Garden Notes: Kitchen garden

Spring brings the return of fresh herbs.


The Memorial Day weekend marked the beginning of settled weather, outdoor grilling, and summer. It is also freighted with solemn meaning. Graves are decorated, and cemetery baskets placed.

Two suggestions for that: geraniums for sunny gravesites, and columbines for part-shade ones. The geraniums go long spells without water, if they are well potted with a gel product added to the mix.

The columbines self-sow and perpetuate themselves, if happy. Let seed pods ripen and split; a crop of seedlings soon surrounds the original plant. While individually short-lived, columbines seem happy in sandy, acidic, Island soils, and will decorate a gravesite for many years.

Henhouse happenings

Nothing says spring in the henhouse like eggs, and chicks. The broody black Australorp, a heritage breed known as a champion layer and an excellent mother, sets on eggs from the entire small flock, each of which lays a different colored egg. She hatched three chicks.

Bringing them safely to adulthood is another matter. One point of view says to leave the chicks and mother in the henhouse with the rest of the flock, for better flock integration and fewer issues later with the pecking order.

I have previously done it differently, by separating chicks, either because they came as day-old hatchery chicks, or because I thought I should give them a heat lamp, or safety from the other birds. This time I am crossing my fingers, and intend to leave them in the henhouse.

People choose breeds of poultry for different qualities. For a time it had become undesirable to have broody hens that stop laying, with its effect on the commercial production of eggs.

Now, however, with renewed emphasis on the household economy, heritage breeds that brood and raise offspring have advantages. What could be more straightforwardly chicken-and-egg than augmenting your own flock?

If hatched chicks do result in a bumper crop of roosters, do not despair, even if you do not want meat for the table. Chanticleer has a way of “just dying.” Then everyone is looking for a rooster!

In the garden

Memorial Day weekend’s terrific rain, two-plus inches, was timely, just as soil surfaces were getting baked and roads dusty, and a good reminder to set up rain barrels. Set peony supports before the next downpour. Pinch phlox and others, such as Montauk daisies, for stocky growth and to reduce need for future staking.

Water newly planted trees and shrubs frequently and deeply. Nothing helps for good establishment more than this; conditions often change markedly by July.

UMinn Extension recommendations: “One to two weeks after planting, water daily; three to 12 weeks after planting, water every two to three days; after 12 weeks, water weekly until roots are established.”

Bleeding heart self-sows if not deadheaded, and seedlings produce blooming plants the next year if carefully transplanted. Look for them near older plants. This is a deer-resistant plant, much appreciated. My garden is browsed on a nightly basis, and seems to grow wire cages, not plants.

Conditions have been cool and damp so far, factors that promote slugs and cutworms. They have been active here. Adding insult to injury, the slug trap I put out has not caught any yet. Do they now turn up their noses at O’Doul’s?

Herbs, perennial and annual

A welcome aspect of the kitchen garden in spring is the return of fresh herbs, whether perennials such as tarragon, or hardy, annual self-sowers such as dill and cilantro. It is not only annual herbs but also flowering plants such as foxglove, annual poppies, lunaria, and Verbena bonariensis that are welcome wherever they put themselves; all support the insect population that in turn supports the garden.

This past winter, rosemary in many Island gardens carried over; however, this is not always the case, so my rosemary stays in a pot and goes inside, where delightfully, it starts blooming in January. Perennial chive blooms prettily and then develops small black seeds that become tough-rooted weeds. When passé, cut those flowerheads off before they sow chives in unwanted spots. Trim perennial thyme all over to renew growth; prune out the woody dead in sage.

Dill, cilantro, and parsley (a biennial, but which overwinters until the next season’s plants are ready) are members of the Umbelliferae. The flowering umbels (heads) resemble Japanese parasols, and are composed of many minute flowers. When they flower, these support innumerable bees and wasps, all of which visit and help pollinate the garden’s other plants. The flowering heads make excellent filler material in bouquets, and, eventually, present the gardener with aromatic coriander and dill seed.

In my vegetable garden, the annual self-sowers get to grow wherever they germinate. If they are in the way and where I want something else, I cut away or pull them. This way they guarantee the supply to both pollinators and me.

Stick with organic

Underlying health conditions are factors in COVID-19 mortality (with other opportunistic pathologies, as well). If you are food gardening, or gardening where you live, take a minute to think about eliminating toxic products that might contribute to underlying conditions, and about gardening organically .

Side dressing now with organic soil food (fertilizer) supports plants that you want growing healthily all season, such as peppers, tomatoes, squashes, and melons, Brussels sprouts/kale, potatoes, pole beans, and others that need to sustain summerlong growth.

Tomato feed products, typically with N-P-K of 3, 4, 6 are high in potassium, the last digit of the three-number code. For garlic, leeks, and onions, a side dressing now that is high in nitrogen, the first number, is beneficial. It helps plants to produce the maximum number of leaves, while day length is increasing, which in turn helps the bulb parts to grow large.