Most of April and the first week of May was cool and very wet in the upper Midwest. A handful of dry and warm days allowed me to get some gardening done in between slow moving waves of moisture rising from the Gulf of Mexico clashing with cold fronts from the north west. One of these rain events brought in excess of four inches of rain over one weekend to our region already patchworked with stream and river flood advisories. I anticipated that my live plants would be shipped to me at some point and I had already rototilled the old garden and hilled the soil into rows. Sure enough, I received my shipment that following week and I used the Good Friday weekend to plant them.
The old garden is traditionally choked with weeds and I really don't have the time or inclination for regular weeding in this garden which will be home to some 100 strawberry plants. I have decided to employ Plasticulture in this garden, using a synthetic landscape fabric as a weed barrier. This should starve any existing or germinating weeds of sunlight. I am not going to employ any additional mulch on top of the fabric as any of this material will just break down in time which would allow new seeds to germinate and take root, penetrating the soil underneath the sheeting.
I laid weed barrier over the raised rows and secured them with metal stakes. Once the fabric was secure, I tore a hole in the fabric for each plant about 3" in diameter. Each strawberry plant had roots on average 8"-10" long so I dug down and loosened the soil about a foot deep and then placed each plant with the roots straight down as possible, filling the hole up to the mid-point of the crown of each plant. I had twenty-five plants each of Earlyglow, Jewel and Sparkle (June-bearing varieties) and one-hundred Seascapes, which are day-neutral. Planting at a spacing of one foot apart, I transplanted one row each of the June bearers and four rows of the Seascapes. I ended up giving the extras to my Roller Derby league-mates in DeKalb.
I also planted my new raspberry canes on the Good Friday weekend. The raspberry cane roots were much longer than that of each strawberry crown, and the planting instructions specified that I should prepare a wide and shallow pit for each cane at least 18" apart from each other. I loosened the soil about a foot deep and in a diameter, large enough to spread out the roots along the surface of the pit. I then filled each pit with two or three inches of soil.
The last of the plants that arrived were the onion transplants. Using a cultivating hoe, I made triple furrows in each bed that I had previously tilled, spacing each furrow far apart enough to get my stirrup hoe between for easy future weeding. I planted each plant only six inches apart from each other. As the onions grow, I will harvest many as immature green onions to cook with, leaving a foot between each remaining plant to grow to maturity.
The weather blessed me with an extended period of heavy rain in the week that followed, saving me the trouble of watering my new plants. When the following weekend came, I was pleased to see that the strawberries had reacted to transplantation and heavy rain very well, growing three or four large leaves per plant. The raspberry canes were slower emerge from dormancy but within a month of planting, clusters of new leaves budded from each cane. Most of the older canes did not produce new growth last year, but I was pleased to see that a few of the old canes which showed promise of having at least one more growing season also leafed this past month.
Last week I discovered that "someone" has been munching on my strawberry leaves. Several plants have had their new leaves completely eaten. This did not look like the ragged chewing of slugs, the slight damage of which I also found on one or two other plants. Could the damage be caused by some sort of cutworm? Slugs and caterpillars are soft-bodied crawlers, which can be effectively controlled by applying diatomaceous earth around the base of each plant. This organic powder, calcified shells of tiny sea creatures, will puncture the skin of any soft-bodied baddies foolish enough to crawl through it. If I continue to see my plants damaged in this manner, I may also opt to spread Sluggo around the plants. This stuff is a baited Iron Phosphate, which is also organic and is a plant nutrient as well.
Another possibility is that a varmint of some sort is getting into the garden, maybe a rabbit. Rabbits and other varmints often give themselves away by pooping pellets around, but I saw none of these. Nonetheless, I made repairs to the fence where a rabbit might gain entrance. Sure-as-your-born, I was doing some weeding close to the house I disturbed a rabbit kitten, big enough to fit into two hands. If there was a nest under the porch, momma rabbit could be pausing for a snack in my garden before or after feeding her kittens. The little one I discovered will be on its own soon enough, if it is not already. Either way, my dog and the neighborhood semi-feral cats should be strong motivators for any rabbit not to hang out too often in my yard, garden munchies or not.
It has warmed into the eighties this Mother's Day which also marks the average last front-free date for my region. I purchased tomatoes, eggplants and peppers at a local farmstand, and planted them this morning. Around each plant, I pushed a cage into the ground. This will support the plant as it grows and will keep me from stepping on the plants until then. Around the eggplants I have sown marigold seeds. Marigolds are supposed to keep pest insects ways.
The folks at the farmstand say that zucchini, yellow necked squash and cucumbers will be available for sale this upcoming week. My seed potatoes should arrive any day now. I will likely wait another week or two to sow bush beans and okra. I usually take my cue from farmers planting soybeans to do that.
With the weather being so cool and frequently overcast, it is surprising to find that mid-May is nearly upon us. The fountain grass is a couple of feet high and the irises are a foot taller. Still, the locust tree has only begun to leaf and the mornings are not always frost-free. Decoration Day will come and I doubt that the peony will have bloomed by then.
Miscellaneous notes: One of the main limbs of my boxelder tree has failed to leaf, which could be presaging the demise of this soft-wooded and short-lived tree. It would be a shame, though, to lose it as it does provide very comfortable shade in the summer. If I have to have it cut down, in its place a Ginko tree would look stunning by the side of the water garden in the autumn. It will surely be a bad floodwater mosquito year. The wetlands near my house are swollen with excess rain water which will be slow to recede. I am thinking about purchasing a mosquito suit. At some point this summer I shall have to apply a braodleaf herbicide to the areas of the lawn which are starting to be overrun with wild strawberry. But I will definitely wait until the goldenrod has flowered so that honeybees are less likely to be in my lawn when I spray.