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The weather has turned decidedly spring-like as we enter the middle of April, but don’t rule out a late season snowstorm in the higher elevations of the Catskills. Many people in the Kingston area have already set out some spring vegetable transplants, such as broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, lettuce and other greens. These crops can tolerate a few freezing nights and even snow on top of them. If you buy gallon jugs of water or milk, the jugs can be recycled as hot caps to protect tender transplants. Simply cut the bottom of the jugs off and set the top over the transplant. Be sure to remove the cap or the transplants will get “cooked” on a sunny day. The average “last” frost date is still a month or so away in the valley and six weeks or so, in the mountains.For those of you who like to start your own vegetable seeds, this is the perfect time to start tomatoes, peppers and squash for late May to early June transplanting. As I say every year, don’t garden by the calendar so much as gardening by the thermometer. Buy a soil or compost thermometer and test the soil temperature. Nothing will grow well if the soil is below 50 degrees and even cool weather crops will grow better at 60 degree soil temperatures. Using black plastic mulch placed over raised beds can give you a two week head start compared to just setting plants in the ground. Avoid tilling wet soil at all costs since this practice can do permanent damage to your soil structure.This is not a good time to fertilize your lawn, despite the ads you may be seeing or hearing, but as soon as the yellow flowered forsythia comes into bloom it is time to apply a pre-emergent crabgrass killer. There are both chemical and organic crabgrass preventers available. The organic product is based on corn gluten meal, which is also a slow release fertilizer. Some of you may have noticed large bare spots on your lawn or raised tunnels which moles have created under the snow cover. This is often a symptom of grub damage and there is nothing you can do now, except re-seed the bare spots.One thing you can do now is to apply a perimeter spray of insecticide around your property to kill deer ticks. Deer ticks spread Lyme disease as well as several other potentially serious bacterial diseases and one viral disease that is potentially fatal. Deer ticks become active as soon as temperatures rise above freezing, even for part of a day. They are commonly found on tall grass, brush, shrubs, fallen logs and places where lawn meets forest. A single, perimeter spray of an over the counter insecticide, such as Sevin, applied in late April to mid-May, can eliminate 90% or more of these ticks for as long as three months.I understand that people are not anxious to apply pesticides unnecessarily, since insecticides, such as Sevin, will also kill non-pest species, including some pollinators but when it comes to the risk of contracting a potentially life ruining disease, versus unintentionally killing some insects, this is a “no-brainer.” Some people have told me they would never spray Sevin around their property, yet they use it weekly on their vegetable crops to control insects. I fail to see any logic in this.I would be willing to wager that every single reader of this column, knows someone whose life has been dramatically altered, in a bad way, as a result of Lyme disease. More than 300,000 people a year contract Lyme disease and a large percentage of these cases are the result of tick encounters in a person’s own back yard. If you have kids or grandkids, who like to play in your back yard, woods, or garden, you owe it to them to protect them from these potentially horrible diseases.Another really effective and important way to protect yourself from Lyme disease is to apply a permethrin (not DEET) spray to your outdoor clothing. This is an outdoor chore, since you want the treated clothing to dry thoroughly before you bring it back inside. This treatment will last for at least 3 weeks or even several months, if applied now. Spray your shoes, boots, pants, shirts, jackets and if you camp, spray your tent, sleeping bags and other outdoor gear. Permethrin sprays are not to be applied to bare skin. DEET will also repel ticks but must be re-applied every few hours.Finally, when working or playing outdoors (gardening is playing in my book!) be sure to do a thorough check of your body when you come indoors. Deer ticks need to be feeding on you for a period of time in order to infect. If you remove them within 12 hours, the risk in minimal.
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