The past week's weather has been one of those glorious, unexpected March gifts that lifts everyone's spirits, which makes it tempting to forget that March's meteorological possibilities are varied and often unpleasant, and that Martha's Vineyard does not have "classic" spring.
Red nubbins of rhubarb, blades of garlic and Egyptian onions, and sorrel leaves have poked through the vegetable garden soil. Chickweed and henbit were already growing well. Leeks continue along, seemingly unperturbed by wind, snow, or sun. The remains of last season's Swiss chard, sprouting broccoli, and nasturtiums rake away easily, to be dumped on the heap. After clean-up and a shallow stir-around with the push-pull hoe, I sow these areas with winter rye/crimson clover.
My sunspace is crowded: out with the mache and mesclun mix to the coldframe. First - hope it is effective! - I laid slug bait in the coldframe, as slugs have been harboring there in the lettuce all winter. A temperature sensitive, piston-type solar opener operates one light of the coldframe. The sunspace heats rapidly on sunny days; it requires opening the doors by 10 am until at least 2 pm and shortly, a fan all day.
Anytime between now and April is good for pruning raspberries. Summer-bearing raspberries bear fruit on two-year-old canes, the canes that sprouted last season, so are pruned more selectively than ever-bearing ones, where it is easiest to cut everything down, all at once. I decided to start on mine (ever-bearing Rubus 'Heritage') with the clippers. Gardeners with larger patches do the job of taking them down by using the rotary mower with the blade set high. Ever-bearing raspberries are easy to mulch after pruning, too.
Spindly raspberry canes pull right out of the moist soil easily. Heeling them in under a pile of dirt, I save mine to share with friends and members of Homegrown at our March 21 meeting. They will be fruiting plants in a season or two.
Can I sow now?
Soil temperature in my vegetable garden is currently just a freckle under 40 degrees F. At that temperature, in-ground germination of the following crops, direct sown, is possible (not necessarily speedy though): beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, celery, endive, lettuce, onion, parsnip, parsley, pea, potatoes, radish, spinach, Swiss chard, and turnips.
Top ten easiest
A press release from the Home Garden Seed Association has created a list of the top ten easiest plants to grow from seed, and some are among the ones I listed above. All can be sown directly in the garden. They are: beans, cosmos, cucumbers, lettuce, peas, pumpkins, radishes, squash, sunflowers, and zinnias.
Garden at large
Fanning out to the garden-at-large from the vegetable garden, I found some incidental pruning to do. Today I would not plant this, but years back I was very taken with a barberry, Berberis thunbergii 'Rosy Glow,' which remains in my garden. After being cut back hard every year, it does not bloom and set seed - limiting volunteer seedlings - and it sprouts more of the desirable, rosy-mottled foliage that I originally fell for.
I shortened back very long forsythia whips without flower buds. I found more to trim on previously pruned highbush blueberries. I intend to make lemon curd while the glut of eggs is on, and to cut branches for forcing.
It is too early to divide perennials or transplant, but I have a mental list of what needs to be done and in which order of precedence. Several small jobs involving clean-up of perennials are best done now, before any more new growth emerges. I cannot always get around to it, but I do prefer to cut back all previous season's growth on epimediums. When the new growth emerges along with the fine-textured flower stems, they all become clearly visible and not in competition with last year's ragged leftovers. Sedums also benefit by being cleaned up now, while the buds of the new growth are tight and close to the crown. Old Siberian iris foliage is ropey like cordage. It seldom if ever pulls away easily from the crowns and must be cut.
We have hauled large piles of slash and dead branches out of newly opened-up woodland, cleared by removal of caterpillar-killed trees, onto the mountainous brush pile, where it becomes humus surprisingly quickly. In that form it will return whence it came, to mulch and nourish newly planted replacement trees and shrubs.
I placed wire surrounds, from my rusty collection of valuable junk, over some small shrubs in this area. Anything wire is produced more and more flimsily these days: fencing from past decades is heftier and better galvanized than over-priced, modern "equivalents."
I write infrequently about homegrown fruit production, maybe because those gardeners already doing it do not need my advice. However, I believe there are island gardeners who would like to grow more of their own fruit but lack confidence. This may be because of popular misconceptions about the trickiness of pruning or the necessity of spraying. So now, here is my advice:
Start with strawberries, raspberries, or blueberries. The pruning and management of these fruits is minimal and nothing complex, although protection from deer, rabbits, and birds is required. A compact, three-bed planting can be devised that will not only yield well but will be fairly simple to net against birds.
I would suggest choosing six high bush blueberries (two each of three varieties-early, mid, and late season), and twelve raspberries (six each of two varieties). Lay them out in sunny, parallel beds, under-planted around the outside with thirty-six strawberries (a dozen each of three varieties), one dozen per bed, to leave room for setting runners.