Garden Notes: Working with the spring

Tree hugging could so easily be tree planting.


“You know spring has sprung when the herring run.” 

In “Finding a Better Balance,” Part 2 of Ollie Becker and Circuit Art’s Great Ponds documentary, watch herring filmed swimming to spawn at the Aquinnah herring run!

In addition to footage of special Island locations, included are personalities you know and respect, who, along with Vineyard Conservation Society, have taken part in this exploration of the fragile great ponds’ futures (

The three fragrant Edgeworthias here have so far evaded damage from the cold, unlike last year’s huge disappointment. Gardens are waking up, with the earliest bulbs splashing around some welcome color. Earthworm casts appeared March 17.

Various Cornus mas look like forsythia doppelgängers. Yew bushes are shaking out clouds of cream-colored pollen, and pieris is blooming successfully — as many failed to, last year.

The cold snap of last week (March 21 and ongoing) looks like an increasing and unwelcome trend: High-latitude Arctic air masses descend upon lower latitudes that are already all too primed for spring, striking plants coming out of dormancy. Hardy plants handle the vicissitudes, generally; sub-shrubs and marginally hardy exotics, less well.


Very hardy perennials, peonies’ reddish sprouts emerge from the soil very early. Perform staking while these are still small. Bone meal used to be the side dressing of choice for peonies, and many other perennial plants as well, to supply phosphorus; it is a nutritious soil amendment.

Now however, with rats, skunks, and raccoons widespread here, it is difficult to use bone meal as a side dressing without its attracting varmints that will dig and damage the plants to get it. There are further concerns about bovine spongiform encephalitis (BSE), which causes the devastating Creutzfelt-Jakob disease in humans, being transmitted through bone meal.

Instead, look into beneficial mycorrhizal fungi and other good sources of phosphorus, such as seaweed products.

Beneficial fungi

Speaking of beneficial mycorrhizal fungi, when we learn about Island sites where soil contamination has occurred, such as Beach Street, Vineyard Haven, perhaps boards of health could look into bioremediation using fungi. While it might seem fringy, in fact, quite a lot is known about this (

For more general information, several films, “Fungi: Web of Life” and “Fantastic Fungi,” and books, Paul Stamets’ “Mycelium Running” and Merlin Sheldrake’s “Entangled Life,” could whet the appetite for more investigation into these literally fantastical entities and resources we share our lives and habitats with.

Arbor Day

The bossy “managers” of the woods, blue jays, are also accidental tree planters. As with those frisky squirrels, jays also stash acorns and nuts. One or the other may have planted the stately pasture oak pictured, around the time of the first Arbor Day. Our woodlands would be much sparser without their efforts to feed themselves. In the built environment, however, human efforts are still needed.

West Tisbury tree planting

The W.T. tree advisory committee is recruiting volunteers for a tree planting event on Saturday, April 27, Arbor Day, from 9 am to noon.

The tree committee welcomes volunteers to plant trees acquired by the committee to beautify the town’s Historic District. Volunteers will be paired with professional arborists, and will receive training. Refreshments will be provided. To sign up, go to

As an example, Swarthmore, Pa., has a town tree commission, in service to the town since 1932! Read more about it here: It includes a program available to homeowners, where shade trees of suitable size and species are delivered and planted for a flat fee of $200.

As many know, shade trees cool outdoor spaces in hot weather, enhance aesthetically lacking commercial areas, and absorb pollutants. They provide habitat for the wildlife we share our spaces with. In swale plantings and rain gardens, they increase absorption and infiltration of surface moisture. Trees are a critical part of climate mitigation efforts.

Much like supporting Arbor Day and other ways to promote the planting and care of trees, towns that value their shade trees and strive to maintain and enhance them are towns with strong civic values.

Vegetable garden

I was still awaiting the arrival of inoculants for pea seed, so decided to look into making my own. This,, is a demonstration of making one’s own lactobacillus “effective microorganisms.” This homemade inoculant is not particularly useful for peas and beans; however, every aspect of the garden and soil benefits from “effective micro-organisms.”

Daytime soil temps are still on the cool side, here just below 60°. Mellow whatever poultry litter you have, and spread. Onions can go in, and garlic is up about eight to 10 inches. These two need to be kept well-weeded, and free of weed competition.

The ‘Erasmus’ purple asparagus seed all germinated; the babies will remain indoors until later. The Mammoth sweet peas are growing strongly enough to be pinched. I made a miscalculation, and got only some of them into root trainers; the rest are in a shallower plug tray. However, I hope they are still forming good root systems.

The ‘Redbor’ cold-hardy kale seedlings are doing well, as are the ‘Beira’ tronchuda kale, but they are safer under cover. In this wacky weather, it would be premature to put them out into garden soil.

Think of others

Personal paradise versus trespass: Is the way you are having your personal paradise managed trespassing on others?

What about noise trespass from incessant mowers, trimmers, leaf-blowing? Air pollution trespass from their fumes? What about pollution trespass from pesticide drift? How about light pollution trespass from “light-washed” structures and plantings?

To reiterate “Finding a Better Balance’s” message, we need the nutritious seafood, the interesting bird life, the healthy recreational activities, the starry nighttime skies. We need peaceful communities and an upright government. We need clean air, water, land, and beaches.