We’re in the midst of the February thaw, with varying degrees of warm, wet weather affecting most of the state. It’s dreary and grim in the woods as the heavy clouds linger overhead and the snow begins to deteriorate. It’s difficult to walk on snow that is slowly degrading, even with snowshoes, and many of the trails and paths in the woods are full of rocks, stumps and bare roots, which makes hiking extra difficult. Under all this is a layer of ice that has caused some major snowmobile accidents around the state. If the present trend continues there won’t be much snow, or snowmobiling, left to enjoy.
One of the most telling signs of winter’s decline comes, not as the weather forecast, but in the mailbox. It’s already seed catalog time, which means balmier times are on the horizon. I have been an eager supporter of Maine’s seed companies for many years which means I am on the mailing list of dozens of such companies from near and far. It is almost comical how far these lists will go. Just lately I received a catalog from a Tennessee net and rope company – as if anything I have ever purchased has to do with roping or netting fish. As always, the catalog includes a few things I haven’t seen elsewhere, so it’s in my “live” pile. The rest end up in the trash because, really, how many seed catalogs can one use?
In recent years I have cut back on my gardening to the point that I only grow what I like and what I know I will use. I like marigolds and dwarf sunflowers so they are always on my list, and I’m a big fan of morning glories, too. I like things that are easy to plant, require minimal maintenance and that are hardy producers with little or no help from me.
The same goes for my garden plants. I am fond of tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, peas and corn, which demand little attention other than a good watering every few days.
Last year my favorite crop was the rutabagas. For about a dollar I was able to plant about 100 seeds in mid-July that produced almost 50 big, fat roots by Nov. 1, and I’m still eating them. Boiled, mashed and mixed with carrots and butter they are the perfect comfort food for a cold, damp, miserable winter afternoon. I expect to plant another crop in July 2018.
Thumbing through the seed catalogs I was reminded that I am almost out of milorgonite, a by-product of the sewage treatment process that is cheap, easy to use and repels deer like nobody’s business. I spread the stuff around my garden and then hang nylon stockings filled with milorgonite on my fruit trees and never have any issues with deer nipping the trees or the apples, pears and plums. I re-apply the stuff every four weeks or so, which means a 20-pound bag will last the entire summer. I get my milorgonite supply through the local feed and seed store for about $17 a bag. It’s well worth the investment if deer are a threat to your garden.
I’m expecting a major crop of strawberries this year because last spring I bought 75 plants which grew well and produced quite a few berries last spring. I get about three years out of each plant before they start to fail, so I’m good to go for a couple of years. Strawberries are ridiculously easy to grow – just stick them in the ground and water them. I’m amazed at how much fruit they produce and how eagerly they multiply. My strawberry beds will be a tangled mess of runners and “daughters” if I don’t thin them occasionally, but I often let the new plants take hold if there is enough space to hold them. Even the new daughters will produce berries by the end of summer. I get enough strawberries to fill a small bucket every day from May till July, with plenty left over for random, occasional grazing while I’m weeding or watering the rest of the garden. The beds quit producing in mid-summer. I just cut the plants back in fall and fill the beds with leaves to get them through the winter. Nothing to it!
Mine is just a “packet garden,” with a few favorite vegetable plants and a couple of rows of corn for an August feed. Even with only a few plants of each type I have enough vegetables to satisfy my own needs plus plenty to share with neighbors and friends. For example, I like Big Beef tomatoes and each year I put in only four plants. That is enough to produce about 50 pounds of tomatoes per plant, with plenty of green tomatoes left to bread and fry throughout the summer. The tomatoes are as big as a softball, firm and juicy.
Which reminds me, I also plant a row of cherry tomatoes so, on any given day during the summer I can graze on strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers and squash while I poke around the yard. Some years I’ll add radishes, lettuce and beet greens to the mix if I have a few feet of space to spare.
It is fun to grow stuff, especially the types of vegetables that do well in Maine and require little or no maintenance. I water the garden using a lawn sprinkler hooked up to a hose, so all I have to do is turn a faucet handle and the job is done. I inspect the garden before each watering, glean what I can from the plants and then sit on the deck and watch the sprinkler undulate across the truck patch. Gardening couldn’t be any easier.
Of course, we’re still many weeks away from engaging in anything close to the real thing, but it is nice to sit back with a cup of tea and peruse the catalogs with all their pretty pictures of “this year’s best” featured on every page. The frenzy of spring will get here soon enough!