Sunday, May 1, 2011

may day planting

leonard messel magnolia beginning to bloom
Minnesota weather has never been very predictable and this spring is no exception.  We worked all day cleaning and cooking for our daughter's birthday party.  She's 4 years old now, and very proud of that fact, and also very excited about having a party just for her.

So we cleaned and cooked and did our errands while it rained cold rain for hours.  Then, just as the party was about to start- the sky cleared, and the sun came out, and we were wishing that we had cleaned up the yard a bit, because all of the kids headed outside to the swingset, and to play on the piles of rock (eek!).

It was perfect gardening weather, but the party took priority.  I told myself that Sunday was supposed to be even nicer weather, so we'd garden then.  Today is Sunday, and it's cold, windy and a few lonely snowflakes are falling.  The thermometer read 34F when I first went out this morning.  But I was on a mission.  My strawberry and asparagus plants had arrived on Tuesday, and I wasn't going to wait another day to plant them- no matter what.

This week has been a whirlwind of activity, none of it involving gardening.  My work has been extremely busy, after a winter of doing next to nothing.  I put in overtime this week for the first time in almost a year.  I had evening meetings for various aspects of the district council most days this week, and the birthday party to prepare for.  So, even though the strawberries and asparagus arrived Tuesday, it wasn't until Thursday night that I had a chance to open the package.

Normally I rip the packages open as soon as they come, but there just wasn't time this week.  Together with the time in transit and the time in the basement, the asparagus roots had begun to mold with a strange blue-green mold, and the tops of the strawberry plants had become brown and slimy in spots.  I could have cried.  But no- I am a big strong man, so I did the next best thing- packed it all in peat moss and put it outside and said some grumpy things to my wife.  None of it was her fault, of course, but I needed to vent my frustration somehow.

So this morning, even with the almost freezing temperatures and wind, I went out to plant the new plants.  We had also received some grape vines and a new blueberry bush in the shipment and I planted those as well.

barely visible- newly planted 'patriot' blueberry

the peonies are undeterred by the cool weather

garlic emerging from the garden bed

also  barely visible- two new grape varieties

the strawberry and asparagus terrace
The varieties that I planted today are the following:

Sparkle strawberry- a Junebearing variety described in the Fedco catalog as the most delicious strawberry and as embodying the essence of strawberries (that's a paraphrase)
Seascape strawberry- an everbearing variety for later summer strawberries.  It's also described rather glowingly by Fedco.
Purple Passion asparagus- A purple variety- I thought it might be kind of neat to have purple asparagus.  We'll see how that pans out.
La Crescent grape- a wine grape that is supposed to make an excellent German-style dessert wine.  They may be a bit susceptible to disease,so I planted it high, at the edge of the terrace for better drainage.
Frontenac Gris- also a white wine grape that should work well in a Riesling or Vignoles type wine.  Less disease susceptible, so I planted it at the base of the wall.
Patriot blueberry.  I thought it might be a nice complement and pollinator for the existing Northland blueberries I planted two years ago, along with the surviving wild blueberry bushes.  I planted this one in a 2:1 peat moss native soil mix for acidity.  I also scattered some of the needles of this year's Xmas tree for added acidity, and to give it a little of what it might get if it were planted in the north woods of Wisconsin.

Though I quote the Fedco catalog a lot, these all actually came from Jung seeds, my backup source when I can't get stuff from Fedco.  By the time I was ready to order plants, Fedco had already closed for the season.  Rats.

Fortunately, Jung is located in Wisconsin and carries many of the same varieties.  Being more local than Fedco, I always assume thier stock will be better adapted to our climate, though their growing methods are a bit more 'chemical-happy' than Fedco's- who are big advocates of organic growing.

Hopefully the work done on such a crappy day will turn out well.  Fortunately, plants seem to like cool, moist weather more than people do.  Maybe they'll go back into the dormancy they so recently began to come out of, then emerge stronger sometime later in May.  Gardeners have to be eternal optimists.


In the spirit of May Day- please take a look at this post from William Hunter Duncan's blog.  He is facing condemnation by the City of Minneapolis for allowing the natural gas service to be turned off to his house for the summer.  He doesn't have a lot of money, but is also trying to get as far off of the grid as he can, while still living in the city.  The behavior of the city is appalling in this case.  If you live in Minneapolis, take a look at this.  If you know of a way to help- please do so.


  1. Greetings from Illinois via JMG. It's great to see a blog by another urban gardener from the upper Midwest.

    I'd like to recommend two blogs to you: Renewing the Landscape with Native Plants , by another Minnesotan, and Metropolitan Field Guide , by a landscape architect in, I believe, Seattle WA. Both have Facebook pages also. Perhaps you've already seen them.


  2. Thanks! I will take a look today.


  3. Hello, it's nice to see another Urban farmer in our area. I am looking at getting some blueberries, what kind would you say is best for around here?

  4. Hi Kelly,

    I've planted wild blueberries, Northland and now Patriot. Patriot has only been in the ground for a couple of weeks, so it's too early to say on that one- but Northland has done really well, even without a recommended pollinator nearby. They don't get as tall as I thought they would- the rabbits browse on them when the snow is high in the winter- but they're still between 18 and 24 inches by midsummer. If I did a better job of protecting them from birds, I would probably have had a pound or two of berries per bush last summer. The wild lowbush blueberries haven't done as well. I planted 5 originally, and only two are surviving, and then just barely. I think they must have higher acidity requirements than half-high shrubs like Northland. It's a shame because I have really good memories of collecting wild blueberries on camping trips in Northern Wisconsin as a kid, and was hoping to be able to grow them in my yard- but that hasn't worked out. Stick with the half-high (wild crossed with highbush) hybrids from the U of M or Michigan and you should be fine.