Bob Beyfuss: A change of scenery and tips for the summer vegetable garden – The Daily Freeman

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I returned home from my Florida sojourn just over a week ago and I am delighted to be back in the beautiful Catskill Mountain/Hudson Valley region.
I love spending my winter seasons in sunny Florida, but this is my real home. When I left Florida it was already late spring there, but the seasons seem to change subtlety in that part of the country unless you are a native and much more aware than I will ever be. There is nothing subtle at all about spring when it arrives in Greene County!
Springtime in Florida sneaks up on you, but it smacks you hard in the face when you live in the great Northeast. The face smack does not hurt much, though, because spring wears a soft glove when it finally arrives. People who think one cannot go back in time have probably never driven 1,400 miles north from Central Florida to upstate New York in late April. You don’t even need to travel that far. If you head northwest into the Catskill Mountains from the Hudson Valley. Kingston to Hunter is a two-week time travel by itself.
I always fear that I will miss some of the sequences of bloom that begins in April if I dally for too long. This year that certainly has not been the case! The woods surrounding my home are still dormant and transparent. The wood thrush, ovenbirds, robins, chickadees and redwing blackbirds are singing their songs as if the world depends on it. I just wish some tom turkeys would be gobbling as well, nearby, so I could attempt to shoot one. Life and death are a natural state of affairs that we often take for granted.
Two new babies, I am very pleased to know, have arrived to witness their first springtime, as I witness my 73rd. Welcome to the world, babies Corinna and Victor. Your parents will teach you some of what I have taught them and that makes me very happy.
This is a great time to start some seeds indoors for this summer’s vegetable garden. I remind you to rely on your soil thermometer and not the calendar before you set out any transplants. The soil temperature in a bed in front of my house has not yet reached 50 degrees. Lettuce and some other spring greens can tolerate those temperatures, but not much else! A layer of black plastic mulch will warm the topsoil faster. There is no sign at all of my asparagus or even any weeds in my garden. The four-inch layer of straw mulch I put on last November keeps the ground colder than bare soil and it will take at least a week or two longer for the beds to be warm up enough to plant. My October planted garlic is about three inches tall now and it is the only thing green in my garden!
If you grow strawberries, now is the time to remove the straw mulch you should have applied last fall. Their flower buds were fully formed last year in the short days of October and November. Slugs are already becoming active and you may need to apply a protective spray for early insect pests as well. Put a piece of fruit on the ground and check it for slugs early the next morning to see if they are present already. I prefer a protective spray early in the season than spraying when the fruit is already formed and beginning to ripen. Strawberries are highly prized by turtles as well as chipmunks!
There is still time to prune your apple and pear trees, even if they have already bloomed, but wait on peaches, plums and cherries until early June. You can stick some flowering crabapple branches in your eating apple trees, if they are blooming at the same time. Crabapples are excellent pollinators for all apple trees and the extra blossoms will make the trees more attractive to pollinating insects.
My lawn is still weeks away from needing to be mowed for the first time this season, but some of you have already had to mow twice, or more. Crabgrass will begin to germinate as forsythia blossoms fade and for those of you who care about crabgrass, consider using corn gluten meal as a preventive measure. The meal doubles as an organic fertilizer, containing 10% nitrogen and it is actually more effective the second year after you use it. No need at all to apply any other lawn fertilizers right now. I have seen quite a bit of grub damage to lawns this spring and it is almost always occurring in fertilized lawns.
Bob Beyfuss lives and gardens in Schoharie County. Send him an e-mail to [email protected]

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