Passing by the local gardening story the other day I realized that I was not alone in suffering from “the itch” of spring. Folks were lined up to buy compost, potting soil, seeds, plants and all the other fun stuff that keeps responsible adults busy outdoors in May and June.
I have learned from hard experience (and from reading the Old Farmer’s Almanac) that the time to plant is after the last average hard frost, which in Maine is roughly June 1, give or take a few days. It makes sense to say that the farther north you go the farther away planting time will be, but the general rule is when the soil temperature settles at about 70 degrees it’s safe to start putting seeds in the ground.
Of course, there are many gardeners out there (including me) who scoff at such sage advice and try planting earlier because, naturally, we know better. I had my most recent lesson in agricultural patience last year when a warmer-than-normal spring had me planting a variety of seeds that should not have gone in for another month. My marigolds and morning glories utterly ignored my eagerness, failing to germinate until the first week in June. I also tried getting squash and cucumbers in early and they, too, failed the first time around. Well, I thought, surely my sunflowers and cosmos would show some enthusiasm but they, too, had to be replanted in June.
A few plants, notably the strawberries, peas and Brussels sprouts, put on a good show in the early going, but most of what I planted in May had to be repeated in June. What a difference a few weeks makes! Before long I had my usual over-abundance of flowers and vegetables and life was good again. This year I’ll wait the required extra time and avoid the disappointment that comes with germination failure – a heart-breaking event for anyone claiming to have a green thumb.
I suppose I could get involved in the greenhouse society so I could have better luck starting and growing my plants earlier than the almanac recommends, but the truth is that I’m just a hermit gardener who grows mostly to graze. I freeze a few things (strawberries, apples, peas) but mostly I eat what comes out of the garden pretty much as fast as it is produced. Come fall, I’m off on hunting trips that would interfere with any sort of canning schedule.
I’m actually fonder of the few varieties of flowers that I have scattered around the house, mostly marigolds, morning glories and sunflowers. Their bright colors, happy faces and low maintenance are very appealing to me. I can plant them all the same day, water as needed and then sit back and enjoy the show without have to “tend” them constantly, as is the case with the few rose bushes I have established at the corners of the deck and porch. Perhaps I should have said, “Lazy hermit gardener!”
The “old farmer” must have known what he was talking about because when I follow his advice I get a great crop of vegetables and flowers. When I strike out on my own with ill-conceived notions about farming in Maine I invariably end up having to replant. In spring I’m as impatient and anxious as anyone else but patience is probably my most useful virtue. My pots are at the ready and the mound of potting soil can be seen steaming in the morning light but I’m going to wait another month before I start putting seeds into the ground.
Besides, there are plenty of other things to do while waiting for the soil to warm up. First and foremost, of course, is trout fishing, which will be coming into its own very shortly. It’s been legal to fish since April 1 but die-hard anglers know that the best brook trout fishing is just about to begin – curiously close to planting time. There are various other colloquialisms regarding when to start fishing for trout and we’ve covered most of them here over the years. Bottom line is: Now’s the time.
Some of my fishermen friends wait till the fiddleheads begin to appear before they do any fishing, combining a quest for trout with a few hours of harvesting fern sprouts. This makes sense considering that brook trout and fiddleheads are found in the same general habitat – wet, swampy soil along rivers and streams.
Whenever possible I plan my fishing trips so I can enjoy a feed of fiddleheads along with my trout, preferably prepared at streamside over a hot fire. I start the greens to boiling first, and when the fiddleheads are almost done I put a glob of butter into a pan along with my trout and place the pan on a bed of coals. When the fins of the fish are crisp I drain the fiddleheads, place the trout on top of the pile and dig in.
If there are no fiddleheads around I’ll just fry up my catch using my trusty pocket stove. There is much to be said about tea and trout for lunch after a hard morning’s fishing; if nothing else it’s the perfect stalling tactic for anglers who face yard work and other drudgery later in the day. A meal in the woods will take up another hour at least – savor every minute because nothing in the tool shed or basement can compare.
Obviously, there is no reason to pace around impatiently now that spring is officially here. There is plenty to do outdoors for homeowners who must begin tidying up the yard after the long, hard winter, and those who are able to avoid such laborious pursuits are free to ride, walk, run or paddle in any direction they choose. Pick a passion and go after it because there’s no better time than right now to enjoy the wild wonders of Maine!