Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Needless to say, April has been an exhilarating month at the Deer Isle Hostel. Never mind the six extra inches of snow we got that first week, after that it's been a straight home run towards spring. Spring is always busy, but this year even more so when we've also have had to catch up what we didn't get done in March. Here are the most important April chores;
Plant fruit trees. My choice day for digging fruit trees is the first grey and rainy day in April. Usually by then the ground has thawed out and overcast is essential for all kinds of transplanting - even a few minutes in the sun can hurt the vulnerable roots of a young tree.
It's beneficial to dig and move fruit trees while still dormant. The trees have not yet started to expend energy on buds and leaves and will have more strength to establish roots.
Some of the trees I dug this year we immediately transplanted to our new orchard while others were to be sold and transported to new locations. Those we put in feed bags and covered the roots with damp sawdust. We stored them in our cellar (cool and dark) until they could be picked up.
Start seedlings indoors. Without a greenhouse the season for long day and warm weather crops is already compromised here in Maine. In early April I start my tomato seedling indoors so that in eight weeks they will be ready to plant in the garden. Starting them too early doesn't help – they get ”leggy” and stressed in the small pots. I always go overboard and start too many, despite my annual promise to myself to go lighter next year and I usually end up giving many away. For friends and neighbors without a garden, it's the perfect crop to put in a big pot and keep on the front porch.
I also start flower seedlings at this time. Morning glory, Echanicha, Nastursium and Marigolds. I used to start Sunflowers too, but after a few years of growing them there are plenty of self-seeded volunteers that pops up all over the garden. I usually move them to appropriate locations, since they will cast quite a bit of shade once they grow big.
Plant the garden. This is the big reward after sitting through a long winter – to finally put some seeds in the ground. Here in Maine it's still on the early side to plant many crops, but after the basics are covered– spinach, peas and fava beans – there's still a lot that will be ok and ease my urge for planting. I plant carrots, beets, lettuce, swiss chard and parsnips at this time and for anyone that'd like to keep going, why not break out the radish and turnip seeds too? It's now or in August with many of these crops, since they perform poorly through hot weather.
And yes, plant the onions. They need time to grow tall before the summer solstice when they will redirect their energy into the bulbs.
Go through the check list. I'm not the only one spending quite a bit of time in winter planning for the coming season. My notes and “to-do” lists are many and this is a great time to compile it all, prioritize and put in motion what we really want to get done this year. Like order baby chicks and mushroom starters, go through tools and seed supply to make sure it's all ready to go, line up what I need for my new bee hives and take an inventory of the cellar to estimate how much is left and if I should aim for more or less of the different crops next year.
The long awaited spring is indeed sweeter, just because of the wait. From here, there's no holding back until the snow flies again, sometime in December. Enjoy, and make the most of it!
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