May 26, 2018
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A tale of two gardens on the last weekend in May

By Reeser Manley

This is the week to plant summer vegetables. There seems to be a wide consensus on this statement, if for different reasons.

The moon was full on Thursday and many gardeners believe that summer vegetables grow faster and larger when planted by the May full moon. They hang on to this belief because it produces admirable results, not because it has any support from plant scientists, many of whom believe it to be pure lunacy.

I think Maine gardeners came up with the idea of planting by moonlight because black flies feed only during daylight hours. I still have bumps on my scalp from planting spinach on a sunny afternoon two weeks ago.

On Wednesday, my students and I planted the Eastport Schoolyard Garden by warm sunlight. We were guided by the observation that nighttime temperatures had finally settled into the 50s, removing the risk of chilling injury, and by our desire to end the tiresome chore of caring for seedlings growing under lights in the classroom. (Starting a week earlier, the seedlings were taken outside each day for progressively longer periods of sunlight, then returned to the classroom. This hardening regime was essential, since seedlings grown indoors under lights and immediately planted in full sun can be severely burned.)

Seedlings of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and basil were planted in raised beds while summer squash, winter squash, and tomatillo transplants were given room to sprawl in a bed on the ground. The students also planted a Three Sisters garden, hills of winter squash interplanted with direct-sown corn and pole beans, a traditional form of cropping used in American Indian gardens throughout North America. The beans fix nitrogen in the soil as they climb up the corn stalks while the squash plants shade the ground with prickly stems and leaves that deter raccoons, we hope.

Potatoes planted a month ago had finally emerged and we immediately covered them with a fabric row cover to deter the Colorado potato beetle. Sealed along the edges with soil, the lightweight fabric has enough slack to expand as the plants grow, keeping the beetles out while letting in sunlight and water.

Peas inched upward, wrapping tendrils around slender twigs on the birch branches we use as pea stakes, and onion plants were putting on new growth. We watered the shallow-rooted onions frequently while keeping their bed free of weeds that would compete for moisture.

Now, as you read these words, I am in another garden planting seedlings of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and basil, watering potatoes already covered with the beetle barrier, weeding onions. It is the same work, but so very different.

Marjorie and I greeted the morning with coffee on the porch, Reilly and Dixie in the garden below us with their noses to the ground, reading their morning paper, Lynne still asleep inside. We listened to a cardinal sing in the nearby woods as we walked slowly to the garden, then pulled a few weeds, watched a bumblebee forage on blueberry blossoms, finished the coffee.

Eventually we settled into the tasks demanded by this day. I am planting tomatoes at this moment, Marjorie removing flowers from recently transplanted strawberries.

Every so often I stop working, lean on my rake and look for her. I find her among the strawberries across the garden and watch her for a moment, then go back to my work knowing with certainty why, after spending five days a week in another garden 100 miles away, I want to be where I am, doing what I am doing, on this last weekend in May.

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