't have it in the budget to spend thousands to just buy and plant everything we could ever want at one time, we can pick away at it and over time it really adds up. The bare root seedlings are much less expensive than potted up stuff from nurseries, and I find that each year I have goals, some of which work out and some that don't (I'm looking at you, grape vines), but if we just keep planting year over year, we will eventually build up a really diverse home landscape full of the plants we want, where we want them. But the trick is to never stop.
I failed to write a blog post last night, because instead of sitting around in evening working, I had a date night with my wife in the kitchen. We put on Moroccan music, made a poor substitute for the amazing mint tea that they serve at our favorite Moroccan cafe where we always go on date night, and lit some candles. So now you know my plea. Guilty as charged.
I would just like to point out that if you deliberately plant, oh, say, a bunch of raspberry canes and flower seedlings the day before you receive an inch of rain, you do not need to water them in. I am clearly feeling pretty smug.
I'm not always good at this, but today I oiled all the garden tool handles, something that desperately needed to happen as some of the handles were becoming quite cracked and rough. I used linseed oil, brushing it on, and did several coats before wiping them down with a rag. I also filed the edges on the shovels and hoes, which makes a tremendous difference in how easy they are to use. I usually aspire to do this work in the fall as part of putting the garden to bed, but this year it didn't happen and I could tell it was starting to take its toll on the tools.
It only takes a few minutes, but it makes a world of difference.
Today we planted a fifty foot row of raspberry canes. This is the time of year for thinning the herd, so if you have a neighbor or family member with a raspberry patch (we got ours from my mother-in-law), you can just ask if they have any explorers pushing out beyond the boundaries of their bed. Given half a chance, raspberries are vigorous and spread through the roots, so we planted them at the top of the orchard, where they are hemmed in at one side by the woods, and they can take over a nice swath of sunny meadow before interfering with anything. We staked a rotten log into the grass to form a bit of a terrace in the long run, dug over the uphill edge, tossed some compost from the chicken run into the holes and planted the bare root plants, watering them in with buckets from the spring.
There are two types of raspberries: early bearing ones that you prune each spring by removing the canes that bore fruit the previous season, and fall bearing ones that you cut to the ground each spring and that bear fruit on first year canes. These are the second ones, which are vigorous and tasty (believe it or not, there are many varieties of raspberries, not all of them that tasty). We will probably get a small crop of them this year, and hopefully in two or three years we will have an abundance. This is a great example of a group of plants that you should be sourcing now from your neighborhood. Berries, comfrey, nettles, mint, all manner of spreading plants.
Go get em.
Way more time than you think. Best to get used to it, plant it and forget it. And, just when you start to truly stop thinking about it, it starts to be ready to harvest.
Today, April 9th, it hailed. And it was also in the thirty and blowing rain much of the day.
All of which is to say it was not a good day to be a plant.
There is this things that happens with the first warm days of spring, where you forget how fickle the weather can be and you are tempted to plant absolutely everything out. And for awhile, it might even seem like you are getting away with it.
But sooner or later there comes a string of weather that makes you regret planting so soon, as your seeds fail to germinate and start to rot in the ground, and the dirt plasters over with mud and forms a hard crust.
Back when I was vegetable farming, we kept much better records than I do now of when we sowed and planted, what the weather was, and when we were able to harvest. All of which reinforced the truth that you can sow twice in the spring, weeks apart, and that first harvest from those plantings often happens just days apart. And what is more, the later plantings often produce better and suffer far less insect damage, because they grew vigorously right from the beginning, while the earlier planting struggled and grew slowly and got attacked by insect pests precisely because it struggled and grew slowly.
So this is the time of year when I am pretty regimented in what I plant and when. And I am prepared to sow again. And I am prepared to wait. Because just because you can, doesn't mean you should.
My blog has evolved into a series of short essays on the nature of entrepreneurship, craftsmanship, and their overlap. If either of these topics is something you think about, you will probably like this.