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Inside the Deer Fence - April 2nd, 2010
by Jane Gilbertsen

gardening in the Methow Valley

A Methow Spring
"No wonder I am so happy!" expounded a local lady, midday Saturday, March 20, upon the realization that at almost that very moment, the sun passed northbound over the Earth’s equator – the Spring Equinox. We now have days and nights of equal length. All living energies feel the pull of the season - toward light, warmth, growth, up. Savor it!However, this time is fraught with danger for the garden because de-acclimation has begun in earnest. This means that each plant, on their own genetic schedule, set by warmth and/or day length, is waking up.

Our natives "know" deep in their genes that our Spring is a fickle one. Warm sunny days draw the plant juices up and open the stomata to "breathe" but the night temperatures drop erratically and the juices may freeze and crackle thereby breaking cell walls. Note the flaming red of the red osier dogwood and the cheery yellow tips of the willow in the wet places. These are our local early girls. They have evolved to handle our fickle Spring. They have antifreeze (proteins with multiple, hydrophilic icebinding domains).

But the Valley is now filled with exotics - plants from parts of the world outside their historical range. Except for the native purists and those not considering the yard a garden, we have expanded our plant palate beyond the native choices that are easily workable under cultivation. Our exotics do not “know” the tricks of Valley weather, a true and wacky 3 month Spring. For the gardener, whose own juices are drawing up from our inner "roots", the itch to begin gardening is almost overwhelming. Many of us gardeners are technically exotics as well, and thankfully, we can learn what our genes don’t tell us. (And it is almost a blessing for the garden that the body has to work into shape for gardening tasks - the bending, hauling, lifting of odd objects. My back ache keeps me under control.)

So my advice to you is begin the cleanup but go slowly. Remember if you are still wearing a hat at night out-of-doors so should your plants get a hat. Sure, let your plants peek out without a full matt of last year’s growth crushing them, but don't take the blankets entirely off the bed! Get happy walking around with your cup of coffee checking out the buds and sprouts just don’t get too clean, yet. Next week I will write my suggestions of how and what to get started on your Spring cleanup. But now is precisely the time to think seeds, design, tools. Sign up for Tess’s growing food classes at Local in Twisp (April 10 and 24 and May 15), read up on seed starting, get your supplies and tools ready, arrange your packets on the dining room table and plot who goes first into the little greenhouse, under the light and directly into the soil. Enjoy the year’s beginning.

in anticipation, Jane Gilbertsen
Apr 20, 2010