Earth Day, fruit trees, and broadforks

On Earth Day, remember ‘All things are interconnected; Everything goes somewhere; There’s no such thing as a free lunch; Nature bats last.’

Ants help to achieve the “carpet of blue” by dispersing the seed of Chionodoxa forbesii. — Photo by Susan Safford

Happy Spring. The windiness that has persisted through several seasonal cycles continues, although now it is warm and drying. It is likely to blow entirely new, April Fool’s loads of leaves into recently cleared and raked yards and gardens. At long last, even up-Island, magnolias and daffs are popping, while in-town locations have progressed much further into full-on spring.

The chionodoxa pictured is just a small section of a carpet of blue composed of chionodoxa and Siberian squills. It originated from a handful of bulbs that constituted a nine-year-old’s Christmas present over 30 years ago. Although a few consider the bright blue harbingers of spring to be weedy, most of us like as many as possible, the bluer the better. A curious quality of chionodoxa (and 3,000 other plant species) and one that makes a small handful of bulbs turn into a blue carpet, is myrmecochory, the dispersal of seeds by ants.

Myrmecochory (mir-MEEK-o-cory: one of my favorite words) also accounts for the sporadic appearance of a squill or chionodoxa distant from the original planting. Myrmecochorous plants, according to Wikipedia, produce seeds with elaiosomes (say: e-LYA-soams), factors rich in lipids, amino acids, or other nutrients that are attractive to ants. Ants carry the “food” back to the nest and feed it to larvae, discarding the seed, which is now free to germinate and grow in a new spot.

Earth Day

Spring in every culture is synonymous with rebirth and rejuvenation. Earth Day, April 22, is next week, right after Easter. As you work around your home, your town, and your Island, please remember that Earth is home to all of us, not only to human beings. Damage to any one part has unforeseen consequences for all the rest of creation.

To mark Earth Day, I print the Four Laws of Ecology (usually attributed to Barry Commoner) in the hope that oft repeated becomes oft considered:

“All things are interconnected.

Everything goes somewhere.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Nature bats last.”

Fruit in the garden

The owners of several Island garden centers enjoy sourcing a wide variety of fruiting trees and shrubs, figs included, along with no-brainers such as pears, beach plums, blueberries, and even persimmons. Shop now: by Easter, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day the selection will have dwindled.

Although Sumner Silverman of Peacegate is doing a great job of spreading fig trees throughout Island gardens by making his fig tree prunings freely available, in general there is a bit of head-scratching as to their culture. We lack the know-how of the Italian and Portuguese great-grandparents!

However, some reading reveals that April is the month to prune figs. According to Monty Don, the British garden writer: “Remove about a quarter of the oldest stems along with any growth that is crossing and (if in-ground planted) branches growing out from the wall. Then in August, prune away any overly vigorous outward growth that will shade ripening fruit.” (“Gardening at Longmeadow,” BBC Books.)

Monty Don also recommends some restriction on the roots that will limit the growth of the tree and increase the rate of fruiting. My ‘Brown Turkey’ is in a large nursery pot. It must remain there until I am able to create that “sheltered, south-facing wall” planting site he recommends. On second thought, perhaps I shouldn’t be too dissatisfied with the current situation.

A piece by Will Bonsall on the medlar, in the recent March-May 2014 MOFGA Journal, is encouragement to try these uncommon small fruiting trees. In a category of orchard fruit perhaps similar to quince, which also are not eaten out of hand, the medlar (Mespilus germanicus) requires more detailed treatment — bletting — before being eaten, but has in its favor hardiness (zone 5-8), lack of pests, and deer’s dislike of browsing it.

Extolling the broadfork

It should come as no surprise that working gardeners’ beds become over-run or in need of renovation, just as the proverbial cobbler’s children have non-existent shoes. In this case, the problem is that perennially thuggish beauty with the nodding lavender flowers.

A Jekyll/Hyde question arises: is it Campanula rapunculoides or Adenophora liliifolia? Only an electron microscope knows, and I do not care, but I want it out. It is mixed with English ivy and some Vinca minor. The best thing to do is to take the broadfork to it. It goes down deep where entire clumps of fleshy, white roots hide. The bed became so infested, so fast, that other plants and bulbs are no longer able to thrive.

I have extolled the broadfork in prior columns. If you don’t already use one, it is worth saving up and buying this useful tool. It will save your ashes in a number of situations. Speaking at the Agricultural Hall two weeks ago, Jonathan Bates, one of the team of city growers who live and produce on Holyoke’s “Paradise Lot,” recommended the broadfork as indispensable.

“Paradise Lot” is a formerly compacted, concrete-strewn, trashed one-tenth acre lot, now yielding 20 percent of the food of two families. It was transformed in part through use of the Meadow Creature broadfork. (Jonathan was dismissive of broadforks with wooden handles, such as — sigh — the one I have.) All steel, the Meadow Creature heavy-duty fork is made on Vashon Island, Washington, and comes with a lifetime guarantee. Check it out, as well as the company’s cider presses, at There are other broadfork makers; just go online for “broadforks.”

This morning I have been employing mine to: restrain the wandering stoloniferous roots of raspberries in the vegetable garden; attempt a clearance of English ivy and above-mentioned nuisance, Campanula rapunculoides; and perform simple soil aeration in the vegetable garden prior to planting.