June 6, 2010

Maine Gardener: Questions crop up after an odd start to growing season

By Tom Atwell tatwell@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

This week I'm catching up on the mailbox. It's spring, the gardening season is going well, and there are a lot of little things you should know.

TOM'S TIP

THIS IS the time when gardeners fall into a trap. You rush to get all the planting done by Memorial Day. Most harvesting -- except for lettuce, radishes and strawberries -- is still a ways away. So you think you can take a break from the garden.

WELL, not really. You have to weed. You have to keep an eye out for bugs and -- yes they are back, but not too badly, yet -- woodchucks. And you have to water if we haven't had rain.

I TRY to walk through the gardens every other day to look for problems, and then deal with them as soon as possible. It saves trouble in the long run.

This is something I've mentioned in my blog, but not in print, and a lot of people have been asking about it: The damaged foliage, blooms and buds on your plants are from frost damage.

With the warm weather from late February on, all of the plants got a lot of new and tender foliage. And on May 10-12, Mother Nature remembered that it was still spring, and early spring at that, and gave almost all of Maine a hard frost.

Roberta Scruggs of the Lakes Environmental Association in Bridgton (yes, she used to work at The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram) said people have been seeing hundreds of oak trees that appeared to be dying.

Jeff O'Donal of O'Donal's Nursery in Gorham lost the blossoms on a lot of hydrangeas in his nursery plot.

Japanese knotweed patches (commonly called bamboo) were frozen brown down to the ground near my home in Cape Elizabeth. And this newspaper reported last weekend that apple growers have lost a good part of this year's crop.

The good news is that none of the plants was permanently damaged.

Yes, the foliage is not going to look as good as it might have without the frost, and some of the fruits will be lost, but these are hardy plants, and they will survive.

STRAWBERRIES TOO SOON

The warm spring, except for those three days of frost, is going to cause other problems as well.

I picked two quarts of strawberries on May 31. What is the problem with that, you ask?

Well, strawberries are traditional for Fourth of July, not Memorial Day. And the crop lasts only three or four weeks most seasons.

And that will mean no strawberries for the Fourth of July.

I suppose we could freeze some, but they just don't taste as good that way.

In addition, the peas are already in blossom, which means we should be getting some peas about June 15.

With the peas, however, I did a second planting of three varieties with different harvest days, so we will have fresh peas on the Fourth.

TOMATOES SHOULD BE OK

Because of all the problems Maine gardeners had last year with late blight, gardeners have been worried about this year's tomatoes.

The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners' e-mail bulletin of May 25 said late blight had been found in parts of Pennsylvania and Delaware.

MOFGA crop specialist Eric Sideman said blight is probably not a problem for Maine because it has been warm and dry.

It takes cool, damp weather for the spores that cause late blight to travel.

WEED SEEDS LURK

This interesting tidbit comes from an e-mail newsletter from Johnny's Selected Seeds.

A Minnesota study found that a square foot of soil 6 inches deep has from 98 to 3,068 viable weed seeds just waiting to sprout.

Bindweed seeds can remain viable in the soil for 50 years.

In a garden, the number of weed seeds will diminish over time, as long as you don't let any of the weeds go to seed.

So get out there and hoe around your vegetables to remove the weeds. You don't want them competing with the vegetables intended for your table.

 

 

Tom Atwell can be contacted at 791-6362 or at:

tatwell@pressherald.com

 

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