Early May might not be early spring where you are, it’s not even early for Maine, some years. This year we’re still in the grip of winter long past the usual garden landmarks. I couldn’t plant peas on St. Patrick’s Day because of all the snow and when the drifts finally washed away under cold rains a few weeks ago I put them in south facing beds where they’re still sulking, under ground.
Pruning is a good task for days when I should not be planting seedlings out no matter how tempting the noon day sun. This is a wild apple planted from seed that my toddler son found in Acadia National Park. I probably would have let it grow for sentimental reasons, but it produces bushels of good-sized tart crabs, dark red skinned with snow white flesh, that are excellent for roasting and canning. It is extremely vigorous and growing on its own roots so when I let it go for a year it puts up a thicket around the main trunk. The whole pruning job took about an hour and resulted in a pile of thorny branches bigger than the remaining tree – sign of a job well done!
I planted out four kale varieties and baby bok choi in a bed that grew potatoes last year. Brassicas are a great cleanser for soil that may have picked up potato-related bugs and virus issues. These are right out of the seedlings trays in the cellar, grown under shop lights. I covered them with a layer of floating row cover and they should be fine during the next few days of cold rain and wind.
Rhubarb is one of the harbingers of spring in my garden and it’s still tiny! Last year we were well on our way to pie by mid-April, this year we have just the first tiny leaves unfurling.
The bergenia by the corner of the house is always a good bet for first paintable flower of the year. The plant has large leathery leaves that overwinter. The common name “Pigsqueak” comes from the sound made by rubbing two leaves together.
I very much wanted to title this piece “Mrs. M. and the Cherry Tree That Desperately Needs Pruning” but that sounded too much like the next Harry Potter novel.
This is a study for a larger painting, but we have to get our model time in when we can (especially during blackfly season).
Ivory Black on panel, 24 x 24
Hibiscus is one of the last perennials to “wake up” every spring in the Maine garden, but is reliably, improbably, hardy in zone 5. Come September the flowers glow like torches lit against the dark maroon foliage. An autumn morning cloudy sky and apple branches add to the illusion that the papery flowers, beloved of Kali, are lit from within.
Hibiscus #1, 36 x 24, oil on panel
Posting only a slightly delayed by the long drying time for ultramarine blue.
Caesar’s Brother Siberian Iris, 24 x 18, oil on panel
I need to do a follow up post on waffle beds in the garden, possibly another on the new hive of bees, and I still haven’t planted out the spinach. On the other hand, my studio time has been very productive (and the spinach seeds can wait another few days).
Seawall, Low Tide Afternoon, 24 x 36 oil on panel
Yesterday I posted a little bit of history on the evolution of raised beds in American gardening (after finding many more scholarly articles on the subject than I could have imagined) and then I went outside and did a practical experiment on waffle bed gardening by digging holes in the ground. Well, that wasn’t all there was to it, actually.
I started by digging a trench and piling the soil up on either side. I was planning to save the good topsoil to a special spot and use it to top off the eventual “waffle” but honestly there wasn’t enough to bother with. I do have a bumper crop of roots, rocks, and yellow clay.
Here I’ve finished digging the bed out to below grade. I filled the bottom layer of the walls with old firewood and the rocks (many, many rocks) that came out of the interior, then piled soil and clay on top. One of the sources says to walk around on the walls to tamp them down; you’ll want to walk on them later so it’s a good idea to make sure they’ll hold your weight safely.
I sat on one wall of the bed (very comfortable!) and planted celtuce and Brussels sprouts. The forecast is still for below freezing temps overnight this week but these seedlings have been hardening off for a few days and should be fine under row cover.
I covered the cell with wire hoops and some row cover. Now the forecast is calling for snow tonight (April 9th!) so I’m going to lower the floating row cover to the plant level and stretch some clear plastic vented material over the hoops for a double layer of protection. Fortunately I have plenty of seedlings!
As I’m writing this at 11 a.m. the temps are still hovering around the freezing mark, although it’s pleasant enough if you’re standing in full sun. I plan to continue laying out new beds but refrain from planting anything else out until next week at the earliest. Questions or feedback, let me know!
The title of this post drew you right in, didn’t it? My apologies. This isn’t a post about delicious breakfast treats served with maple syrup, it’s even better than that. This is a revolution in gardening technique and it begins with a rebellion against the most popular home gardening trope of the century – raised beds.
There are various theories on the origin of the raised bed in the American landscape, but most point to a series of very popular television shows that promoted them for their orderly appearance and ease of management. Digging over rectangular coffin-sized sections of the garden and segregating them into different plant varieties has advantages, but most of these examples were produced under ideal conditions with superior soil and abundant irrigation. Those of us with very little or very poor soil and irregular rainfall had less favorable results. In the long haul, root action forces salts to the elevated surface and the resulting crust sheds water down the sides of the bed. I don’t water or irrigate and rainfall is rarely gentle or consistent enough to work through the top layers – especially when it breaks a drought and the soil is very dry.
In this sense, it’s very much like I’m gardening in a desert – a desert of my own making! Waffle beds have been used for centuries in gardens all over the world to address just this problem. Instead of building up, and exposing more soil to air and sun (good for plants and bad for dirt) the waffle bed sinks the level of productive soil below a surrounding dike of poor soil, conserving water and nutrients as well as providing a wind break.
I’m planning on spending the day building my first waffles (well, after the dump run, visiting with my mother, getting the groceries in. . .) and will post Part Two of this saga shortly. Meanwhile, here’s a drawing from Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands, courtesy of Amarillo Tableland, who posted this in 2011 and has an excellent series on seasonal results.
From Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands
I’ve finished the drawing stage of this beach painting from Seawall, in Manset. The beach and campground are part of Acadia National Park and one of the prime sites for the Night Sky Festival in September (which you should plan to be part of if you can – the stars are spectacular here on a clear night!). This is on a 24 x 36 panel and the drawing is done in Rembrandt Ivory Black oil.
Now to let it dry for a week, and spend some quality time on a smaller image of Compass Harbor.
I think this is my last work done from drawings and site photos during summer 2014. I have months to go until the 2015 crop of glads comes in, but will spend that time doing studies of new glassware acquisitions and prepping for new varieties of cosmos as raw material. Meanwhile:
Glads in a Green Jar, oil on panel, 36 x 24
Maine Farmland Trust and the Falcon Foundation are collaborating on a project called “Paint the Farm” to create paintings of farms and farm life in Maine. I chose the Peggy Rockefeller Farm, which operates as part of the College of the Atlantic, in Bar Harbor. This is the road to the hay barn off Norway Drive last week.
March Thaw, oil on panel, 20 x 16