May 24, 2018
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Thoughts of Big Night shift garden planning into high gear

By Reeser Manley

“The last fling of winter is over, save for the tingling nights and dawns rimed with silver frost … Old earth is great with her children, the bulb and the grub, and the sleepy mammal and the seed.”

— Donald Culross Peattie (An Almanac for Moderns, 1935)

As I write at my weeknight desk in Eastport, raindrops drip from the eaves just beyond the near window and suddenly it dawns on me, this is it, the first warm rain of spring. Tonight could be Big Night!

I imagine that I am standing alongside a roadside ditch in a local neighborhood, my feet surrounded by scores of salamanders and wood frogs on the last leg of their journey from woods to vernal pool. It would be a perilous trek if not for the small clusters of people, mostly children, stopping traffic from both directions, allowing the amphibians to reach their mating pool in safety. Car headlights illuminate yellow spots on some of the salamanders.

Big Night or not (the ice may not be out of that roadside ditch, and somehow the batrachian brain will know), the first warm rain of April is a gardener’s assurance that the ice soon will be out of the garden beds; that the perennial shoots of winter rye sown last fall will green and grow for one more month before I gently turn them under to decay and feed the soil, making way for summer crops of tomatoes and beans.

A warm rain in April shifts garden planning into high gear.

Seedlings of broccoli, cabbage and kohlrabi are ready for hardening in cold frames, the tops of the frames closed on chilly nights, open on sunny days. In a week or two, we will sow seeds of the summer crops, starting with tomatoes and peppers, aiming for transplanting on the first of June, or thereabouts. Onion plants and seed potatoes have been ordered.

Compost, I need compost! I need a ton of compost. There is always this worrisome moment in early spring when I wonder how hard will I have to work to get enough compost both for digging into the soil before planting and for mulching. We make a little compost every year, mixing vegetable scraps from the kitchen and garden with grass clippings, manure and autumn leaves (the entrance to our basement is blocked by bags of leaves raked last fall and minced by the lawn mower), but not nearly enough for the garden’s total need.

Thank goodness for the goats at Seal Cove Farm in Lamoine (667-5163) where, in addition to fine cheeses, farmers Lynn Ahlblad and Barbara Brooks offer composted manure for sale by the truckload (your truck, they do not deliver). Nannyberries they’re called, and they do wonders for life in the soil.

I’ve met many of the goats at Seal Cove Farm, scratched their ears and know them to be happy animals. When I top-dress the garden beds with nannyberries, I feel connected to a local farm where animals are treated with respect.

When the nannyberries run out, I will use Coast of Maine’s Schoodic Blend Cow Manure Compost. Working with Pineland Farms Natural Meats, helping to manage their manure composting operation in Limestone, Coast of Maine mixes the composted manure with aged peat humus to produce Schoodic Blend. When I purchase bags of this compost, I know that I am supporting a farm where cattle are raised in a responsible, humane manner. No antibiotics or growth hormones are used on the animals of Pineland’s MOFGA-approved farm; no animal by-products are added to their feed.

I like the idea of linking my need for garden compost with sustainable farming practices that have minimal environmental impact. As gardeners, the choices we make can have far-reaching impact.

The most important choice is to abandon use of synthetic fertilizers, which sterilize the soil, and rely on healthy compost in its many forms to feed the soil. This is the gardener’s task, to nourish life in the soil, to tread lightly through the garden, to feed the earthworms that do the tilling for us.

May the first warm rain of April set you on a quest for healthy compost. You will never have enough.

Send queries to Gardening Questions, P.O. Box 418, Ellsworth 04605, or to Include name, address and telephone number.

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