A month ago it felt that the natural world around us was slowly dying. No grass for the grazers, no frogs, and no scent to the dusty, dry soil. Plants and people who love them were stressed. Then, almost overnight, the fields are vibrant green, frogs and birds are in chorus, and the soil is sweet and fragrant, bursting with life. I’ve never before felt so profoundly the risk of running out of precious water, and now such gratitude for rain. I hope that this “wake up call” for all of us has lasting effects. Reservoirs are still critically low and erratic weather is our new norm, so conservation must be too.
The combination of ample rain and warm temperatures made my garden explode with growth. The chives jumped out of the ground, kale stood tall and artichoke plants tripled in size. It’s amazing how much food is in my garden now! Escaroles, endives, mache (cornsalad), parsley, cabbage, chard, beets and mustard greens are all ready to pick, along with the staple kale and tree collards, and I use both garlic and regular chives like a vegetable now, they are so mild and lush. The dandelion greens are wonderful too, and the first asparagus is almost ready!
Along with moisture comes the moisture-loving creatures – snails and slugs. There are dozens of baby snails out there so it’s important to control them very soon. Whole clusters are often under leaves, so doing some garden clean up now can be beneficial. You can make traps for these creatures by setting pots upside down or boards or flats in the garden and checking for slugs and snails daily. I have some old horse manure to cover any soil that gets exposed, which will protect from compaction by more rain, feed the soil surface and will help retain water when the rain stops. I had some concerns about using horse manure due to the possibility of a persistent herbicide in the hay that some animals are fed. But I did a test, growing peas in pots with garden soil amended with the manure, and they grew fine.
This is a great time to plant spring cool season crops. If your soil is not too wet to be worked, (it does not sink under foot or stick to tools and clods fall apart fairly easily), you can loosen with a fork or shovel and add some compost and a little fertilizer, if needed, and plant. Transplants of cabbage, broccoli, kohlrabi, lettuce, onions, and leeks can all go in for the next few weeks. Fast growing Asian greens like boy choys will often go right to flower when planted from transplants in the spring, so if you do transplant, do so when plants are still small to minimize root disturbance. But you can try direct seeding these too, along with beets, carrots, radishes, spinach, arugula and peas. Since I’ve been in the habit of consistently adding thin layers of compost or aged manure to the soil surface, I’m not trying to work my soil now but just loosening a bit and planting.
Plants that were knocked back by the freezing temperatures in December may be starting to recover now. It’s best to wait until you can see new growth to cut back the dead parts, and if we do get frost this spring, make sure to protect well. I’ve been doing lots of fruit tree pruning and often find branches that are mostly dead – it seems that many were drought stressed last year. But closer to the main trunk or branch there is often still living wood.
Spring is all about renewal and celebrating the natural beauty around us. The miracle of recovery we’ve witnessed in the last month gives me faith in healing and the tenacity of life. And reminds me that we are part of and absolutely dependent on the cycles of nature.