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Garden wisdom from deer country!

Gardening in the Sierra Foothills with Carolyn Singer

The seasoned gardener

published in The Union in Grass Valley CA

More information on soil preparation and mulching is detailed in Deer in My Garden, Vol.1: Perennials & Subshrubs and Deer in My Garden, Vol.2: Groundcovers & Edgers!

white English hawthorneMay in the Garden
A celebration of spring
by Carolyn Singer

May 8, 2010

May Day has been a time to celebrate spring for generations. On the first day of May as a little girl I gathered flowers to fill the doily-lined paper holders I had made. Each one had a handle that fit easily over a door knob. I approached a neighbor's entry, positioned the precious spring gift, knocked on the door, and ran away before my surprise could be discovered. Ah, spring!

This year I gathered sprays of white English hawthorne (photo, left), also traditionally called may bush, in celebration of the season. As April drew to a close, hail storms stripped many of the clusters of buds, but this week the tree is still beautiful in bloom.

White hawthorne (Crataegus laevigata) is a tree often found on old homesteads in the foothills. The North Star property off Old Auburn Road has a driveway lined with several specimens. Look for it in bloom today when you go to the new location of the Nevada County (CA) Growers' Market.

Clematis montanaClematis montana (photo, right) is another strong May bloomer, though it usually starts in April. Recent snow, hail, and cold winds have done no damage to the fragrant flowers opening on my old vine. A few years ago I pruned it severely right after bloom, cutting most of the growth back to the 15-year-old wood that twists around a support beam near my entry.

Now it has framed the entry, wandered west along the roofline, and climbed over the metal roof to entangle with a branch of the paperbark maple, where it has swept up to the sky about five feet. The fragrance stops me each time I pass by, and last week I stood still long enough with my nose in the blossoms that I spotted a tiny young leather wing on a blossom, a very beneficial insect for the garden.

Of course there is much more to May than flowers and fragrance. Now is the time to attend to the vegetable garden. My garden has not been rototilled for more than 24 years. That's one spring ritual that's easy to skip in a small garden. With cover crops and sheet composting, my soil just gets better each year. Hundreds of worms are doing the work for me.

I have been adding compost to my permanent beds, in some cases layering it on top of some alfalfa pulled from a bale that has been decomposing for the past few weeks. Where I have grown a cover crop over the winter, I have cut that down and covered it with compost. Rock powders (rock phosphate and oyster shell) were added in the fall, but more will be added as I sheet compost.

Seeds of many vegetables have been started in flats in my cold frame. Greens will go into the garden first. A late frost won't injure them. Still, I cover the young seedlings with a row cover for protection from cold nights, and from bird damage. Last summer I had a lot of chard with holes in it, as the linnets sat on the leaves and had a feast.

When frost danger is supposedly past (usually about May 20 in my location), the young starts of squash, beans, and cucumbers will be planted. Tomatoes are growing in 2-gallon containers, and eggplants, tomatillos, peppers and basil in 1-gallon containers in the cold frame. When it's safe to plant, all these heat-loving vegetables will get off to a good start in the warm late-May soil. It is not until the soil warms that these coveted summer vegetables really get growing.

Iris spuriaThere's still plenty of time in May to stop and smell the flowers!

©2009 by Carolyn Singer. All rights reserved.

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