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NATURE’S TURN: Recreate familiar ground, explore its depths anew

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By Monday, Apr 10 Home & Garden More In Real Estate
Judy Isacoff
Blue borage: Cucumber-flavored flowers turn from blue to pink. Self-sown seedlings will appear soon.

April 10-23, 2017

Mt. Washington — Making their appearance – ever so tenderly, if not tentatively – are the early mainstays of the kitchen garden. Tiny shoots of perennials and fall-planted annuals emerged as snowdrifts melted under torrential rain at the end of last week. In the wild and in the garden, the season is about a month later than last year, when I noted that spring arrived a month earlier than the year before. Frozen ground has become friable at the same pace as in 2015. If forecasts hold true, seasonal conditions will prevail for at least the next two weeks.

Overwintered parsnips, mulch blown away, reach for the sun. To be dug immediately! Photo: Judy Isacoff, April 5, 2017

Overwintered parsnips, mulch blown away, reach for the sun. To be dug immediately! Photo: Judy Isacoff, April 5, 2017

Herbaceous perennials like onion and garlic chives, Egyptian onion and rhubarb emerge in warm locations when nights are still frosty; Jerusalem artichoke and asparagus shoot up when encouraged by warmer weather. Jerusalem artichokes are best harvested before they sprout. Their crunchy tubers are delicious raw or briefly cooked. Plant all of these stalwarts as soon as starts are available at local nurseries.

Of the traditional woody perennials, gooseberry, currant and blueberry have found a home in my landscape, with raspberries and blackberries to be planted this season. Culinary herbs such as thyme and sage are usually long-lasting in the garden. It’s a good time to trim winterkilled stems. Unpredictable biennial, nearly perennial, and self-sowing annuals establish themselves in good soil and become a part of the fabric of the edible landscape. It’s easy to establish dill (aka dill weed), cilantro, borage, pale corydalis and poppies. All but pale corydalis provide edible parts. The corydalis is one of the first hummingbird foods. All may be directly seeded.

Overwintered rye cover crop builds organic matter in the soil. Photo: Judy Isacoff, April 5, 2017

Overwintered rye cover crop builds organic matter in the soil. Photo: Judy Isacoff, April 5, 2017

I received news of a compelling soil test now available under the auspices of the Massachusetts chapter of the Northeast Organic Farmers Association (NOFA MASS). I see this as a rare opportunity, at minimal cost, to look closely at our growing spaces and become aware of the quality of life we are creating in our soils. What kind of environment are we providing to the plants that we grow to eat and otherwise enjoy? The test is known as a soil carbon “proxy” test. Remember, compounds of carbon form the basis of all living organisms. Learn about soil carbon at

“The tests measure various aspects of soil health and biodiversity and, looked at over time, will help farmers and gardeners determine if their soil carbon building practices are succeeding. All the tests can be done on-site and do not involve sending samples off to a lab. Results will be sent to the site manager within a few days, with an analysis of what they mean. Currently the test suite is composed of the following:  1. Soil Surface Biology, 2. Soil Texture and Aggregation, 3. Bulk Density, 4. Water Infiltration, 5. Aggregate Stability, 6. Earthworm Numbers, 7. Soil Hardness, 8. Microbial Mass, 9. Active Carbon and 10. Soil Respiration.” –quoted from the March issue of the NOFA MASS newsletter.

Find details of the test and an application form at

Opportunities to Participate

April 20: 7:30 p.m., for Earth Day “Rendering the Earth: The Work of Paul Cezanne” –

April 22: Earth Day Worldwide Marches for Science –

April 22: Great Barrington River Walk March for Science –

Save the Date: July 9 NOFA-sponsored intensive at Woven Roots Farm in Tyringham –


Ecological gardening recommendations –

Details of soil test –

Apply for soil test –

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