May 23-June 5, 2016
Mt. Washington — The sun climbs near zenith and infant, tender green and shiny, wrinkled red leaves appear, breathing the hills awake. Yesterday’s wintry twigs have sprung open at their tips and along each stem. The beech trees’ protective leaf and flower bud covers have fallen to the ground. Spring is slow in the mountains and, if you miss its incremental progress, you have to climb to higher elevations or wait until next year to find out what you missed.
The moon, planets, and constellations are integral to many gardening and farming traditions. The moon is waning as May advances, and June begins with the final, thin, morning crescents before new moon on the 4th; then the cycle of waxing phases begins. There are many guides to planting according to the dynamic celestial realm and I am attempting to follow the rhythms described in them. They define when to sow, cultivate, and harvest various plants by determining optimum times for those grown, especially for their roots, their flowers, or fruits. The indications also apply to ornamental gardens (see Resources, below, for paper and online materials).
In the spring garden, I have renewed enthusiasm for perennials in the edible landscape, especially the onion and garlic chives, Egyptian onions, and Purple Passion asparagus highlighted in my column about author Jo Robinson’s Eating on the Wild Side. Robinson’s emphasis on growing and preparing foods for peak nutritional value has motivated me to harvest these crops just before mealtime rather than resorting to the convenience of cutting them hours before and refrigerating extra for another time. Their rich flavors and vivid color reward the effort and surely convey their health-enhancing properties.
With gardening season in full swing, I am also energized to redouble my efforts to interplant as many row-seeded crops as possible, as highlighted in the carbon sequestration and soil building work published online by the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) this winter (see “Nature’s Turn” dated March 28). Interplanting long-season vegetables with quick-to-mature crops increases productivity by creating more planting space while excluding weeds. In addition, research and folklore guide us to botanical associations that repel pests and improve the vigor and flavor of the companions.
Consider broadcasting dill and coriander (also known as cilantro) between rows of beets, onions, and brassicas. Harvest most of the herbs when young and in their prime and be sure to allow a few plants to flower and go to seed. The flowers feed beneficial insects and the field-dried seed is collected for culinary use, to grow successive harvests, and save for next year. Dill and cilantro also self-sow from fallen seed and reappear in the spring garden. Cilantro is said to be a good companion to all plants whereas dill appears to have a negative affect on carrots and tomatoes. It is recommended that we limit mature dill plants to a few individuals.
Seed salad radish between parsnip and carrot rows and Bull’s Blood beets, beans and cabbage with potatoes. Pole beans and cucumbers handily succeed peas on the trellis and sunflowers provide a living pole for them. Sunflowers were planted with corn by native peoples. The spirit and effectiveness of companion planting is best expressed by the Three Sisters, given to us by Native American gardeners. Corn provides shade for squash that vines through the corn rows, and cornstalks support climbing beans which, in turn, are beneficial in many ways to their hungry sisters.
Biodynamic planting guides: https://search.yahoo.com/search;_ylc=X3oDMTFiN25laTRvBF9TAzIwMjM1MzgwNzUEaXRjAzEEc2VjA3NyY2hfcWEEc2xrA3NyY2h3ZWI-?p=Biodynamic+planting+calendars&fr=yfp-t&fp=1&toggle=1&cop=mss&ei=UTF-8
Rodale’s Successful Organic Gardening – Companion Planting, Rodale Press, Emmaus, PA, 1994.
Seedling purveyors: https://berkshiregrown.org/find-local-farmers-markets/
Native plants: https://helianativenursery.com/about/
August 12 – 14: www.nofasummerconference.org