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Urban Gardener: Spring Poised on the Equinox

Saturday, March 29, 2014

 

We’ve faced the equinox and the day is ours. Let’s start having fun in the garden, urges Leonard Moorehead.

Urban gardeners lean towards the random crocus and snowdrops. We hope. At last the sun has passed the over the equator and our days lengthen. Spirits rise. It is no accident that gardeners of every stripe peruse seed and nursery catalogs with renewed vigor. Gardeners are clever servants in the cause of greenery.

I urge everyone to take random samples of soil from growing plots, mix them up, and test the soil. It’s possible to have extensive analysis and is a fascinating glimpse into our world. For the moment it’s sufficient to accept soils east of the Mississippi and particularly New England are acidic. I top dressed the growing grounds with dolomite pelletized limestone. This most basic of soil amendments is affordable and increases the chances of nutrients available to roots.

Broadcasting the coarse limestone is an easy and time honored task. One hopes for rain or snow soon afterwards. The lime is slowly available to soil over time and surface. The mulched areas integrate the soluble naturally abundant limestone a bit faster than turf. This is a fine time of year to combine several annual garden tasks into one activity. Broadcast limestone, fresh grass seed, and a cover.

The grass is always greener

The grassy lanes in my city garden are important elements in the garden and a far cry from the suburban lawn. The requirements for successful turf cultivation are much the same whether a broad sweep of green towards the ocean or the space between sidewalk and curbstone. Turf is actually a combination of plants, several grasses, chamomile, clover, and the most persistent of annoying invaders, crabgrass. Woven together and pulled out, a thick green stretch of turf is relaxing and peaceful. One can search for good luck among the white flowered clovers or lay still and gaze upward, breath and spirit far among the clouds. A green turf is the most gentle of friends.

Roger Williams like his fellow colonists imported grass seed to New England in the 1640’s to increase grazing for their burgeoning herds of grazing animals novel to the New World. Sheep, cattle, and especially horses and pigs, roamed the lands we urban gardeners are returning to a more natural condition. URI #2 seed mix was developed from grass found growing wild in a Jamestown RI pasture. Re-seed your turf each spring and if needed and one has the resources, again in the fall.

Grasses form dense root systems which are the capillaries of soil. Their tendrils penetrate the topsoil and respond very quickly to soil amendments and fertilizers. Go easy on fertilizer if used at all. Turf prefers a near neutral soil ph which recalls its origins on the chalkstone moors of England. Thick planting is an old gardener’s trick for controlling weeds. The idea is to overwhelm any undesired company into easy thinning. When translated into vegetable plantings this technique offers delectable first fruits of lettuces, radishes, turnips, beets, and carrots to name but a few.

It is always profitable to cover the turf with a thin layer of compost or other loose mulch material. This spring I’m favoring a layer of peat moss spread, like compost or cocoa shells, just thick enough to cover last years growth. This top dressing is most important for the long range health and prosperity of the grass. Turf grown in thick loams thrive with minimal fertilizes. Each addition of mulch in spring and fall are quickly absorbed within the turf and help dissolve lime, fertilizer or perhaps, green sand, added just before the welcome spring rains.

Sunshine is required for thick happy turf. As gardens mature or fences are built, each of us must cope with just how much sunshine there is within each garden plot. I preserved old turf when I laid out a garden in hollow square form. The growing areas were tilled once to incorporate lime and then immediately covered in thick layers first of paper then enormous quantities of organic materials. This active layering of hay, manure, seaweed, shredded paper and leaves has continued into its 4th spring. The contour of the land changed as the soil developed microbial communities as well as colonization by salamanders and snakes. Soil teems with life.

A matter of taste

Tradition and taste urge us to plant. Individual conditions vary, I have perfect loam for peas and love to growth these power packed legumes. Here’s a green crop with many benefits for soil and gardener. Pick out your favorite varieties and buy extra. I mix peas up such as Asian snow peas, sugar snap peas and other edible podded types. Soak them overnight on damp paper towels and bring into the sunny garden. Pull aside the winter mulch, just a few inches, and plant the swollen seed. You may wish to inoculate your pea seeds with nitrogen fixing bacteria or rely upon the plants finding the bacteria from past seasons. Peas grow quickly and when tulips cause all to gap in wonder you will also be picking an abundant harvest of this ancient plant.

I have a large heavy duty wire mesh section of fence that has served well for four seasons and shows no sign of wearing out. It’s 48” tall and very affordable by the yard at most hardware outlets. Stake in supports, whether its recycled prunings from trees and shrubs or as in my case the reused wire fence and run them as close to a N/S axis as possible. This trellis will work very hard until the next equinox in September and often beyond.

A trellis of your dreams is very useful in the garden. This is especially true of urban gardeners who expand vertically what they can not horizontally. Have some fun with trellises. For a long while I grew the “Tallest Morning Glories” in the city in the desolate inches between ancient picket fence and sidewalk, trellis nailed into old pickets. Peas will grow just fine sprawled upon themselves but truly enjoy clamoring up and over branches, bales of hay and dosing gardeners.

We’ve faced the equinox and the day is ours. Let’s start having fun in the garden.

 

Leonard Moorehead is a life-long gardener. He practices organic-bio/dynamic gardening techniques in a side lot surrounded by city neighborhoods in Providence RI. His adventures in composting, wood chips, manure, seaweed, hay and enormous amounts of leaves are minor distractions to the joy of cultivating the soil with flowers, herbs, vegetables, berries, and dwarf fruit trees.

 

Related Slideshow: Spring Has Arrived: 25 Great Events in New England

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New England Family Fun Festival

Providence, RI - April 26-27, 2014

In April, the Rhode Island Convention Center will host The New England Family Fun Festival, which offers fun and educational activities for the entire family. The festivities will include rides, games, bounce houses, face painting, rock climbing, live performances by The Toe Jam Puppet Band, Vanessa Trien, Story Tellers Len Cabral, Carolyn Martino, Tammy Titus and Valerie Tutson, Marine Biology and Aquarium by Biomes, Arts & Workshops and the Providence Friar’s Official DJ, Finesse playing music during family competitions like Lego building and Simon Says. Festivities will take place from 11 a.m. - 8 p.m.

Admission: $12 for adults, $7 for kids

For more information, click here.

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Boston, MA - April 21, 2014

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For more information, http://public.westerlychamber.org/events/details/virtu-art-festival-4162" target="_blank">click here.

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Newport, RI - April 26

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