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According to weather forecasters April’s rainy, dreary weather is at an end and warmer times will soon be upon us. Only a week ago it was officially snowing in places around Maine, or at least cold and dismal, so a blast of sunshine and warmer temperatures won’t disappoint anyone. My copy of The (or Ye) Old Farmer’s Almanac calls for rain and cold most of this month and its predictions have been 80-percent correct for the last few hundred years, so the odds are that we won’t get much tanning done in May.
However, I planted peas a few weeks ago just because I could, and I have two rows coming up nicely already. Anyone with a pitchfork and 25 feet of clean dirt can raise a fine batch of peas. I’ve planted peas in less than an inch of soil over hard frost and they did fine. One year as an experiment I planted peas in nothing more than mulched rabbit manure on solid ledge and produced some of the best-eating peas I’ve ever had – no dirt, just rabbit manure and rock! That’s the kind of farming I prefer – easy, quick and low maintenance. Plant and go, with as little time spent crawling around on hands and knees in search of weeds and other unwelcome foreign sprouts.
My daffodils fought the good fight, poking up through the last six inches of snow we had back in March and they’re now in full bloom, a nice dash of color after a long, dreary winter. Glad to see them and so are the honey bees that have been hovering around the place since the worst of the cold weather broke.
After many years of fiddling with flowers I’ve decided to stick with marigolds because they are easy to plant, hardy and ridiculously long-lived. I had about 100 marigold plants in pots and borders last year and they continued to bloom into Thanksgiving week last year. All I did was water them and pick off the deadheads, which encourages more blooms. I went with orange and yellow marigolds the last few years but this year I bought some wild-looking multi-colored stock that should brighten up the place for the next six months or so. More of that quick and easy stuff – just plant and water.
It’s not well known that marigolds make a good border for small gardens and areas where deer, rabbits and other munchers are likely to sneak in for a snack. I put marigolds all around my garden last year and didn’t lose a single plant or vegetable to the competition. I could see animal tracks going around the entire garden but because I left no space between the flowers the hungry varmints could only look but not touch. To me that’s a lot cheaper (and more appealing) way to repel garden pests, at least the kinds with feet and fur!
Still another plus to marigolds is that they are edible. Crumble the flowers onto salad or soup and enjoy a little organic provender that you raised yourself.
I have to admit that my annual gardens are small and lean heavily toward flowers because I really can’t justify filling a freezer with peppers or tomatoes because I don’t eat that much of the stuff to make a “real” garden worthwhile. I’m more of a summertime grazer, happy to stroll through the garden and pick a cucumber, tomato, pepper or zucchini once in a while and eat it right off the vine. I’ve done my share of all-day canning sessions but much prefer a bite of fresh produce to standing over a steaming kettle of sauce all day. Besides, I can always barter a few deer steaks or bear roasts for someone else’s canned beans, carrots or squash. Subsistence living works in mysterious ways!
For those who lack the knack for growing things there are plenty of wild foods coming on this spring that can satisfy the craving for green veggies. Topping the list (in Maine, anyway) are fiddleheads (a type of naturally-growing fern), which will soon become abundant and free for the picking in most swampy areas and along brooks and streams statewide. On a good day one picker can easily fill a canoe with fresh fiddleheads, and in a few days’ work it’s possible to fill a freezer or can cases of them to help get your vitamin infusion next winter.
Mushrooms are also popping up everywhere right now (literally), and a good picker can fill a couple of trash bags with tasty morels and other varieties in just a few hours. It’s best to take a class on mushroom identification or simply stick with the types you know are safe to eat. Many varieties are good to pick but just as many are not and there are some bad ones that are surprisingly similar to the good ones. Know what you are doing before you decide to pick and cook a batch of wild-grown mushrooms. Some species are very pretty and look delicious but, as might be expected, those are the ones that are most dangerous to humans.
A safer spring green that’s sure to be a hit are dandelions, which were already showing their green, toothy leaves over a week ago, at least in my yard. I have a patch that I’ve harvested annually for many years and always get several buckets full of 12-inch leaves. I actually fertilize that area so next year’s dandelions are bigger and sweeter than last year’s, but otherwise I wage war on them just as any other mower of lawns is wont to do. I find their yellow flowers as appealing as marigolds, but once the seeds start flying they’re not so attractive. Plus, a yard full of dandelions is not the most appealing sight, either. I let them grow wherever they want to, just not in my back yard!
Dandelion greens, twice boiled with bacon or salt pork and then served chopped with your favorite salad dressing are the perfect accompaniment for the trout or salmon that should be biting with a vengeance right now!
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