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NATURE’S TURN: Feed your soil, sow spring edibles, plant fruits for Arbor Day

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By Monday, Apr 24 Home & Garden More In Real Estate
Mackenzie Waggaman
Early morning garden. Sunlight and shadows of trees from forest in the east. Left: Fall-planted garlic, bed of winter rye, two rows of peas, trellis between. Right: daffodils, transplanted onion seedlings.

April 24 – May 7, 2017

Those amazing crumbs tell the story of the workings of macro- and microorganisms in the soil. Photo: Mackenzie Waggaman

Those amazing crumbs tell the story of the workings of macro- and microorganisms in the soil. Photo: Mackenzie Waggaman

Mount Washington — Gardeners who pulled, dug and cut away the remains of late-harvested plants as winter approached and then spread compost on all bare growing spaces now gaze at ground that has been further prepared by the elements during the dark months. Adjacent beds that were harvested in early autumn and planted to cover crops are aglow with a healthy coat of “green manure.” In my garden, the free-edge raised beds that are growing winter wheat or rye are designated for warm-weather varieties in my crop rotation; there’s about a month before those spaces have to be ready to plant. In preparation for planting frost-hardy vegetables, I’ve begun to loosen the soil in the bare beds by forking.

While cool weather prevails, make it a priority to plant onion sets or plantlets, shell and snap peas, lettuce, arugula, spinach and radish, all direct seeded. I plant several varieties of onions; most are red storage types and the rest chosen simply to enjoy their diverse characteristics. According to Jo Robinson (“Eating on the Wild Side”), strong-flavored onions are more nutritious than sweet. Two pungent onion varieties, Redwing and Copra, are among the best keepers. Stored in a cold location, they remain rock solid for eight to 10 months. Jo Robinson reminds us that all of the alliums are highly nutritious; in particular she emphasizes garlic, shallots, scallions and garlic chives.

For salads, an Asian green mix adds spice, texture and nutritional value to mixed lettuces. The vines of Sugar Snap, marketed by Botanical Interests, amaze as they reach 6 to 7 feet, producing a profusion of showy flowers and fruit.


Arbor Day is celebrated on April 28 this year and, in general, the last Friday in April. I’m delighted to bring the following plants to your attention for your Arbor Day celebration. While browsing the fruiting shrubs at Ward’s Nursery in Great Barrington, I was thrilled to find several species of native and exotic wild fruit trees corralled there in pots awaiting adoption and a return to nature. There was beach plum (Prunus maritime), which I’d included, special-ordered, in the Roe-Jan School educational garden I created with the school community from 1989 to 1990. And pawpaw (Asimina triloba), of which Michael Dirr, in “Dirr’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs,” says “Simply a great plant for foliage effect.” He goes on to mention its fruit’s “slight banana-like taste.”

Goji berries.

Goji berries.

An Asian native and health food store celebrity, goji berry (Lycium) is available for culture in our gardens and as potted patio plants. Add the mouthwatering American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana), which was not present, and we’ll have gained tree fruits that do not grow wild in the Berkshires. I made friends with pawpaw and persimmon in Pennsylvania and with beach plum on Nantucket or Cape Cod.

Andrew Moore, in his book “In Search of America’s Forgotten Fruit,” sums up the opportunity nurseries and gardeners are seizing as we research our botanical heritage in the field and in the literature:

Americans of all stripes once knew the pawpaw very well, but over the past century we’ve experienced a radical shift in the foods we eat, and our diets have become much more industrial and homogeneous. Wild foods like the pawpaw were increasingly neglected, and as we’ve stopped looking to the woods for food, we’ve stopped knowing the pawpaw. However, I am encouraged to see us trending back to our heritage and heirloom foods, a culinary revival that is also bringing renewed attention to the pawpaw.


Jo Robinson, Eating on the Wild Side, Little, Brown and Company, New York 2013

Michael A. Dirr, Dirr’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs, Timber Press, Portland, OR 1997

Andrew Moore, In Search of America’s Forgotten Fruit


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